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Food & Wine: Catering To The Art Crowd

by Carolyn Jung

With a third Stanford dining spot forthcoming, Rocco Scordella continues to expand and evolve to better serve the community.

While the menus at the two Tootsie’s locations overlap to some extent, the new Cantor Arts outpost will offer handmade pastas such as tortelloni made with seasonal ingredients. | Photo courtesy of John Troxell.

When the pandemic first curtailed indoor dining, and with it the tech company private parties that were a lifeblood, owner Rocco Scordella stepped inside his Palo Alto restaurant, Vina Enoteca, and pondered whether diners would ever again fill this yawning 7,000-square-foot space. He thought he was done for.

With perseverance, ingenuity and a sympathetic landlord in Stanford University, he not only kept his Italian restaurant afloat and hired an esteemed new chef, but is even adding a third place to his portfolio: Tootsie’s at the Cantor Arts Center debuts this month. The sister cafe to his original 13-year-old Tootsie’s at the Stanford Barn a half-mile away, it replaces the on-campus museum’s Cool Café by restaurateur Jesse Cool, which had a 20-year run.

“Adding more to your plate is not easy, but opportunities always come up that you just can’t turn down,” says Scordella, 40, who attended culinary school in Bologna, Italy, at age 14 and eventually rose to dining room captain at New York’s Del Posto. “It might be crazy to open more restaurants now, but we’re not normal people to begin with, or else we wouldn’t be in this business.”

Named for Leland Stanford Jr.’s dog, both Tootsie’s locations feature similar fare, such as porchetta panini, and chicken and spinach salad with ricotta salata. But there are a few key differences. The Barn venue, with its steady stream of doctors and nurses from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford next door, is open weekdays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Cantor outpost plans to mirror the museum’s hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. As such, it will have more lunch offerings, including handmade pastas as well as an afternoon tea time featuring loose-leaf blends along with house-baked biscotti, amaretti and gingerbread.

Scordella is also initiating an in-house coffee bean–roasting program there. Equipped with a state-ofthe- art electric roaster by Berkeley’s Bellwether Coffee, which has a worldwide network of coffee farms, he will offer fresh-roasted beans at all three restaurants, plus a coffee bean subscription program that highlights a different farm each month.

To minimize takeout waste, Tootsie’s at the Barn began participating in a new environmental initiative last spring. Its to-go food is packed in reusable containers manufactured by San Carlos’ Dishcraft. The containers can be returned to a bin at the Barn, where Dishcraft picks them up and its robots commercially sanitize them for reuse. The second Tootsie’s will join that effort.

Rocco Scordella, proprietor of Tootsie’s at the Stanford Barn and Vina Enoteca, is opening a second Tootsie’s on campus. | Photo courtesy of John Troxell.

The new museum cafe isn’t the only change Scordella has undertaken of late. The pandemic made him realize that a successful restaurant needs more revenue streams than just the food it serves on a plate. So he reconfigured part of Vina Enoteca into a marketplace to sell its pastas, sauces, wines and frozen pizzas for take-home enjoyment.

It’s also why he started offering four-course wine dinners monthly and a cooking class with lunch every other month. The classes are taught by Vina Enoteca chef John Madriaga, who opened San Francisco’s Flour+Water Pizzeria and worked for years at the Village Pub in Woodside and Spruce in San Francisco, two Michelin-starred restaurants where he led cooking classes, too.

“I find joy in handing down the knowledge that I’ve learned,” says the Santa Clara– reared Madriaga, 38, about the classes taught on the patio or in the private dining room. “It reinvigorates me.”

Madriaga has already added seasonal pasta dishes to the Vina Enoteca menu and tweaked the pizza dough, creating a bubbly airy crust that’s crisper in the center, thanks to a three-day fermentation process.

Following the tumult of the past two years, Scordella couldn’t be more relieved to welcome diners back and introduce them to his forthcoming venture. “We just didn’t want to give up,” he says about his motivation for exploring ways to not only survive but thrive. “Good food touches your soul. And we enjoy making people happy with a lot of carbs.”

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