Sunday, October 01, 2006

Restaurant Review: Sicilia in Bocca: Great Italian Food in Morgan Hill

Is Sicilia in Bocca in Morgan Hill one of the best Italian restaurants in the South Bay? Fuggetaboutit! It’s the whole package when it comes to great dining – a fun, relaxed atmosphere, wonderful food and an owner who is passionate about every little detail.

I have been to Sicilia in Bocca (which literally means “Sicily in Your Mouth”) a dozen times, and every visit is just as memorable and pleasant as the last. Just off Monterey Road and directly behind the Morgan Hill Police Department, Sicilia in Bocca is located in a Victorian-style home that has been converted into a quaint, intimate restaurant that seats about 35. Approximately15 tables fill the dining room, and when weather permits, you can eat outside on the patio as well.

Tony is the owner, and no – his last name is not Soprano. It’s Graziano, like the famous prizefighter, which is fitting because this Tony used to actually fight in the ring. And although he's not a large man by any means, he looks like he’d be able to hold his own in a tussle. He also has a soft and very endearing side, and just talking to him, you can feel the love and conviction that he has for his establishment and his food.

Tony came to the United States in 1972 from Palermo, Sicily, working primarily in the restaurant business. His mentors along the way taught him well, including top-notch culinary maestros like Frank Sinatra’s personal chef. In October 2000, Graziano fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening his own restaurant. Sicilia in Bocca was born.

At Sicilia in Bocca, the food is without a doubt the main attraction, but Tony is a marvelous sideshow to be sure. Just listening to him describe his daily specials will have you drooling like one of Pavlov’s dogs. He also enjoys introducing diners to each other, creating a fun and comfortable atmosphere where everyone is interacting. Some patrons enjoy touring the kitchen, which Graziano encourages. If something isn’t on the menu, you can ask for it, and if the ingredients are on hand, Tony is always more than happy to oblige.

But, I must warn you. If you’re looking for your standard Italian faire – like lasagna and pizza, for example – Sicilia in Bocca may not be for you. This is real Italian cuisine, created and served by a man who grew up there and learned at age 15 how to cook from his mother. Everything Tony creates is made with the freshest produce, meat, poultry and seafood. He shops every morning for organic vegetables for his soups and salads, and only buys fish that has just recently stopped swimming. All of his pastas are made from scratch, and he even makes his own lemon liqueur.

The other night, my family and I started off the evening with a classic caesar salad ($6.00). It was in a word, bellisimo. The romaine lettuce was crunchy and the salad was not over-dressed, a common snafu when it comes to some caesars. We also had an incredible minestrone soup ($4.00/cup or $7.00/bowl) that in itself could have been an entire meal.

The main courses we ordered consisted of a fresh fish special of sautéed sea bass topped with capers, olives and tomatoes, accompanied by a pair of polenta squares (market price/just ask); a pasta dish called Pappardelle alla Modicana, ($12.00) a sausage and ricotta cheese creation with a fresh tomato sauce, and a scene-stealing meat entrée, called Medaglioni ai Funghi Porcini, ($19.00) beef medallions sautéed with dried porcini mushrooms, rosemary and a red wine demiglaze sauce. Each dish was exciting and different with a distinct blending of tantalizing flavors and textures.

Sicilia in Bocca is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, starting at 6:00 p.m. Reservations are required for parties of more than four people, and although he says he closes at 10:00 p.m., if there are still hungry people at the door, Tony will stay open.

Sicilia in Bocca has a great wine list, featuring a wide variety of whites and reds from Northern California and the Old Country. And the desserts, like the gelatos served in fruit bowls, are a complete delight. The address is 25 West Main Street in Morgan Hill. For reservations, call (408) 778-0399.

The fact is that Sicilia in Bocca is Tony Graziano. And that’s probably what makes this place so unique and special. The man puts his heart and soul into every aspect of the restaurant and stands behind it with extreme pride and unbridled enthusiasm. You can see it in his smile and in his twinkling eyes. You can feel it through the atmosphere and ambience that he’s created. And you can surely taste it in his outstanding food.

I can’t recommend Sicilia in Bocca enough. How much do I like this place? Let’s put it this way -- I dream about this food when I sleep at night. I always look forward to eating there again and to seeing Tony Graziano once more.

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