Chef's Corner: Donato Scotti, owner and executive chef of Donato Enoteca
The peninsula is bursting with fantastic restaurants, most of which are dedicated to using local and fresh ingredients, just like what we carry at our store! Each Chef’s Corner will feature a local restaurant, chef & a recipe in the hopes that you’ll grow to love the chef’s passion for food, and their restaurant, as much as we do! Enjoy — Carmelo Sigona
You wouldn’t believe it was only January when we visited Donato Scotti, owner and executive chef of the new restaurant Donato Enoteca in Redwood City. The sun was out, some trees were pushing out early blossoms and people were bustling down the sidewalk, but there was still a bite in the air that led me to accept the espresso Scotti offered when he welcomed us into his restaurant.
Donato Enoteca is in a prime position on Middlefield Road, straight across the street from the city library. My son Dante and I had dined there just days before to scope it out as we knew Chef Scotti made weekly visits to our Redwood City store. The dining atmosphere and lounge area were perfect and the authentic Italian food, made with local ingredients, was so out-of-this-world fantastic…we’re talking Risotto Nero, Risotto cooked in squid ink, and Calamarettie e Fagioli that were cooked so Italian I didn’t hesitate to ask Scotti if we could feature him in our next Chef’s Corner. The dishes brought back the great memories of the feasts we had at our big family get-togethers. The whole package was too great to let go.
“The building offered everything I’ve always wanted in my own restaurant; casual dining inside with a quiet dining area and lounge in the back, lined by an outdoor patio that is gorgeous when the weather is nice,” said Scotti. “It was like getting dealt a new hand when playing cards. I could have folded, but I had to play it. You can’t pass up an opportunity like this.”
Donato Enoteca features a contemporary Italian menu that changes weekly to incorporate the freshest and just-peaking produce of the season. From homemade pastas (try making some yourself using Scotti’s recipe below!), to meat and fish courses, to a uniquely-designed wine list, it’s obvious that Scotti pours his heart and soul into the food and the business of restauranterring.
“You have to give your all when you run a business with your name on it,” said Scotti. “I’ve worked to bring my business to a point where I’m comfortable saying to people, ‘this is who I am and this is what I’ve got.’”
My brothers and I can definitely vouch for that sort of mentality – when your name is on your business there is no excuse for putting forth half the effort or for presenting your customers with mediocre products. There’s so much self-satisfaction in knowing that you are giving the best of what is good for your customers. Scotti takes the same approach to his cooking – with so many fresh, local ingredients at our fingertips, there is no reason not to use them.
“It’s an Italian thing,” said Scotti. “The Italian approach to cooking is to find local ingredients and enhance them by introducing other local flavors and products. Fresh, good ingredients, such as local artichokes, lettuces and beets, create good dishes, as long as you don’t do too much to the recipe. It’s a simple and natural way of presenting what terrior brings to the plate and it’s the closest I can bring my customers to Italy.”
Take porcini mushrooms, for example. It was porcini season when Christine, our marketing manager, and I visited with Scotti. He told us about how he grew up hunting mushrooms in Italy and has found great pockets of wild porcinis to pick right here in the Bay Area. “I love going to get them myself,” said Scotti. “And no, I won’t tell you where I found them,” he added with a laugh.
Scotti came to the United States from Italy about 20 years ago, landing first in New York City, which he found to be a bit too big of a city having come from a small town in Italy. Scotti then made his way to Los Angeles where he secured a position at Valentino, a legendary restaurant known for using California’s fresh and local ingredients. Scotti became Chef during the six years he worked at Valentino before making his way north to Fresno and then to Sacramento. In Sacramento, Scotti accepted a position with Il Fornaio which eventually led to transfers within the chain to sites in Walnut Creek and, ultimately, Palo Alto.
Have you been to La Strada in Palo Alto? Scotti opened La Strada in 2004 and focused the menu on the foods of Northern Italy, incorporating fresh and local ingredients, which earned the restaurant the excellent reputation that holds true today. It was in the last year that Scotti saw an opportunity to strike out on his own and opened Donato Enoteca in Redwood City in June 2009.
Though Scotti worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Italy and studied at the Instituto Alberghiero di San Pellegrino culinary school, working with local, seasonal ingredients was not something he had to be taught – eating seasonally and living from the local land was second nature to him.
Growing up in small town of Bergamo, near Lake Como, Italy, Scotti’s roots, as it says in his bio the restaurant’s Web site, “were planted from a young age for his future career as a chef.” His grandfather raised chickens and other game such as rabbits, his father tended a large garden and the family practiced eating farm-to-table everyday. Gathering foods every day for a meal is not a new concept to Scotti.
My family, once our family moved from San Francisco to Morgan Hill when I was a teenager, did the same thing. My father still works his small farm daily, taking little breaks on the folding chair he totes around on his regular route through the property. It’s a way of life just as his father had done in Italy before relocating to the United States.
“I’ve always loved food, and always loved to eat,” said Scotti. “I was just 12 or 13 years old when I asked my mother if I could go work in the local bakery during the summer. I would deliver loaves of freshly-baked bread in the mornings to wives waiting for the delivery so they could make lunches for their husbands to take to lunch. I loved working there, smelling the flour and the bread coming out of the oven. A.G. Ferrari makes the dough we use for our bread, but I was able to do taste testing and give my input on the recipe.”
Scotti has a tip for future customers: when looking over the menu, feel free to say to the waiter, “tell Donato I’ll eat whatever he makes.” Making up meals on the fly, based on customers likes, dislikes or sense of gastronomic adventure is a challenge Scotti likes to face. “It gives me an opportunity to use my ability and my talents.”
One of the dishes I absolutely love at Donato Enoteca is the Crostata Di Baccala, a salted cod cake dish. The last time I had salted cod was in Pozzallo, Sicily, the home of my grandfather. Scotti says he put a twist on an old recipe from Venice where the cod is cooked in milk, chilled and made into cakes before it’s fried. Scotti knows this dish is sought out by people from Northern Italy and he’s proud to offer it on his menu. Be sure to check out the Donato Enoteca menu online to plan your next visit, or, to hold you over, try out his recipe for Foiade with a mushroom sauce below!
Recipe from Donato Scotti
Fresh Foiade with a Mushroom and Parsley sauce
Foiade are very simple and very tasty short strips of pasta, and are often found served with mushrooms such as porcinis, but you can use any variety such as chanterelles (they’re so hot right now!). You’ll need a pasta machine or the pasta attachment on your KitchenAid to complete the pasta portion of this recipe.
- 1.5 lb. buckwheat flour, 1/2 lb. regular flour
- 10 eggs
- Olive oil, salt, water (as needed…see directions)
- Rice flour (for dusting)
Make batch of flour and create a well in the middle, add 8 whole eggs, some olive oil, a pinch of salt. Mix by hand. Add 2 whole eggs and a little water to moisten the dough so that it will stick. Work by hand until smooth and homogeneous, cover with a damp towel and set aside in a bowl.
To make foiade, use a pasta machine. Start with a coarse sheet of dough, run through machine, fold, run through machine again, setting the machine to a finer thickness each time. After each fold sprinkle with a little rice flour. Stop folding, keep making machine setting finer until the desired thickness is achieved. Buckwheat is harder to work and it tends to rip. Dust with rice flour to keep dough from sticking. Cut final sheet into odd assorted shapes with a knife.
To cook, use plenty of water and boil hard.
We encourage you to make as much or as little of the mushroom sauce as you need for this dish…it all depends on how much foiade you make or how many people you’re serving. Cooking a dish like this allows you to be creative with measurements! Tip: Don’t drown the mushrooms in oil or wine – they’ll soak up some of the liquid, but don’t need to swim in it to begin with. See Donato’s note about adding a little water or vegetable stock if the mushroom mix is too dry.
- Wild mushrooms (may be more than one kind combined)
- Olive oil
- Chopped garlic
- Italian parsley
- White wine
- Grana padano (may substitute fontina or piave cheeses)
Saute chopped garlic in oil, add mushrooms, add Italian parsley, cook for two minutes. Add salt, splash of wine, cook another four minutes. If too dry add a little water or vegetable stock, toss with buckwheat foiade, add grated grana padano, serve.