April 5, 2007
A Trattoria Takes Root Along J Street

IMGP0922_edited.jpg If you like pizza, this is a good time to be living in the Sacramento area. Though pizza joints have been in virtually every neighborhood for decades, we're now seeing a surge of new and promising venues throughout the region.

Last night, we stopped in at one of them, the slick Gianni's Trattoria along J Street. This is Peter Torza's latest culinary adventure. Gianni's, named for his son, occupies what had been Torza's Black Pearl Oyster Bar. Torza visited Italy, rediscovered his Italian heritage, and returned home a changed man, with an appetite more for pizza, pasta, osso buco and grilled veal chop than the seafood of Black Pearl.

Torza took over an adjoining hairstyling salon, tore down the wall separating it from Black Pearl, and merged the two quarters into one airy dining room, the buoyancy of which is aided by white booths and chairs, translucent blue polymer tables, and high and wide windows that provide diners with the quintessential Sacramento scene - a big tree in spring bud, the traffic of J Street and a park across the way. Despite red-brick walls and a pea-green concrete floor, Gianni's is no rustic trattoria, but more a throwback to an unusually chic mid-20th-century diner. Contemporary urban jazz and swing play on the sound system, while what looked to be a World War II movie played on three shoulder-to-shoulder plasma screens above the bar.

Executive chef Patrick Hocking oversees an unusually diverse and industrious menu for a trattoria, ranging from appetizers like sliced veal with tonnato sauce to entrees that include sauteed sole, seared snapper and broiled pheasant. The extensive pasta list includes risotto with lobster, gnocchi in gorgonzola cream, and lasagna.

From the pizza list - "You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six" - we chose the "aquitania," a cheeseless disc notable in part for the richness of its anchovies and the fruitiness of its tomato sauce, but mostly for the crispness of its thin crust.

Prices range from $7 to $14 for appetizers and salads, generally fall around $12 for pizzas, and swing from $10 to $28 for pastas and entrees.

The wine list is downright exhilarating - adventurous, appealingly priced and sound in its selection of brands, such as Navarro for riesling, Mahoney for chardonnay, Forefathers for sauvignon blanc, Goldeneye for pinot noir, Boeger for barbera, Phelps for cabernet sauvignon and on and on.

Gianni's Trattoria, 2724 J St., serves dinner only, 5:30-11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 5:30-10 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, though the oven stays fired up to 1 a.m. for pizzas and a few baked dishes; (916) 447-1000.

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