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Quattro in East Palo Alto

Palo Alto Italian restaurant Quattro continues to deliver superb regional cuisine

WHEN I visited Quattro about three years ago, I proclaimed it the best Italian restaurant in Silicon Valley. That’s a bit like saying polar bears are the Arctic’s coolest large white mammals. There’s not much competition. The South Bay is weak in the Italian restaurant department, and Quattro dominates the field with its modern take on the cuisine.

But after going back for a recent follow-up visit, I say that the food, service and setting make Quattro not only the area’s top Italian restaurant but also one of the best of any category. Executive chef Alessandro Cartumini and chef de cuisine Edward Higgins are creating some of the most exciting and inspired food anywhere in Silicon Valley.

Quattro, located in East Palo Alto’s glass and steel Four Seasons Hotel, bills itself as a modern Italian restaurant, but the menu ranges far and wide to incorporate flavors and ingredients from California and beyond. Call it upscale contemporary California-Italian food. Or just call it very good.

Seafood dishes fare really well at Quattro. Tuna tartare ($11) isn’t a groundbreaking dish, but here it takes on new life because of the impeccable choice of ingredients. Glistening cubes of diced ahi share the plate with a thatch of lightly dressed watercress salad with brioche croutons, a perfect foil for the silken and rich diced tuna.

The diver scallop appetizer ($12) is superb. The twin scallops are beautifully browned and startlingly fresh and sweet tasting. They’re surrounded by nutty, smoky-tasting green farro (a type of hulled wheat), radicchio and thinly sliced pickled onions. At lunch, the pan-fried sea bass ($19) was outstanding. The perfectly cooked fish—crisp on the outside, snowy white and moist on the inside—is paired with grilled lemon slices and a great salad of watercress, frisée and thinly sliced green olives. It’s a simple dish, but the choice ingredients make it shine.

Also on the lunch menu, puréed zucchini soup ($5) with a fried squash blossom floating in the middle is a wonder of silken, vegetal richness. The cream of asparagus soup ($11) from the dinner menu is a showstopper. The bowl arrives with a round pine nut flan topped with a poached egg ladled with orange saffron aioli. The server pours the jade-green soup around the flan-egg island. The soup cools rather quickly, and I would have preferred a runnier egg, but taken together it’s quite a bowl of soup.

Cartumini has a Lamborghini of a pasta machine that allows him to make shapes you won’t find outside of Italy. Paired with seafood, the pasta is even better. Case in point: the Hawaiian blue prawn cannelloni ($16). The cannelloni is filled with a creamy, tangy blend of tomatoes and ricotta cheese and topped with three salty-sweet head-on shrimp. It’s beautiful and delicious.

When the restaurant goes for straight-up Italian tastes, the results are outstanding. Spaghettoni with Bolognese sauce ($16) combines coarse, house-made pasta with an outstanding classic meat sauce. The thick noodles are wonderfully chewy and stand up well to the hearty sauce.

The only dish that didn’t come off quite right was the Liberty Farms duck ($29), a roasted breast and leg paired with spinach, parsnips and gala apples. It’s a cloying, sweetish dish that seemed out of place on the cusp of spring.

Quattro also has real talent with pastry chef Danielle Riesz. Reinterpreting classic desserts from childhood has become de rigueur, but Riesz’s take on the creamsicle ($9) is playful and delicious. The dessert combines creamy vanilla panna cotta with a cylinder of blood-orange sorbet on top. Citrus confit ($9) offers a great interplay of bitter and sweet. Candied citrus (orange and kumquat) are paired with chewy brown-butter gelato and crumbs of chocolate.

It’s too bad Quattro is hidden in the Four Seasons Hotel. It’s a beautiful restaurant housed in a light-filled, glass-walled building that mirrors the progressive bent of the kitchen. You have to know it’s there, and you are not likely to walk by it. But it’s a real destination for food lovers.

2050 University Ave., East Palo Alto
Breakfast 6:30am–11am Mon–Sun, brunch 11am–2:30pm, lunch 11:30am–2:30pm Mon–Sat, and dinner 5:30–10pm