Palermo brings Sicilian cuisine to San Jose

One of the greatest culinary marriages took place when dried pasta, introduced by the Arabs to Sicily in the 12th century, met tomatoes grown from seeds brought to Spanish Palermo in the 16th century after Hernan Cortes collected them. in Montezuma Gardens.

Regardless of its international underpinnings, red sauces and pasta dishes have come to define popular Italian cuisine. The Italian restaurant Palermo, at 791 Auzerais Ave. in San Jose, stays true to that tradition with its take on great Sicilian dishes.

“Our menu, with the exception of a few dishes, is a very typical southern Italian and Sicilian menu,” said Diane Cusimano, co-owner of Palermo with her husband Renato. “Lots of tomato sauce, lots of vegetables, eggplant, peppers and fish. The cream sauces are all from Northern Italy, and we have them too, because Americans love Alfredo sauce.”

Before settling into what they thought would be their retirement, the Cusimanos, both 69, ran two other iterations of Palermo restaurants, one in San Jose for 20 years and the other in Redwood City for five years. Then, in 2017, they got a call from Tony Paradiso, who was closing the family business Paradiso Deli after 50 years.

“He said, ‘I’m ready to retire and I want this to stay an Italian restaurant,'” Cusimano told San Jose Spotlight. “Renato has always loved this place and when he had the chance to buy it he was thrilled. So we bought it, we opened and here we are.”

The only major change the Cusimanos made was to reopen a large covered patio surrounded by trees and overlooking Los Gatos Creek. The patio is currently the default seating area for guests, but two indoor dining areas are also available.

“As the Palermo family got older, they started closing parts of the building,” Cusimano said. “We started using the patio again and when COVID arrived we expanded it again to give us more space with lots of air movement.”

What the menu offers

Renato being born and raised in Palermo, the menu, of course, has remained predominantly Sicilian. But there are exceptions.

“We have pesto, which isn’t Sicilian, but vegetarians really like it,” Cusimano said. “And the spaghetti carbonara isn’t Sicilian either, but it’s one of our most popular dishes. We make it with guanciale, which is an Italian bacon made from the jawbone of a pig.”

Chicken Parmigiana is such a standard menu item that it easily serves as a litmus test for a restaurant. Here, the dish is created with the usual ingredients – a finely pounded and breaded chicken cutlet, topped with a red sauce and melted mozzarella cheese. The flavors are so well balanced that the flavor of the free-range chicken is front and center rather than buried in the mix, pairing with a smooth, rich red sauce that has a slight acidity on the finish that showcases the quality tomatoes.

“We use imported San Marzano tomatoes, which are the No. 1 canned tomato in Italy,” she said. “And then we add the fresh basil and the fresh garlic and the right amount of salt and pepper. But then you have to know how to cook it. My husband and our staff grew up in Italy and in the restaurant business. quality ingredients and good cooking will always make for a successful dish.”

If you really want to delve into Sicilian cuisine, start with the original dish, Aubergine alla Parmigiana, and ask for Spaghetti alla Carrettiera – pure Sicilian peasant cuisine that isn’t always offered on Italian restaurant menus.

The name “carrettiera” comes from the donkey carts that brought the pasta to the workers in the fields, where the basic dish was prepared. Using only extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, parsley and crushed red pepper, this dish, when prepared correctly, is unbeatable. There’s a knack for making simple dishes to perfection, and Palermo’s version has just enough sliced ​​garlic to heat up the dish and just enough red pepper to give it a light kick on the finish.

“People love our bar,” Cusimano said. “We have a great bartender and we serve Italian drinks like campari, limoncello, negronis and aperol spritz, as well as old fashioned food or whatever you want.”

It was the bar that first attracted client Michelle Aldape to Palermo five years ago. She recently visited the restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

She and her group enjoyed the Burrata Special – mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, marinated artichokes, roasted red and yellow peppers and sun-dried tomatoes – and a Margherita pizza, along with orders of tortellini and meatball soup.

“Honestly, for me, I love the old-school vibe of the place,” she told San Jose Spotlight. “I come here because I can get some really good staple foods; comfort food that’s nostalgic and tastes homemade.”

La bella vita, indeed.

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Copyright © 2022 by Bay City News, Inc. Republication, redistribution, or other reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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