Old-time Napa lives on in cheese-and-spinach dumplings

February 26, 2017 - Picnic Time

Clemente Cittoni, wife, Mary, and their daughter Joanne Cittoni Gonzalez of Clementes Authentic Italian Takeout. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chroincle

When historian and author Lauren Coodley changed to Napa in 1975, it was “a really authentic, untried place,” still blue collar, affordable and rural.

In some ways that tiny city has “completely disappeared,” laments Coodley, even yet if we demeanour closely enough, there sojourn vestiges of a familial, tillage and tannery town. “The aged Napa still lingers,” she says.



The East Napa area famous as Little Italy boasted boardinghouses, family-run grocery stores and bocce round courts. Italians had began settling in Napa toward a finish of a 19th century, vital nearby a railroad, ranches and river, and by a 1940s and 50s, a Italian American village was close-knit, self-sufficient and industrious.

One of a best, if unlikely, places to snippet a origin of old-fashioned Napa is during Val’s Liquors, where Clemente Cittoni’s house is tough during work, cooking gnocchi, risotto and sweetbreads, stirring minestrone soup, convention scaloppine sandwiches and rolling a famous cheese-and-spinach blimp named malfatti.

  • A image of malfatti in beef salsa during Clementes Authentic Italian Takeout in Napa. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chroincle

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Clemente’s Authentic Italian Takeout, a business within a business, changed to a booze store in 2008 after a comparison Cittoni spent 43 years during a Depot Restaurant. It was there that Clemente was taught how to prepare by restaurateur Teresa Tamburelli. Starting in 1961 as a dishwasher and potato peeler, an newcomer who had initial staid in Tracy after entrance from Lake Como, Italy, schooled how to prepare all on a menu, eventually apropos partial owners in 1974.

Clemente, who turns 79 subsequent month, left a eminent grill before it closed, though his cooking continues to be in demand. Loyal locals commotion for a home-style, overtly labelled Northern Italian food they’ve eaten for decades, generally malfatti.


“He’s still a leader, a patriarch,” says his daughter Joanne Cittoni Gonzalez. From behind a takeout counter, she keeps inspired business entertained, holding orders as she enthusiastically describes how a plate her father helped make mythological was invented. Forthcoming and no-nonsense, Gonzalez describes her family’s and a Depot’s story as if she’s told it a thousand times.

In 1925, a visiting ball group from San Francisco came to a grill awaiting to sup on ravioli. But Tamburelli had lost they were coming, according to Gonzalez. “At that time we didn’t write anything down,” she says. “And we finished a ravioli uninformed any day.”

Tamburelli was out of pasta that day. Improvising, she rolled balls of ravioli stuffing in flour, boiled them and doused them in sauce. According to a tale, “The group desired them and cried out for more.”

And in box we don’t know what a malfatti looks like, Gonzalez will move out a vessel organised with a stubby, finger-like dumplings, while rattling off mixture that are eyeballed, not measured: spinach, eggs, rosemary, bread, onions, cheese and garlic.

When asked for specifics, it’s an fatiguing no from Gonzalez. “We do not give out any recipes,” she says. The pivotal to a family’s success that she will elaborate on is their work ethic and values. “Without a people we have nothing. You have to be good with a people.”

As a child visiting her father during a Depot (she was 10 years aged when he bought a restaurant), Gonzalez was put to work, powdering chairs, cleaning up, whatever indispensable to be done.

These days, when 3 generations work together (her father, mom Mary, dual brothers, dual sons and a nephew, along with Jesus Gonzalez), Gonzalez admits that tempers can flare. “It’s not all gold. Sometimes Italians get a small bit loud,” she says. “But by a finish of a night, we’re fine.”

And by a finish of a dish that you’ve taken home, to your hotel or on a picnic, one is positively sated, generally if we sequence malfatti and ravioli ($4.50 per dozen each), meatballs ($9.99 per pint), a glorious bean salad ($5.50 per pint) and a crusty fritter of bread.

As one man, apparently a regular, waited in line on a bustling Saturday night, said, “The food has spirit.” Those in a know move their possess containers, harking behind to a days when relatives sent their children over to a Depot with instructions to get pots filled.

Malfatti might be an acquired taste, and should we wish to ambience another interpretation that also dates behind to a Depot, revisit Lawler’s Liquors. It seems bizarre that malfatti, that is Italian for mistake, could exist during another plcae in a same city and that both addresses are booze stores.

The story is that a daughter of Rosie Martini, who was Tamburelli’s sister, was an owners of Lawler’s. Today toiling in a medium kitchen behind Lawler’s takeout window is Nadia Ibrahim.

Peter Ibrahim’s mom came to California from Egypt, and a family purchased Lawler’s in 1990. As distant as training and improving on a strange recipe, Pete says his mom is a veteran prepare and “she only got it,” adding that when creation ravioli dough, she stretches it “as large as a counter.” Appreciative diners bucket adult on inexpensive spaghetti, salads, and of course, combos of ravioli and malfatti.

Residents of and visitors to Napa Valley have their favorites — a Cittoni’s malfatti are softer, thicker and some-more slippery; Lawler’s versions are shorter, skinnier and ambience of some-more spinach. Peter Ibrahim describes their marinara as salsa and a Cittoni’s as gravy. But it’s tough to discern any real, cutthroat foe about that Napa family creates a best malfatti.

“He’s a legend,” says Ibrahim, tipping his shawl to Clemente Cittoni.

Lisa Amand is a freelance writer. Email: travel@sfchronicle.com

Where to find old-fashioned Napa

Clemente’s Authentic Italian Takeout: Located in Val’s Liquor store, 1531 Third St., Napa, (707) 224-2237. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

Lawler’s Liquors: Ravioli, spaghetti, malfatti, minestrone, clam chowder, garlic bread and $3.50 sandwiches. 2232 Jefferson St., Napa, (707) 226-9311. Hours: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, until 8 p.m. Sunday.

Genova Delicatessen Ravioli Factory: An Italian mart crowded of delicacies such as Nonni Gravy, named for owners Dominic DeVincenzi’s grandmother, sole alongside ravioli, lasagna, tortellini and torta (delicious, crustless quiche finished with zucchini or artichokes). A good array stop for espresso, cheeses, salami, sandwiches and all kinds of cruise fixings to be enjoyed with a bottle of a family’s estate Syrah. 1550 Trancas St., Napa, (707) 253-8686, www.genovadelinapa.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, until 5 p.m. Sunday.

Borreo Building: The riverside Italianate Renaissance landmark, built in 1877 of local stone, is now being easy and remade into a complicated day decoction pub. Stone Brewery, formed in San Diego, skeleton to open this Northern California outpost in a spring. Third Street and Soscol Avenue.

Andretti Winery: Mario Andretti chose a plcae of his winery some-more for vicinity to Sonoma Raceway than for terroir. But a world-famous competition automobile motorist comes to viticulture naturally, as his father grew grapes in Italy. The 53-acre widespread is a provide for booze tasters and those who wish a pastoral, Tuscan-villa vibe. The fountain and desirable mortar buildings demeanour ancient. And a still road, lined with vines, is reduction trafficked than Silverado Trail. 4162 Big Ranch Road, Napa, (877) 386-5070, www.andrettiwinery.com.

Napa County Historical Society: The Goodman Library, home to a chronological society, suffered large repairs from a 2014 earthquake. While a 1901 building, an instance of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, is being repaired, a classification has relocated to Tulocay Cemetery’s aged mill bureau located between Tulocay and Aspen drives, (707) 224-1739. For lectures, photos, maps, self-guided biking and walking tours, all indispensable to investigate a abounding story of a valley, revisit www.napahistory.org.

For some-more Napa history, review Lauren Coodley’s “Napa: The Transformation of an American Town” (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and “Napa Valley Chronicles” (History Press, 2013); and “The Adventures of a Squeezebox Kid” by Raymond A. Guadagni (Ideas Into Books, 2016).

source ⦿ http://www.sfgate.com/travel/article/Old-time-Napa-lives-on-in-cheese-and-spinach-10954091.php

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