Owner John Akkaya began his restaurant career at the lowest rung: washing dishes. He worked his way from Europe to the United States and eventually to the West Coast. Thirty years ago he opened, and still operates, Café Figaro in downtown Burlingame. In 1997, Akkaya took over the old California Bakery site on Castro Street with its airy sky-high ceiling, installed hardwood floors and contemporary lighting. He painted the walls in festive, creamy yellows. Two years later, he acquired the adjacent space, which serves as a banquet room.
Not much has changed over the intervening years at Don Giovanni. The restaurant's longtime clientele know what to expect. It's charming, family oriented and now serving a second generation.
"If it isn't broke," Akkaya said, "you know what they say, and nothing here is broken."
It isn't just longtime locals that find their way to Don Giovanni. Akkaya said the local influx of tech workers have kept his restaurant continually busy. Like all Bay Area restaurants, staffing is an ongoing problem, particularly due to employees' declining ability to find affordable housing in the area, Akkaya said. Despite the housing struggle, some of Akkaya's staffers have been with him for years.
Professionalism is apparent at Don Giovanni, where on a recent visit servers were accommodating, knowledgeable, attentive and friendly. My only complaint was being asked to reuse my fork from one course to the next at one lunch. Don Giovanni's menus are bound in leather, the way they used to be. Though the menu presented no surprises, it was refreshing to see so many old standards available. Veal, in particular, is about as scarce on restaurant menus these days as a mink stole at Patagonia.
With the menus delivered shortly after seating, Italian bread and garlicky dipping oil soon followed. The bread, though not homemade, was baked in the kitchen and arrived at the table warm.
For antipasti, the bruschetta al pomodoro ($4.95 lunch, $5.75 dinner) were four toasted slices of Italian bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with chunks of marinated tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. While the bruschetta was fine, I amped up the flavor by drizzling a spoonful of the dipping oil.
Always a good way to start, two Dungeness crab cakes ($7.95, $9.95) were loaded with crab and fried golden brown. Served over cucumbers, tomato and red onion relish, the crab cakes had been drizzled with a sesame-soy aioli.
With over a dozen choices, the pasta course offered classic options. One was the rigatoni con salsiccia ($10.95, $13.95), tubes of pasta wrapped in a spicy sauce of bell pepper, onion and tomatoes with two types of grilled sausages that infused different flavors and textures. The penne al pesto ($9.95, $12.95) was simply tube pasta in a basil, garlic, olive oil, and a creamy cheese sauce. All the pasta dishes were large enough to share.
Milk-fed veal is white meat with a slight rosy hue, extraordinarily fine-grained and perfectly lean. Because it lacks fat, cooking has to be carefully monitored or the meat will quickly toughen. The veal scaloppine ($20.95, $24.95) was three thin slices of veal, dredged in flour, then sautéed with butter, lemon and capers. The veal was fork-tender and juicy, with clean flavors.
A daily special veal chop ($29.95) with asparagus, carrots, broccoli, mashed potatoes and slivers of porcini mushrooms atop, was cooked as ordered (medium). The meat was delicate and tender. Veal is all about taste and texture.
Plump tiger prawns ($17.95, $21.95) sautéed in garlic, olive oil, olives, fresh tomato, mushrooms, feta cheese and wine were succulent, firm-textured and sweet. For lunch one day, the sautéed red snapper ($15.95) was lean and moist, with a firm texture and sweet, nutty flavor.
Desserts didn't disappoint. While I would rate the tiramisu ($8.95) — made with ladyfingers soaked in amaretto and espresso, filled with mascarpone cheese and topped with chocolate shavings — as average, the cannoli ($7.95) excelled. The tube-shaped shells, filled with sweet ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, merged creamy, crisp, and sweet into a delicacy.
The wine menu offers a thoughtful selection, with an emphasis on reds that pair well with Italian cuisine. Bottle prices were fair and wines by the glass won't leave you slack-jawed. Don Giovanni also has a full bar with an array of single malt scotches, cognacs, ports and digestives.
Any restaurant that survives over two decades without giving in to the latest food crazes is doing more than one thing right; they are hitting on all cylinders. As John Akkaya said, if it ain't broke ...
Ristorante Don Giovanni
235 Castro St., Mountain View
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: full bar
Happy hour: no
Outdoor dining: yes
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent
This story contains 860 words.
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