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Passport to Italy
Carolyn Jung | Photo: Kristen Loken | March 27, 2017
Pausa’s devotion to detail and authenticity makes for an impressive meal, from start to finish.
At downtown San Mateo’s Pausa Bar & Cookery, Italian-born chef-owner Andrea Giuliani believes in doing things in the most exacting manner. While other restaurants make their own salumi, he took the time to actually study microbiology, passing the tests to anoint Pausa as only the third restaurant certified in California to make charcuterie.
While other Italian eateries boast of making their own pizza dough, Giuliani takes three days to make his with four different flours mixed with a special enzyme, a unique artisan blend imported from Italy used by no one else in the United States. While other restaurants extrude their own pastas, he one-ups them, incorporating ingredients such as dried porcini, stinging nettles and even the fabled burnt flour from Puglia that imparts a haunting smoky flavor. The mozzarella is also made in-house, as are the gelatos in such imaginative flavors as roasted pine nut and black pepper.
He wouldn’t have it any other way. “I want the food to represent where I come from,” says Giuliani, who hails from Veneto, Italy. “When you work with your hands, it makes you proud.” He and co-owner Steve Ugur have much to be pleased about at their new restaurant, which has been drawing crowds since it opened in January. For the two of them, Pausa was a labor of love for several reasons. Situated across the street from Draeger’s, the location was formerly the traditional Italian restaurant Spiedo for more than a quarter-century. Spiedo was not only owned by Ugur’s father, but it was where Giuliani first met Ugur, having landed his first executive chef job there upon emigrating from Italy in 2005.
After two years, Giuliani moved on to cook at Piatti in Santa Clara, then Piazza D’Angelo in Mill Valley. When Ugur’s father decided to sell the restaurant to his son in 2015, Ugur knew exactly whom he wanted to head the kitchen and share ownership. “It was a great opportunity and the location was perfect,” says Ugur. “It’s been a 16-month journey to gut it, plan it, design it and get it open. My dad would come in once a week to see the progress. He’s surprised at how it’s night and day now.”
Spiedo’s old-school look, which the younger Ugur acknowledges had become dated, has given way to an airy dining room with exposed black steel trusses spanning the ceiling. A focal wall is adorned with a series of ropelike installations tinged white at the top and oxblood below, making them reminiscent of hanging charcuterie; though Giuliani explains, they are actually meant to mimic the topography of Italy’s Dolomites mountain range. The expansive marble-topped bar fronts brass shelving that holds spirits for the restaurant’s craft cocktails, including its spritz offerings, the classic Italian wine-based aperitif. There’s everything from a classic Il Doge spritz of Aperol, prosecco, soda and orange to the restaurant’s unique Bastardo, like a spicy version of sangria with amaro CioCiaro, pineapple gum, apricot liqueur, fresh lime and Lambrusco. The wine list is entirely Italian too.
The dining room affords a view into the open kitchen with its almond wood-fired pizza oven and grill. The gleaming 1940 Berkel slicer, as sleek as a red Ferrari, gets oiled by hand each night after service. A small glass-fronted refrigerator holds housemade cured meats. Chef de cuisine Dan Mussulman plays a large role in the charcuterie program, having come from Trou Normand in San Francisco, the only other California restaurant that’s state-certified to make charcuterie, Giuliani says, besides Chi Spacca in Los Angeles. Ugur also lends expertise, having staged at Harris’ The San Francisco Steakhouse to learn the finer points of dry-aging beef, and traveled to France twice to study with the noted butcher Pierre Sajous.
The glassed-in dough room stands prominently at the back of the dining room, attesting to the fact that all the bread, pizzas and pastas are handcrafted on the premises, from rye flour panzerotti pasta turnovers enfolding a filling of green cabbage and sausage to the toothsome strands of linguini tossed with a profoundly briny cuttlefish ragu. Everything is served on handmade plateware, no two exactly alike, including ones that resemble charred wood, which were all fashioned by San Francisco’s MMclay.
The restaurant gets its name from the Italian word for “pause.” And that’s exactly what Ugur and Giuliani hope people do when they visit Pausa, especially because it’s one of the few Peninsula restaurants with later hours. Wednesday through Saturday, the last seating is at 11pm with the bar open an hour longer. “I want people to pause for a glass of wine or some charcuterie or for a late-night meal,” Giuliani says, “to just really relax and enjoy it all.”
Pausa Bar & Cookery
223 E. Fourth Ave., San Mateo, 650.375.0818
Salumi, $11–$27; formaggi, $9–$27; starters, $12–$16; pizzas, $16–$18
Pastas, $16–$20; entrees, $24–$29; sides, $8; desserts, $10
Lunch: Daily, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
Dinner: Sun.–Tue., 5–10 p.m.; Wed.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.
Originally published in the March/April issue of Silicon Valley