Given that it once served as home of the Stanford family winery, it’s fitting that Italian restaurant and bar Vina Enoteca opened its doors last fall at the historic Stanford Barn in Palo Alto.
The restaurant’s modern décor and lighting, in contrast with the rustic brick-laden walls and exposed beams of the interior architecture, serves as a metaphor for Vina Enoteca’s overarching mission to provide high-quality, handcrafted Italian foods and wines, delivered with a modern twist and aimed to serve the South Bay’s diverse palates.
Proprietor Rocco Scordella, who also owns the casual, Italian brunch spot Tootsies across the courtyard at the Stanford Barn, opened Vina Enoteca to share his unique take on Italian cuisine, which was inspired by his own upbringing in Northeast Italy. Scordella’s culinary training began at the age of 13 in Bologna and it has taken him across Europe and the East Coast, before leading him to Palo Alto. His commitment to authenticity is made clear by the restaurant’s simple but vital focus on freshly made pasta, pizza dough and bread, each one playing a significant role in Vina Enoteca’s dishes.
Vina Enoteca has a “master mixologist” on staff, so I started off with the Strafumati ($13) off the restaurant’s house cocktail menu, which came highly recommended by our server. Made with plantation pineapple rum, lemongrass, curacao, mint and crushed ice, the drink is refreshingly tasty and oh-so-strong. The wine selection also offers an impressive array of reasonably priced Italian wines, as the restaurant’s name (“Wine Shop”) would suggest.
Next came the seasonal insalata d’inverno, a beautifully plated mix of both roasted and raw winter vegetables and mixed greens ($16), carefully drizzled in a light but flavorful charred Meyer lemon vinaigrette. With hearty pieces of beet, butternut squash, potato, Brussel sprouts, roasted fennel and sliced radish, the salad included a light sprinkling of toasted quinoa that gave it the perfect amount of crunch to compliment the density of the vegetables. Freshly baked bread and dipping olive oil was also brought to the tableside, which paired nicely with the salad and sopped up the pasta sauces later in our meal.
For main courses, we decided to stick with the pizza and pasta dishes that have brought Vina Enoteca a devoted following. Where gluten is concerned, Vina Enoteca not only delivers, but excels beyond expectations. We went for the funghi pizza ($18), an alternate take on a classic Italian staple. With wild mushrooms, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and Montasio cheeses and coarsely cut, raw radicchio and red onion on top, the flavors of the cooked and raw ingredients made for an exciting array of flavors and textures in each bite. The foundation of the dish, the crust, was perfectly baked, airy and soft, but not at all doughy.
Just as we were making progress on the pizza (and considering ordering another) the pastas arrived and sealed the deal on what was already an incredible dining experience. Opting for two pasta classics, we went with the spaghetti gamberi e cozze ($22) and the tortelli cacao e pepe ($27). Both offered slight but significant changes to classic flavors. The spaghetti dish was expertly seasoned with parsley, garlic, Middle Eastern Aleppo pepper, breadcrumb-encrusted mussels and juicy rock shrimp in a butter sauce. The tortelli dish included carefully handmade leek and potato ravioli arranged neatly among dollops of pecorino and black pepper sformato and wild arugula pesto, all sitting in a creamy butter sauce that coated each ravioli. The sformato, an Italian cheese, egg and vegetable custard, was rich and flavorful and complemented each bite of potato and leek-stuffed pasta. The arugula pesto was incredibly fresh and earthy, unlike any other pesto I have tried, and balanced out the rich, cheesy flavor of the sformato.
Vina Enoteca offers a rare home for both guests who crave simple, true Italian food, and adventure seekers on a quest for skillfully crafted dishes and an equally impressive bar menu. It’s sure to become a mainstay in the Bay Area’s ever-diversifying restaurant scene.
700 Welch Rd, Palo Alto