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 OpenTable.com's list of the 100 Best Outside Dining Restaurants in America for the past two years.