“This is a passion project for both of us,” Kat Escamilla said about Portico, a new Italian restaurant in downtown Sebastopol that she opened with her partner Paolo Pedrinazzi in late December.
Both Escamilla and Pedrinazzi have long histories in the food industry. Escamilla ran her own catering company, and, for the last 10 years, she taught culinary arts. Pedrinazzi used to manage Servino Ristorante in Tiburon.
To create Portico, the space that was formerly Mazzy’s Closet had to be completely renovated, including installing a new commercial kitchen.
“I combined my two skills: construction and restaurants,” said Pedrinazzi, who said he did all the construction work himself.
Escamilla hand-stenciled the concrete floor.
“We did the whole thing together by ourselves,” she said.
The kitchen takes up almost half of the restaurant, leaving a long narrow alleyway of tables. Pedrinazzi said he designed the space in homage to the portico restaurants of Bologna, where he grew up. A portico is a covered doorway, and in Bologna, these covered entrances can stretch the whole length of a street, creating intimate places to dine and while away the after-work hours with friends.
That’s what Escamilla and Pedrinazzi hope will happen with Portico.
“The first thing we’ve wanted with this space was community,” Pedrinazzi said. “That was the driving force behind us opening a place here in town where we live.”
“We wanted to bring people together here,” Escamilla said.
“That’s why we call it Italian Social Food — it’s in the name,” Pedrinazzi said, pointing at the Portico sign on the wall. “Because it’s more about the community than it is about having a five-star restaurant or anything like that. It’s about the experience. Not that the food is not important, but without the experience,” he trailed off, shrugging.
Still, the couple spends a lot of time on the food.
The food at Portico is based on the Bolognese food Paolo remembers from his youth — simple appetizers like cheese, charcuterie and olives, a few simple elegant salads, and an array of fresh pasta dishes.
“Authentic” is how Pedrinazzi defined it.
“Pasta is the cornerstone,” Escamilla said, noting that they make their pasta with semolina.
“We also serve a risotto menu for people who are gluten free,” she said.
Almost everything at Portico (except the gelato) is made in-house. In addition to making the pasta by hand, they also make the breads and desserts. You can also buy fresh pasta by the pound to take home with you.
“We find it important that we’re making everything by hand because we feel like it connects us to the food and connects us to that very human skill and that carries over into who’s eating it. We care about that we’re feeding people really good food that we’ve made by hand,” Escamilla said.
“I think handmade is an answer to too much technology,” Pedrinazzi said.
“Creating food by hand and building community, that’s what this is all about,” Escamilla said.
In service of creating community, Escamilla said they are looking at creating an Italian social club, featuring music, speakers and perhaps guest chefs, featuring cuisine from different parts of Italy. They’re also thinking of importing that wonderful Italian tradition, aperitivo, or the aperitif hour, where friends linger with friends over snacks and aperitifs.
Experience Portico in downtown Sebastopol at 110 North Main Street, right next to the theater at the crossroads of highways 12 and 116.