A classic in need of updating | May 20, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

Eating Out - May 20, 2011

A classic in need of updating

Ristorante Don Giovanni Cucina Italiana lacks consistency across its menu

by Alissa Stallings

==I Editor's note: The temporary closure of the main dining room mentioned in the review was due to a remodeling of the bar, and has reopened since the reviewer's visit to Don Giovanni.== On a recent, cool spring evening I rushed into Ristorante Don Giovanni Cucina Italiana on Castro Street. I was running embarrassingly late (by my standards), but my friend had texted me and assured me the waiter was taking excellent care of her. I rushed through the front door and into a totally empty restaurant. Stunned, I realized the hum of conversation was coming from next door. I whirled back outside and ducked into the catering hall next door, where apparently everyone, including my buddy, was seated for the evening.

Drafty, noisy, and offering a short trip across the empty restaurant to use the bathrooms, the catering hall is stenciled with names of all the Silicon Valley companies that ostensibly eat here. It is also decorated with a mix of Tuscan and Southwestern decor, with a photo of Marilyn Monroe thrown in. The catering hall is not exactly a quiet or relaxing venue for dinner, but it is eclectic.

The service, however, was attentive and prompt. We had our menus and drinks in hand in no time. This was the first time I had been to an Italian restaurant that didn't serve bread while we studied the menu, but I guess we didn't need it. The menu offers fairly mainstream Italian and Italian-American fare, such as calamari, bruschetta, spaghetti alla Bolognese, as well as some surprises that raised red flags for me: fish and chips and teriyaki steak, for example.

We started with the Antipasto Misto Figaro for two ($15.95), hoping it would have all the excitement of the opera it references. This appetizer sample platter includes bruschetta, grilled zucchini, grilled bell peppers, calamari, fresh mozzarella, roasted eggplant, and salad shrimp, with cocktail and tartar sauces for the shrimp and calamari.

Overall, this was a disappointment. Nothing was seasoned. The mozzarella had no flavor or marinade. The calamari was overcooked, cold, and tasted of oil, and I've always had marinara, not tartar sauce with calamari before. The vegetables were not seasoned, and we really didn't know how the salad shrimp fit into the picture. The bruschetta was OK, but mainly included tomato without basil. For $15.95, it was a wasted opportunity.

The menu is filled with options like chicken parmesan, carpaccio, ossobucco, tiramisu, shrimp Louie, and other items that were mainstays of the 1980s and 1990s. I felt like Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal would be sitting at the table next to us filming "When Harry Met Sally." Clearly, the menu could use some updating. Perhaps not much has changed since the owner, John Akkaya, opened this located in 1997. He also owns Cafe Figaro in Burlingame. I spoke with the manager, Yalchin Helvaci, who confirmed they've had the same chef, Paco Luis, since the restaurant opened, but he said that this has led to a loyal following among the locals and companies alike.

"Seventy-five percent of our customers are regulars because we have been here so long, and they come from Palo Alto and Los Altos, too. We host lots of company meetings and have high customer loyalty and we truly appreciate that," he said.

I decided to choose a simple, classic, mainstream dish, to match the feel I was getting from the menu. My spaghetti alla Bolognese ($13.95) was lacking in meat. There was some, but nothing I could sink my teeth into, and the sauce lacked any flavor of red wine or garlic. I'm not a fan of labeling something on the menu as just "meat." I would advocate for telling your diners what they'll be eating.

My friend fared no better with her choice. She opted for the Penne con Pollo Verdure ($13.95), which features chicken, penne pasta, and vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, bell pepper, carrot and artichoke in a light broth. It sounded wonderful, and she ate quietly for a few minutes until I asked how it was. "It needs something ... white wine," she said.

"And butter maybe. Just a little. Maybe some garlic. More spinach, maybe some nuts even. Anything for flavor. And the pieces are huge."

How bad could it be? I took my fork and sampled a bit and stopped smiling. It tasted like ... nothing. No flavor. Like they had steamed vegetables and chicken in broth and put it on a plate with no seasoning at all.

We pushed our plates aside and asked for the dessert menu. Clearly when all hope is lost, dessert is the thing to do, and Italy has never led us astray in this matter. We studied the menu and ordered a slice of the Blood Orange Mousse Cake Torte ($5.99). How could we go wrong?

It arrived looking sleek and low profile, the sponge cake acting as an almost invisible crust for the mousse. My friend eagerly dove in, was less eager for the second spoonful, and then put her fork down. "It reminds me of cafeteria desserts," she said. I took a bite.

"No. It tastes exactly like a giant orange-flavored Tic Tac." We left dinner hungry and headed off to get some gelato to finish off the evening on a high note.

My lunch visit was much better. We were seated in the main dining room, which was much more pleasant, less drafty, and quieter. The lunch menu was similar to the dinner menu and offered a wide variety. The Insalata Greca ($9.95) was fresh and light with tangy olives, the feta was perfect, and the balsamic dressing was just right. The Gnocchi alla Piemontese ($9.95), a true test of any Italian restaurant, were light and pillowy, and I would definitely order them again.

I can see the appeal of Don Giovanni's. The restaurant is friendly, the service is prompt and efficient, and the menu stays the same, which the regulars clearly appreciate. But if you are looking for innovative cuisine, excellent desserts, or consistent performance across the menu, there are better options (and better values) elsewhere on Castro Street.

Ristorante Don Giovanni Cucina Italiana

235 Castro Street

Mountain View, CA 94041

(650) 961-9749


Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Dinner: Monday-Thursday 4 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Reservations: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Parking: Street

Alcohol: Beer, Wine

Children: Yes

Takeout: Yes

Catering: Yes

Outdoor dining: Yes

Party facilities: Yes

Noise level: Fine in main restaurant, Noisy in catering hall

Bathroom cleanliness: Fine


Posted by A. Reader, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

What about Le Petit Bistro (1405 W El Camino Real)? Has it been reviewed?

Posted by Observer, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

I don't think anything or any restaurant can satisfy this reviewer. Let customers decide what they like and don't like. But once again The Voice allows its reviewer to slam yet another restaurant that employees people and raises tax revenue. Perhaps this is the reporter need to pick apart the poor service and waste going on in City Hall and the schools.

Posted by Ellen Wheeler, a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I am surprised by this reviewer's experience. My husband and I enjoy going to Don Giovanni's for dinner at least once a month and love having a restaurant of such high quality at a convenient location. We think the appetizers, entrees, and desserts are excellent. And yes, the service is good, too.

Posted by Dan Escueta, a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm

To quote this critic "My spaghetti alla Bolognese ($13.95) was lacking in meat. There was some, but nothing I could sink my teeth into, and the sauce lacked any flavor of red wine or garlic...". The only way to get more meat in this sauce would be to drop a steak on top of the dish. As for this robust hearty sauce lacking in flavor, I only have one thing to say to this would be food critic. Shame on you. The only way you couldn’t enjoy this sauce would be that your taste buds have been deadened by years of chain smoking. The only point that I will agree with this review, the Blood Orange Mousse Cake Torte is a disappointment and should be replaced with their sublime fruity Zabayon.
Why didn’t this writer use this paper’s precious real estate to editorialize about traffic congestion instead of spending two pages tearing down this bright spot on the culinary scene.

Posted by Janet, a resident of Waverly Park
on May 26, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I totally agree with the review. It's been the same old food for years, but the atmosphere and service are fine.

Posted by Tommy, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I'm surpised by the harsh review, because I've had nothing but good meals @ Don Giovanni's. It seems somewhat silly to knock the restaurant for sticking to traditional Italian dishes (which is what Italian restaurants do), particularly when Ms. Stallings in another review praises a Korean/Japanese restaurant in Palo Alto for "stick[ing] to the basics" (Web Link).

Ms. Stallings appears to be going out of her way to bash a restaurant that a lot of people seem to like (it gets good reviews on Yelp). The Mountain View Voice ought to be ashamed for printing this sophomoric piece.

Posted by Joanne, a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Our family has visited DG on several occasions over the past several months and found the service and food to be excellent; the servers have been prompt with the bread, beverage, and food. We have sampled several different dishes and found them all to be very delicious and presented visually appealing. The only downside is that some main dishes are very small in serving size, and the desserts are not consistent in size from one visit to the next. All and all, we keep going back beacuse the entire environment and quality is better than most restaurants in the area for the comparable price. So Enjoy !!