That's Italian -- That is what I call Italian
Sierra Lodestar 10/04/11

Foothill Flavors 1428 words

That’s Italian—and So Good!

By Antoinette May Herndon

You’ve all heard of Rocky, the Italian Stallion. His fighting spirit spawned a seemingly endless number of sequels. But what you may not know is that the Gold Country has an equivalent in Teresa, the Italian filly.

The dramatic saga behind Jackson’s popular Italian restaurant, Teresa’s, began nearly one hundred years ago when the matriarch of the amazing Giurlani family—the first Teresa— immigrated from Merizeo, a tiny Tuscan village, with her husband to the United States. The couple settled in Amador City where Giurlani worked as a miner for $2.50 a day. His 16-year-old bride augmented their income by cooking. It was her first job. Teresa’s wages were room and board for herself and husband.

In 1920, Teresa, a woman who believed in standing up for herself, left her husband and returned to Italy with their two children. She intended to stay there forever, but fate had other plans. Later that same year Merizeo was destroyed by an earthquake.

A “peasant” girl who could neither read nor write—English or Italian—Teresa returned to the Gold Country with her young children and again got a job cooking. Within a year she’d saved $400. Teresa was ready and eager to be her own boss.

In 1921 the doors opened on Teresa’s Place, first a boarding house for Italian miners and then a restaurant that’s flourished ever since.

As the years passed, Teresa’s son, Paul, took over the cooking with his wife, Patricia. (Patricia Giurlani is 82 now and still does the restaurant baking.)

The legend unfolded as their children became involved in the business. Teresa’s granddaughter, also named Teresa, is a waitress; her sister, Alicia, the hostess. Their brother, Phillip, manages the bar and another brother, Joseph Giurlani, is the restaurant’s legendary cook.

Joseph’s boys, Adam and Anthony, are continuing the family tradition, learning culinary art firsthand. There’s a difference though. Adam and Anthony Giurlani have it a lot easier than their dad did. Since the first Teresa never mastered reading or writing, Joseph had to learn to cook by memorizing everything his grandmother said and did.

Just try Joseph’s mezzo mezzo— half ravioli and half spaghetti laced with marinara sauce.

(Teresa’s Place. 2345 Jackson Circle Rd. Jackson. Phone: 223- 1787.)

* * * Italian restaurants are all so romantic. Christopher’s Ristorante Italiano in Sonora is one of those oh, so la mio kind of places where diners twirl the spaghetti slowly, stylistically, around their forks and linger thoughtfully over each sip of carefully selected wine all the while gazing soulfully into each other eyes.

Perhaps some of this passion radiates from owner, Chris Segarini, and his lovely dining room manager, Heather Ashton, who are planning a June wedding; but I’m thinking the setting also helps. Christopher’s is located in a 150 year-old-landmark building, once a historic hotel, complete with towers, turrets and arches.

The chef-owner

has been living his passion—the creation and preparation of gourmet Italian food—for the past 20 years. Chris’s enticing menu draws diners seven nights a week. Save room for his Caesar salad. It’s the best ever.

(Christoper’s Ristorrante Italiano. 160 South Washington St., Sonora. Phone: 533-2600)

* * * Sara Beaudreo got her nickmane from an Italian grandmother who called her “Sarafina.” A pretty name—it has a ring to it. Don’t you agree?

Sarafina’s Italan Restaurant was merely a twinkle in Sara eye when she visited Italy for the first time as a college student. Italy was merely a junior year abroad destination. She didn’t count on falling in love with her relatives, with Italy, and most particularly Italian food.

But before long Sara was studying both Italian and Italian cooking. The end result is Arnold’s Sarafina’s, an Italian restaurant that has become a culinary mecca.

The ambiance is Sierra rustic with an intimate cabin-like interior. The food is solid, comforting, and homemade. Sarafina definitely knows her pasta textures and sauces.

Just try Nettie’s Caprese, a salad of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil, mixed greens tossed with extra-virgin olive oil. It’s done to perfection and could easily serve four. But don’t forget Sarafina’s Veal scaloppini sautéed with lemon and capers in white wine. Italian scaloppini doesn’t get any better.

(Sarafina’s. 794 Highway 4, Arnold. Phone: 875-9858.)

* * *

Real angels must have been smiling on Angels Camp when Gil and Celeste Lusher opened an Italian restaurant there.

The sign as you enter says it all: “THIS IS NOT FAST FOOD.” Their Crusco’s is a place to relax, unwind, and enjoy conversation as well as food. Just step inside and you’ll immediately feel cosseted and comforted.

Crusco’s is so Italian there has to be a Godfather lurking there somewhere. I always scan the dark interior hopefully. Nobody yet as quite matched Marlon Brando but there are plenty of interesting possibilities.

The atmosphere is definitely right: rich burgundy and plum napery, dark wood chairs and tables, a mural of Venice on the wall, lots of family pictures. The background music is perfect: either Italy’s favorite son belting out “My Way”, arias from grand opera, or romantic mandolins.

Crusco’s Ristorante is family owned. Gil is the host, while his wife Celeste—her maiden name was Crusco—cooks up a storm out in the kitchen. Their daughters and sons-in- law serve. The family’s pride— whether it be in and attention to detail, food, service or ambience, is obvious. “Everything served here is from scratch,” Gil says. “If we don’t make it on the premises, it comes from one of our local organic farms or artisan vendors.”

In nine years I’ve worked my way through a marvelous menu but my favorite remains Gamberoni alla Mediterraneo. This scrumptious concoction features spaghetti with prawns, spinach, kalamata olives, tomatoes and pancetta in garlic white wine sauce. Mama Mia! It’s


(Crusco’s Ristorante. 1240 South Main. Phone: 736-1400. )

* * * Everything about Copperopolis’s Town Square is a bit magical, a backward spin on the popular song, “everything new is old again.”

The Square’s imaginative new-old architecture is great for starters but things gets better and better. The large windows at Panini’s, the Square’s upscale Italian restaurant, look out on colorful streets and lush hillsides. The restaurant’s ambience is sophisticated and romantic with a festive, casually elegant feel that spells date night.

Owner-proprietor Michael Pennini (imagine Pennini—Panini’s) is a great host. Having owned two restaurants in Moraga, he’d been contemplating retirement when captured by the magic of Copperopolis’s transformation. Next thing Pennini knew he was part of it.

Though Pennini and his chef, Mike Baisch, constantly vary the menu, devising specials that are truly special, they’re particularly proud of their fish. “We’re constantly trying new fish and variations of favorites,” Pennini says. “Featured items change but one thing you can count on is freshness— there’s nothing frozen around here.”

A prime example is salmon with chipotle sauce. Sound dicey? Salmon is so subtle and can easily be overwhelmed, but chef Baisch does the perfect Goldilocks slight of hand—not too spicy, not to bland.

Nevertheless, my favorite—this being an Italian restaurant and all—is the Eggplant Parmesan. This dish is not just great food, it’s culinary architecture at its most spectacular. Think oven-roasted eggplant covered with parmesan and mozzarella cheese, then topped with towers of marinara sauce crowned by spaghetti.

Did I mention magic?

(Panini’s. 131 Town Square Rd., Copperopolis. Phone: 785-8811)

* * *

Greeting customers at the door is a small boy, perhaps eight, with a smile as big as he is. His gallant “Welcome to Giannini’s” made me an instant convert. You see, I’ve saved my favorite restaurant for last.

Clearly the Giannini clan’s warm generational ties bind the Pine Grove family business together. There’s a wonderful sense of history behind the 77-year old enterprise originally opened by Al Sr. and his wife Rosalie.

Don’t go there if you’re not hungry. The deluxe dinner is a five-course no holds barred event. It begins with the famous polenta board—Italian corn meal covered with meat and tomato sauce—unique and very tasty. The salad is crisp and green, an excellent foil to the full bodied minestrone soup. Pasta, Giannini’s signature dish, is most often an awesome ravioli.

It’s always difficult to select an entrée. There are so many from which to choose. Expect all the standard Italian fare, but there are also some rarely seen dishes like sweet breads and chicken liver sauté.

Eating at Giannini’s is an orgy of sorts with the restaurant’s fabulous zabaglione as the only possible conclusion. As they say, it’s to die for.

(Giannini’s. 19845 Highway 88, Pine Grove. Phone: 296-7222.)