Il Fornaio Opens First Restaurant Led by a Female Chef

Il Fornaio, the classic Italian favorite, with locations throughout the U.S., debuted its 23rd restaurant in the Santa Clara Square on November 1. The 150-seat, 6,200-square-foot restaurant features authentic Italian food using the freshest ingredients and traditional cooking techniques in a space that evokes a rustic Tuscan farmhouse. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and features classic favorites as well as modern elements for a new generation. 

With the opening of Il Fornaio’s newest location comes an exciting milestone, it will be the first in the company’s 30-year history to open with a female chef at the helm. “I’m thrilled to announce Leslie Pineda as the Chef of Il Fornaio in Santa Clara,” says Maurizio Mazzon, Il Fornaio’s executive chef. “Leslie has done an outstanding job at both our Walnut Creek and most recently, our Palo Alto restaurants, ensuring that the authentic Italian food that comes out of our kitchens is at the level our guests expect from Il Fornaio.” Prior to joining the team in 2010, Pineda worked as executive chef for Francis Ford Coppola in Palo Alto and Napa and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. 

“It’s an honor to grow alongside Il Fornaio as the first female chef in company history,” says Pineda. “My philosophy has always been to cook from the heart and in this, Il Fornaio has always supported me. I couldn’t be more excited to bring our Italian flavors and authentic dining experience to the Santa Clara community.”

Il Fornaio Santa Clara joins Whole Foods, 600,000 square feet of new office space and 2,000 new residential units at Santa Clara Square. The new location will occupy the corner of Bowers Avenue and Scott Boulevard, two blocks from the 101 freeway and two miles from Levi’s Stadium and the Santa Clara Convention Center. Designed by Arcanum Architects of San Francisco, the restaurant features a modern yet rural design. The lighter design draws inspiration from a Tuscan farmhouse, with rustic wood columns and beams that frame the space and complement the contemporary infill aesthetics while light colored concrete panels and marble combine to accentuate the rustic vision of the Italian countryside. Seating on the interior is casual while affording a comfortable dining experience on plush booths and solid wooden tables. Statement elements include a refrigerated glass wine wall framing the bar and dining area, and a traditional Italian pizza oven anchoring the exhibition cookline.

True to Il Fornaio’s signature style, the restaurant will offer a core menu consisting of classic antipasti such as the Calamari Fritti baby squid, lightly floured and deep fried, served with spicy marinara and Minestre e Insalate, including their vegan Minestrone and Insalata di Bietole organic red and gold beets with red wine vinegar, wild arugula, toasted walnuts and Asiago cheese with lemon-olive oil dressing. Piatti Unici (unique dishes) serve as perfect one-dish meals for lunch such as the Insalata di Tonno seared sushi-grade ahi tuna served with a baby arugula salad with couscous, tomatoes, red onions, capers and raisins. All fresh pastas are made on-site including the Cappellacci di Zucca ravioli filled with butternut squash and walnuts. The pizza oven is the central hearth of the kitchen and will be turning out hundreds of thin-crust Neapolitan style pizzas including the Cristina fresh mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, shaved Grana Padano, mushrooms and wild arugula; drizzled with white truffle oil. Additional standouts highlight the Tuscan essence of Il Fornaio, such as the Pollo Toscano free-range chicken seasoned with rosemary; served with sautéed seasonal vegetables and roasted potatoes. To round out the dining experience, a wide variety of desserts made in-house include a traditional Tiramisu and Soffiato al Cioccolato warm almond-hazelnut chocolate cake topped with caramel-sea salt gelato.

The restaurant features a large craft beer list as well as a Wine Spectator award-winning selection of Italian and Californian red, white and sparkling wines. The full bar offers signature cocktails that include the Rye Smash with Bulleit Rye, Luxardo Maraschino, fresh lemon juice and mint and the Sicilian Sunset with Casa Noble tequila, Aperol, grapefruit and lime juice as well as the Rosso Delizioso with Caliche rum, orange blossom liqueur, fresh lime juice, strawberries, and raspberries.  

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