Danville’s Locanda Ravello like stepping into Naples
By Lou Fancher
When visiting Enzo Rosano’s restaurant Locanda Ravello, close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose, and listen.
You will share the childhood waking experience of the 42-year-old restaurateur and native of Naples, Italy.
“We had a big family in a small house,” says Rosano about his life as the baby of the family among eight siblings and his parents. “From my bed, I could tell from the sounds and smells what Mamma was making. Her ragù, lasagna, zeppolini, the dessert donuts we drizzle with Nutella and top with whipped cream, pastiera, the rich cheesecake we have in winter….”
Over-salivating is a serious risk when listening to Rosano, especially when he goes on to describe the 1:30 p.m. daily ritual that brought everyone to the family dinner table, where clams straight off the boat might be drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with basil and served with fresh, handmade pasta.
The Sunday meal — perhaps Mamma Carmela’s sausage and rapini (broccoli raab), a favorite — was eaten while watching afternoon soccer on television. Hours later, viewing the match’s highlights, leftovers at supper “were even better,” he recalls.
Rosano began working at age 16 as a bartender on a ship, before moving on to culinary training at Scuola Alberghieria Culinary and Hospitality program in Naples. As a bartender at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong and bar manager at the Berkeley Knightsbridge, both in London, he refined his customer relations skills. After moving to the United States and helping a family friend open Mezza Luna in Half Moon Bay, Rosano opened and continues to oversee Positano and Positano Wine Bar (formerly Gusto) in San Carlos. Locanda Ravello is his third venture.
“I had customers come to San Carlos from Walnut Creek, Alamo. I came to Danville and fell in love with the patio. It reminds me of little gardens on the Amalfi Coast that have lemon trees. I have two trees out front that are little babies now, but soon, they will be producing lots of lemons for our house-made limoncello.”
Customers at the one-year-old restaurant that includes a 60-seat outdoor patio — with heaters and a new tent for winter — main dining room that seats 30, bar and adjoining private room that accommodates 40, come for the cuisine, but return for family.
“This isn’t my restaurant, this is home,” says Rosano, arms spread wide in a gesture that includes the charming Amalfi Coast decor, the visual artistry of main dishes, thin-crust pizzas smothered in buffalo cheese, beautiful dessert plates and carefully selected wines — and Ravello’s pizza chef, Menafro Domenico. With a polite invitation, Domenico (“Mimmi”) will fill the dining room up to its skylights with his magnificent tenor, serenading customers with classic Neapolitan songs.
“My customers come for the food, but also for the experience. It’s relaxing,” says Rosano. “I learned in hotels how to treat them. Some are conservative and want clean, simple cuisine, privacy. Some want to be part of the team, know your family. A good manager tries to please the mix,” says Rosano.
Filippo Silvestri and Antonio Cerboni are family members and Locanda’s meticulous managers, but the legacy of Mamma Carmela is most prevalent. “Mamma wasn’t a good recipe maker, she just had an excellent palate,” says Rosano. “Sometimes a tomato is juicy and you only need three in a recipe. Sometimes, you have a lesser tomato and need five. Knowing that about the fish, the vegetable, the flour, is the difference between a good and a great chef.”
Coaxing the best work out of a chef means having a menu that fluctuates with the seasons and allows freedom. “Things like Mamma’s lasagna, I can’t take off the menu, but I love the kitchen to work in season. There’s a zucchini flower that’s only available for two months, crab from Naples at certain times, truffles we serve in season on pizza, risotto, everything.”
And as a lover of Mexican guacamole, he’s multicultural: “Even if it’s not Italian, if it’s delicious, I want to incorporate it. The Spanish ham we use is one of the best. I love to serve that too.” Chefs, he adds, “aren’t machines,” and daily specials provide an opportunity for creativity and signature dishes, like Branzino, a white-flesh fish cooked in white wine and presented whole, with spices and cherry tomatoes.
As often happens in today’s digital, reality television world, restaurant talk turns to online reviews. “Yelp is important because people look at it, but I don’t like it a lot,” says Rosano. “Because of cooking shows, everyone thinks they’re a chef. They can be very judgmental. Maybe you like something, maybe you don’t, but you should have knowledge.”
Cerboni says that people who’ve written the few negative reviews — less than 10 in a quick survey of more than 100 — are invited to return and do come back. “Some people go home and complain,” says Rosano. “I respect them, but I want to fix it. I don’t want someone to have a bad taste of food or a bad feeling.”
Although he takes criticism to heart, Rosano, who learned the art of cooking by watching, not by reading recipes, knows instinctively the ingredients of moving on and enjoying life.
“I have a beautiful, artistic, intelligent wife and two sons. I play tennis every morning, I shower, go to work. I have my gig,” he says. “I’m a happy man.”