New approaches to Italian-American classics, cocktails in a sophisticated, modern setting
During the pandemic, the gleaming Miro luxury apartment towers sprung up in downtown San Jose, promising an upscale ground-floor restaurant for the public and the residents above.
Vine Hospitality, the parent company of the Bay Area’s most well-known group of French brasseries, snagged the opportunity, announcing in early 2022 that it would build its first Italian restaurant in the nearly 7,000-square-foot space.
Rollati Ristorante has been open for more than 18 months. Dinner and cocktails are available daily beginning at 5 p.m., with weekday lunch and happy hour beginning this week.
What role does Rollati play in this new urban landscape? We made a reservation to see it. Our findings are as follows:
THE VIBE: Sophisticated enough for business dinners, yet approachable enough for a family birthday celebration.
THE LOOK: Chic and airy, with two 17-foot-tall window walls. Diners first notice the sophisticated bar and lounge, which was designed by Arcsine of Oakland in black, red, and gray with splashes of green. There are numerous seating options, including couches, banquettes, high tops, and bar stools. The main dining room has a simpler design, with tables spaced comfortably apart and enough soundproofing in the high ceilings to allow for easy conversation on the night we were there. What are those cool retro-modern lights? Arcsine chose fixtures with curves and squiggles that resemble pasta.
THE VIEWS: Request a table facing Santa Clara Street to admire City Hall, a postmodern masterpiece designed by the renowned Richard Meier. The Sonic Runway, an eye-catching light-and-sound art installation that lines the sidewalk and serves as the backdrop for many a nighttime selfie, is a popular nighttime selfie location.
Not facing the outside? From the lounge, you can see the pasta-making process and the Molto Bene oven, which was imported from Naples and fires pizzas at 800 degrees. (For a private party, reserve the 14 seats closest to the kitchen window.)
Large vintage photos of four famous people twirling, eating, or laughing it up with spaghetti can be found on the back wall of the dining room: Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Louis Armstrong, and Yogi Berra. (Awesome local history: Joe DiMaggio, the most famous Italian-American on that Yankees team, frequently dined just down the street at the legendary Paolo’s, the restaurant that put San Jose on the map for fine dining.)
THE CLIENTELE: On the weeknight we visited, diners from San Jose State University outnumbered what appeared to be City Hall denizens, possibly because the former have returned to downtown in greater numbers than the latter. An MBA graduate at a table of six said she chose Rollati for her birthday dinner because it is the closest Italian restaurant to campus. This newcomer was discovered by a table of four students who shared the Spicy Pizza Pie ($22), Fried Mozzarella ($10), Spaghetti Alla Limone ($24), and Garlic Bread dusted with Parmigiano-Reggiano ($9).
THE FOOD: Concept chef Sam Gimlewicz and chef de cuisine Christian Luxton, along with CEO Obadiah Ostergard, whose grandfather was Italian, created a concise menu of standards — and a few surprises.
Spaghetti e Pomodoro, Linguine alle Vongole, Fusilli alla Genovese, and Rigatoni alla Vodka ($19-$24) feature handmade pasta made with ultra-fine semolina. “House specialties” include Chicken Piccata and Chicken di Parm (both $26), as well as a Saltimbocca ($44), with pork substituting for veal. A double-cut Sakura Pork Chop ($48) crowned with Jimmy Nardello peppers, a prime New York steak ($58), and a 22-ounce Cowboy “Bisteka” ($85) sourced from Southern California’s Brandt Beef are all on the grill.
The “Thousand” Layer Lasagna ($20 with marinara, or $28 on a bed of beef short rib ragu) is the most intriguing of the pastas. Multi-layered lasagna appears to be popular, but this version flips tradition on its head by slicing and searing the lasagna in a hot skillet. If you’re the person at the table who always wants the crunchy corner piece from the lasagna pan, this style — created about a decade ago in New York — is for you.
If that doesn’t become Rollati’s signature dish, perhaps this will: When an Italian restaurant chooses a line drawing of a rabbit as its logo, you know it serves coniglio. Rollati’s chefs made the wise decision to serve Rabbit Agrodolce, a dish that cuts the richness of the meat with a traditional Italian sour-and-sweet sauce made with vinegar, honey, red currants, and pine nuts. The rabbit is moist, and the sauce complements the polenta perfectly.
If you have room for a housemade dessert ($10-$12), there’s an ultra-creamy Tiramisu (rich and tall enough for two to share), cannoli, and soft serve ice cream with toppings like seasonal jam, toasted almonds, Amarena cherries, and olive oil and sea salt.
THE DRINKS: Wine is elevated to the level of art in this establishment, with hundreds of bottles displayed in dramatic glass towers. Naturally, Italian and California varietals dominate Serena Harkey’s wine and spirits list. The Limoncello Spritz ($16), made with housemade limoncello, Ketel One, prosecco, and soda; the Black Manhattan ($17), made with Old Forester Straight Bourbon, Amaro Montenegro, Amaro Averna, and Angostura aromatic and orange; and the Blood Orange Garibaldi ($15), made with Carpano Botanic Bitter and fresh juice, are all Italian-inspired cocktails.
DO NOT MISS: Rabbit Agrodolce. While a number of Bay Area Italian restaurants occasionally serve rabbit as a special, it’s uncommon to find one that promises to keep it on the regular menu.
GOOD TO KNOW: Starting at 6 p.m., valet parking ($20) is available. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are off. Pull into the valet lane on the restaurant’s Fourth Street side. Two nearby ParkSJ city garages (third and St. John streets, fourth near East San Fernando) provide 90 minutes of free parking. When City Hall is closed, another city garage, Fourth and St. John, is open to the public on weeknights and weekends.
DETAILS: Open for dinner daily at 5 p.m. at 181 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose; www.rollatiristorante.com.