East Bay Express, December 15, 2010
Hello Again, Giovanni
Keeping delicious memories alive, the Berkeley restaurant reopens in the hands of its original owner.
By Anneli Rufus
In the dim light, the minestrone gleams golden, its pasta shells a fleet of coracles, its zucchini wedges butter-soft. Its broth is robust with the understated eloquence of things tested by time. As Frank Sinatra croons I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a server brings a basket of soft-centered, steaming-hot, herb-specked, house-made foccacia, wrapped in a thick cloth to keep them warm. A bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar arrives, to dip them in.
What is this place with its century-old family recipes, its friendliness, its glowing hearth? It is the past. You thought you could never go back there. You never dared dream. But behind a dark and heavy wooden door on Shattuck Avenue, the past is still in business.
Its lasagna is beefy. Its pizza wears no pears. Serving classic Italian fare in the same earth-toned, softly glowing space since 1961, Giovanni is one of the last still-standing Berkeley restaurants enlivening the childhood memories of local folks aged fifty-plus. The ravioli they remember is still made here now in the exact same way by the exact same hands: Sous chef Juan Sanchez has been doing it for forty years.
No puny portions here. No images of Che. Giovanni is a relic. As such, it has not endured unscathed: After a period under alternate ownership that almost spelled its end, Giovanni closed briefly this year, then reopened in October in the hands of 79-year-old founder, Giovanni Schipani. Fresher-than-ever ingredients now fortify a menu that has barely changed since 1961.