Shop Talk: Caffe Riace reinvents itself

This week's retail news

CAFFE RIACE REVAMPED ... Caffe Riace, the established, authentic Italian restaurant that has stood the test of time in Palo Alto, is reinventing itself. In short -- new chef, new menu, new management.

Roberta Rosa, who, with her husband, Marlon Moreno, are the new general managers of Caffe Riace. They have a multi-year lease on the restaurant, which began Sept. 3, 2016.

Caffe Riace began 19 years ago in an unlikely location off the main drag of California Avenue. Located at 200 Sheridan Ave., it takes up a good part of the first floor of a four-story, 30-unit, luxury apartment building.

Rosa, who is half Brazilian and half Portuguese, says, "This is the most exciting time of my life. I just had a baby in August and we took over management of the restaurant in September, so it's like having two babies at the same time!" Rosa said her past has little to do with the food industry, although her family owns restaurants in Brazil. "My background is in business development," she said. Rosa is hoping to partner with local artists as she prepares to remodel the restaurant's interior. The main dining room will be transformed into a wine bar and art gallery. "I've been trying to find local artists, painters, and photographers at meetups so that we can partner with them and display their art for sale," she said. The restaurant also will display artisan tablecloths, chairs and dinner plates.

"If someone likes a chair that's been painted, they can buy it," she said. The change into an art gallery means the very large Italian mural that covers an entire wall in the current dining room will be removed. "We're going to repaint all the walls in the remodel and we'll have new, smaller tables for the wine bar," Rosa said. The transitions extend into the menu. "The old menu was homemade Italian food. We're trying to have more modern food and expand into more European cuisine. We want to add tastes from other countries, but we'll keep a few of the old Italian specialties," she said. Some new items include lamb ragout, ceviche and crab cakes. Rosa said the Salmon Riace and Fettucine Alfredo on the old menu will stay, but both will have different presentations. "We're slowly changing the menu, but the Penne Siciliana also will stay, even though we are using white wine instead of red wine. We've already seen an increase in customers in the past few weeks. To be honest, a few have not liked our changes, but overall, it's good," said Rosa.

Other developments for Caffe Riace include new menu items every month, as well as a fixed-price monthly themed dinner. The fixed-price October dinner is scheduled to take place Oct. 31. Although specific dishes and prices are still to be determined, diners can expect a lot of pumpkin-flavored, dark-sauced items in the four-course Halloween dinner, which will include wine, according to Rosa.

It's almost impossible to discuss Caffe Riace without referring to its courtyard, which seats the bulk of its customers. Approximately 80 people can dine outside, where the centerpiece in the courtyard is a fountain that has a classic nude lifting a washing machine over her head. A blue, 1950s Fiat greets diners at the front gate, two Italian motor scooters grace one side of the courtyard, and a couple of other classic nude statues round out the unconventionality of the area. Caffe Riace's uniqueness has not gone unnoticed. The restaurant has made's list of the 100 Best Outside Dining Restaurants in America for the past two years.


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13 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Interesting to learn that Cafe Riace has new owners. I wonder if the sellers told them that their outside seating is in a public space? Not private.

When the owner of the property requested to exceed the height limit so he could put in an extra floor of apartments he was allowed to do so, but in return he had to provide a public benefit. The public plaza. When the city art commission choose a statue of a classical nude with a washing machine on her head as the public art component, the owner hated it and put up his two "classic" statues opposite in response!

30 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm

@margaret heath:

The owners are the same; the article clearly states that they have moved back to Italy and are no longer involved in daily operations of the restaurant nor involved in managerial decisions.

14 people like this
Posted by Courtyard is supposed to be a public park
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 16, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Courtyard is supposed to be a public park is a registered user.

I believe the courtyard is a public "park" just like the outdoor seating area at Saint Michael's Alley.

14 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2016 at 10:02 pm

Has any tried to hold a private party in the "public space" at either Cafe Riace or Saint Michaels Alley?


7 people like this
Posted by Srini
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2016 at 8:08 am

Riace used to be one of our favorite places. We first discovered it about 6 years ago, and returned frequently, often with friends. Service was never real good, but the food and atmosphere outstanding. Then about 3 years ago, the food became unpredictable, and the help indifferent. They did a bait and switch twice with wine we ordered. They would be out of signature dishes at times early enough that it shouldn't have happened. The final straw was when, with my fingers crossed, I took friends from out of town there, having bragged about the place. There isn't enough room here to describe the disasterous evening, but suffice it to say, I was totally embarrassed. Out of several menu items, awful food preparation, and that wine debacle again. I wrote a scathing review, with a private note to the owners, inviting a response, in hopes that they would have been as digusted as I was. Never heard a word. While I'm happy to hear about the changes, I'm not sure I am willing to drop at least $100 per couple there again. I wish the new management the best, but it's hard to overcome a bad reputation.

10 people like this
Posted by Ditto
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2016 at 8:09 am

We used to LOVE Cafe Riace, but we had enough bad experiences over the last two years that we finally stopped going for good!

We can verify all of Srini's experiences, but the wine debacle REALLY was the worst! Whatever wine we ordered, they were OUT! We would then order a similar one, and that was out, too! Invariably, we would end up with a bottle that was more expensive, but not always as good as the original one ordered. It grew tiresome!

Also, the indoor seating is miserable! Packed too close together, noisy, and being bumped by passing patrons and waiters was just too much-/ and made for a bad dining experience!

I'we haven't the courage to return!

10 people like this
Posted by not hungry yet
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Went there once - thought it was too expensive for what it was.

That aside - the courtyard you extol was supposed to be a public use concession. It was supposed to be open to the public. I guess it was until Riacce took it over for their own profit. I can't abide patronizing a business that pulls that kind of crap. (I'm not forgetting the city, they totally failed at code enforcement, which is no surprise.)

5 people like this
Posted by David V
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 17, 2016 at 4:01 pm

David V is a registered user.

Riacce has certainly slipped far down the Italian eatery mountain in Palo Alto; and the competition is large.
I drive by several times a week during meal hours and they're significantly empty; I doubt the new team can change that.
The addition of Italico will make it even more difficult; we've been several times and found it to be great all around.

5 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 18, 2016 at 9:19 am

Good luck with what sounds like a very tall task: trying to improve a restaurant with a known reputation amidst heightened competition while caring for a newborn and still under the reigns of the existing owners. Hats off to your optimism, and here's hoping you find a recipe for success!

3 people like this
Posted by Ate there once
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 18, 2016 at 11:11 am

@reader: I've read the article 3 times and don't see anything about the owners retiring to Italy. Can you tell me which paragraph? Thanks.

2 people like this
Posted by wander3r
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm

wander3r is a registered user.

@Ate there once @Margaret Heath: it looks like this article was updated from a Sunday article, which may have made mention of the owners going back to Italy. IDK, just a guess.

4 people like this
Posted by sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2016 at 12:58 pm

As the courtyard is a public space, I've always thought a bunch of us should go there with picnic lunches, sit at the fountain's edge and see what happens. Still annoyed that this "public benefit" was co-opted.

4 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 18, 2016 at 2:17 pm

margaret heath is a registered user.

Yes, the column was updated. The earlier article said the family had gone back to Italy. The restaurant was started by the owner's son(s) as a small cafe with a couple of tables outside.

2 people like this
Posted by scott van duyne
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 19, 2016 at 9:19 am

The plaza there is nice, a little known public space of palo alto. I have been meaning to bring a starbucks over and enjoy it with my dog and a book. Maybe I will see you all there.

2 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 19, 2016 at 9:33 am

@Scott van duyne - Hey You're On! I also wonder about playing bridge or maj jong in a public plaza like that. Would that be okay do you think? It is lovely. I could bring my own card table. But why are all those EZHome vans parked along the street? Does anyone know? Is that okay?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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