Stylish Italian Food & Fresh Olive Oil Set Mill Valley Restaurant Apart
Olive oil and Italian food go together like candles on a birthday cake, but at Frantoio Ristorante, across from San Francisco in Mill Valley, they've taken the alliance one step further. Frantoio makes its own freshly-pressed extra virgin olive oil on a traditional olive press located in full view of the restaurant's guests.
Although it's hard to overshadow the exquisitely prepared cuisine of chef Duilio Valenti, one can't help but notice the two massive 3,600 pound granite olive crushing wheels overlooking the dining room. with the start of the olive harvest each fall, Frantoio crushes more than 100 tons of California olives in the restaurant for its own use and for retail sale around the country. and all this happens as a side-bar to the 196-seat restaurant, which, under Valenti's deft hand, is gaining a reputation as one of Northern California's finest Italian restaurants.
The 34-year-old Valenti brings a wealth of international experience to the kitchen at Frantoio. He grew up in Milan, where his father was founder of the sommelier association of Italy. After graduating from the Lombardy Culinary Academy, Valenti landed a coveted position as a pastry chef for the Gualtiero Marchesi, the only Michelin three-star restaurant in Italy. He later moved to America where he was hired as a chef at the acclaimed Rex Ristorante in Los Angeles. Valenti then went on to executive chef at Bice in New York.
Frantoio, which means "olive crusher," is the creation of Roberto and Christine Zecca and restaurateur Umberto Gibin. Roberto Zecca, a native of Milan, is a retired international banking executive who, with his wife Christine, ran a successful olive oil business in Italy before returning to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1983. Umberto Gibin, a native of Venice, was trained in the restaurant business in Europe and has had a successful career in restaurant management in the U.S. for the last 16 years. Culminating and combining their respective dreams, the Zeccas and the Gibins opened Frantoio in September, 1995 as a place where customers could enjoy a spectacular meal and experience the making of "the precious and healthy extra virgin olive oil," as described by Roberto.
Zecca and Gibin engaged the services of renowned architect Cass Calder Smith to design Frantoio. Zecca took Smith to Chianti to study the Zecca's beautiful castellare (a cross between a castle and a villa). Smith, a self-described modernist, based his design on this building.
The restaurant combines the warmth of a Tuscan farmhouse with the sophistication of modern Milan. In the dining room, a 27-foot wood-trussed ceiling, curving plaster "in causto" walls and terra cotta floors extend from the glass-fronted crushing room on one end and the open kitchen with wood-fired brick ovens on the side. Sleek black metal furniture and white maple and burgundy-dyed woodwork completely change the ambiance of the bar area. Two patios, brimming with rosemary and lavender, fountains and olive and cypress trees, are adjacent to the bar and dining room and provide additional seating.
Signature dishes from chef Duilio Valenti's Frantoio menu include House-made Ravioli filled with Black Seabass, with Vine-ripe Tomato Coulis; Pan Roasted Porcini dusted California Halibut, Polenta Fries, Braised Leeks and Tomato Broth; Rotisserie Sonoma Duck, Honey Glazed Fresh Figs, Eggplant Caponata and Balsamic Reduction.
Frantoio Ristorante is open daily for lunch and dinner, except Sundays, when only dinner is served. For directions, reservations and additional information, call (415) 289-5777 or visit www.frantoio.com.
Frantoio makes two stone-crushed, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils: California Unfiltered and Proprietor's Select. They are available for sale at the restaurant and at selected gourmet food stores around the country.
This page modified February 2007
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