Il Fornaio at the Westin Hotel, formerly the historic Hotel Sainte Claire, has been a fixture in downtown San Jose for decades. Its luxurious interior and authentic Italian menu can easily be seen as a one-of-a-kind premium establishment. In fact, there are actually 23 locations of the Il Fornaio restaurant brand nationwide. The most recent location, in Santa Clara, has just opened its doors in a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony, making it the fifth restaurant in the Bay Area with others in Palo Alto, Burlingame and San Francisco.

The brand new building was unveiled to a crowd of eager eaters, including Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor. Hor d’oeuvres and cocktails were served at the bar, where there is a large standing table for communal dining. The bar features a collection of craft beers and signature cocktails like the Rye Smash made with Bulleit Rye Bourbon, Sicilian Sunset made with Casa Noble Tequila, and Rosso Delizioso made with Caliche rum ($12 each). On the opposite wall across the dining room is a floor-to-ceiling wall of Italian and Californian wines which had won a Wine Spectator award. It requires a rolling library ladder to reach the wines and makes an eye-catching focal point in the room. The six options of thin crust Neapolitan style pizzas ($17-21) are baked in a large oven that serves as the hearth of the kitchen and is one of the first things patrons see from the entrance.

For the first time in the company’s 30-year history, a female chef will head one of its restaurants. Chef Leslie Pineda will help bring the brand’s authentic Italian menu to life using fresh ingredients and traditional techniques. The antipasti selection features warm and cold appetizers such as the carpaccio of thinly sliced Certified Piedmontese beef ($15), raised without hormones, steroids or antibiotics. Other highlights on the menu include the Cristina pizza ($21) topped with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and drizzled with white truffle oil. The tagliatelle Bolognese ($14 for small, $19 for large) is made with pasta imported from Italy in a tomato and meat sauce. Free range rotisserie chicken in the Insalata di Pollo del Girarrosto dish ($17) can be seen rotating slowly next to the oven in the kitchen.

Santa Clara Square has been a much-anticipated project in the community, opening doors for retailers like Whole Foods and Sur La Table. Now it welcomes Il Fornaio as the first of what will likely be many restaurants opening in the crisp new retail square.

Il Fornaio 
2752 Augustine Dr, Santa Clara.