With what seems to be a new a restaurant opening almost every week, downtown Redwood City has earned its newly minted reputation as the culinary heart of the Peninsula. It doesn't seem very long ago that the Downtown was primarily known as home of the DMV and the sign proudly reminding you of the town's slogan: "Climate Best By Government Test."
Donato Enoteca opened five years ago, before this recent boom, providing the Peninsula a unique glimpse into regional Italian cooking. After cooking at the famed Italian restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica and running the kitchen of another Italian spot in Palo Alto, Donato Scotti went against the norm for the Peninsula and crafted an Italian restaurant with a menu from his Northern Italian roots instead of another menu of red sauce, alfredo, bruschetta, and tiramisu.
Yes, you'll find bruschetta here. Except the grilled ciabatta pieces are topped with hand pulled wild boar braised in chianti vinegar, not out-o-season tomatoes. The closest preparation to "red sauce" might be the Nebbiolo-braised oxtail that coats a pasta called bigoli.
Scotti's carefully curated menu was a revelation back in 2009. Even amidst much more competition in town, Donato Enoteca remains as important as ever for this emerging dining destination.
The land-locked town of Bergamo at the base of the Dolmites where Scotti hails from has one of the most important fish markets in Italy and as a result is home to a high number of Michelin-starred seafood restaurants, according to the chef. With the high caliber of choices from branzino to scallops, Bergamo families take great pride in their fish and seafood recipes.
6,000 miles away in Redwood City, one of Scotto's most impressive creations is a humble starter you'd find him serving at home in Bergamo after a morning at the fish market. Negroni in hand, dinner at the bustling Enoteca must commence with the fresh Monterey Bay calamari ($10). The tubes and tentacles are grilled for two minutes per side, leaving them slightly bronzed with those alluring grill marks here and there. Forget about the classic tough, rubber texture of calamari. Scotti's cooks must have this down to the second.
A dainty pile of mache resides opposite the calamari for color and to also serve as a palate cleanser for the generous pile of calamari and "Bianchi di Spagna," gigantic white beans. Scotti chose the more neutral flavor of mache as a better foil than bitter greens like arugula.
Looking for a partner for the calamari, Scotti experimented with all sorts of grains before deciding on white beans. The beans' pillowy texture becomes the ideal contrast when exchanging bites with the meaty calamari. In addition, the beans become a great vehicle for absorbing the olive oil that's drizzled with restraint over the dish moments before leaving the kitchen.
Calamari's intense seafood flavor is often covered up by a batter and deep-fried to oblivion. Sampling Scotti's rendition, I couldn't help but think here is the crossing of uni's amplified ocean notes with the medium rare texture of scallops.
As for the rest of the menu, you'd be remiss to ignore the pastas made in-house, especially spaghetti tossed with more calamari, bottarga, and Calabrian peppers, all stained with a squid ink-based sauce. As a specialty of Valtellina, not far from Bergamo, the foiade di funghi is a not-too-heavy table silencer, pairing buckwheat pasta with mixed wild mushrooms and a shaving of Grana Padano.
Being one of the pace setters in Redwood City's culinary rise, Donato Enoteca remains at the head of the pack because of thoughtful dishes that aren't just "Italian." A bite of calamari and beans and you're at a trattoria on a Bergamo side street instead of across from Caltrain.
1041 Middlefield Rd., Redwood City; (650) 701-1000.