Fortunately, initial impressions aren't always indicative, and Terrone redeemed itself on subsequent visits. After that first experience, the food was pleasant, carefully prepared and encouraging.
Terrone is a derogatory term, referring to southern-Italian farmers. The principals of Terrone Pizzeria all hail from Calabria and Puglia, the toe and heel of Italy and a cradle of outstanding cuisine. Let us not forget that the ever-popular pasta puttanesca literally means "whore's spaghetti." Oh, those Italians.
Franco Campilongo managed the Palo Alto location of Pasta? for eight years while Kristyan D'Angelo ran the kitchen. Franco's cousin Maico Campilongo joined them in the latter days of Pasta? When that operation segued to Figo, the trio incubated then hatched Terrone Pizza in the old Bistro Elan space on South California Avenue in early February.
The interior space underwent a cosmetic revision. Black and white is now the dominant motif with silver framed mirrors and simple sconces sharing wall space. Lighting is minimal but effective. Overall, it's simplicity-chic complete with bare-topped tables. The Bistro Elan vegetable and herb garden out back has been supplanted with more tables, umbrellas and party lights.
On a later visit, eggplant polpette ($10) proved a better appetizer. The eggplant had been shaped into spheres, breaded and deep-fried, then nested in a rich creamy Taleggio truffle cheese sauce. It was a soothing way to whet the appetite.
The house-made cavatelli ($17), a decorative, short, slightly knotted pasta, was aromatic and alluring. Sauced with "beef stew," it was a meatier, bolder version of bolognese sauce, topped with parmesan and chopped herbs.
I tried another pizza. The margherita ($14), with ripe red San Marzano tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, fragrant basil and olive oil, put my mind at ease. It was as mouth-watering as it was artistic. The slightly charred crust was pliable — in that perfect state between cracker-y and doughy.
Terrone's imported, wood-fired, refractory brick Marra Forni pizza oven is capable of temperatures in excess of 900 degrees. Pizzas bake with astounding speed: about 60 seconds. The cheese melts perfectly with the crust, just starting to bubble and blister, Neapolitan-style.
Besides serving appetizers, pastas and pizzas, Terrone offers steak, fish and chicken entrees ($16-$25).
For dessert, the tortino al cioccolato ($8) was a cupcake-sized, medium-dense chocolate cake topped with vanilla gelato. What's not to like? Totally satisfying. However, the panna cotta eclipsed it.
The lemon panna cotta with berries ($8) was an outstanding example of what panna cotta — literally, cooked cream — should be. There are no eggs in panna cotta; it is not a pudding or a curd. It is much lighter and simpler to make, yet most domestic versions are dense custardy affairs.
The Terrone version, feather-light, melted as it hit the tongue, leaving a silky creaminess in the mouth. Deliriously good. Panna cotta is not a filling dessert, but it is lush and wonderful when executed this well.
Wine-wise, I was underwhelmed. The markups were very high for mostly grocery-shelf wines. There were no vintages posted on the menu, either.
Not to belabor the point, but restaurant wine markups are hovering at stratospheric levels, and not just at Terrone either: everywhere. Think about this when you buy wine by the glass. That singular pour is essentially what the restaurant/bar paid for the entire bottle.
As for Terrone's wine assortment, not of much interest. It looked to be a distributor's list rather than a well-thought-out selection of interesting boutique wineries to complement the fare.
Despite the grievances, my overall experience at Terrone Pizza ended up being positive. The food was skillfully prepared; the service was always prompt and efficient; and the ambiance had a good vibe to it — and that panna cotta makes a visit worthwhile.
448 South California Ave., Palo Alto
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m. Sun. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: city lots
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: yes
Private parties: no
Noise level: loud
Bathroom cleanliness: very good
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