Franco’s Ristorante: Santa Rosa

Downtown Santa Rosa Italian trattoria with late night pizza


francosalad.jpgIf wood-fired pizzas haven’t been named the signature food of Sonoma County, consider this the official nomination. I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent restaurant that’s opened in the last year that didn’t have gourmet ‘zas in the lineup.
And while I’ve certainly gotten better acquainted with a little char on my pie lately, this isn’t necessarily bad news. As Americans we average about 23 pounds of pie per person annually, stuffing in an close to 350 slices per second as a nation. Hold the anchovies!
Franco’s, housed in the former 505/Acapulco space along with the new Chrome Lotus nightclub is a recent entrant into the pie game. At the helm: Franco Fabiani, the former owner of Fabiani’s.
francos.jpgYou’ll immediately get his faux-villa vibe, with plenty of earth-toned
stucco, tile floors, mini frescos and a wine grotto by the door. It’s a
charming transformation of what was once a miserable cave into something
light and airy — with a back room fireplace and enclosed outdoor
patio. Franco (at least when we visited) mans the door, welcoming
guests. Adding credibility is an open kitchen where diners can watch
their meals prepared, rather than wondering what’s happening behind
closed doors. And trust me, BiteClub shimmied out during a previous
version of the restaurant after 45 minutes of waiting and wondering.
Solid Start: Franco’s menu is simple, with a handful of antipasti
($8-$14), four wood-fired pizzas ($10-$12) and eight pasta and meat
entrees ranging from $16 to $28.
Prices seem spendy for the lunch
crowd, but servings are generous and sharable. To attract the lunch-bunch, however, some lower priced pizzas might be a solid idea.
Best bets: Breads and pizzas really shine here, with a solid homemade
. Warm, herbed foccaccia is a great amuse, brought quickly out to
the table. The grilled Italian bread from Bruschetta di Mare ($14) also
shines, even though the overly tart, rubbery mare doesn’t. The Dominique
is a belly-pleaser, big enough for two, with smoked mozzarella,
romano, prosciutto, argula, garlic and olive oil ($12). Pair with
Insalata Mingo, a light Caesar-esque salad with whole leaves of Romaine,
bread crumbs and lemon-garlic dressing.
We hear that Franco’s Italian sister has been working the kitchen during
the opening days, getting things just so, and hopes are high that her
touch will continue to influence the menu it settles into being another
solid downtown addition
Note: It’s important to note that Franco’s and Chrome Lotus do not share
a common entrance, nor is there inside access between the two —
something that proved to be a weird issue with 505. The two spaces,
though they are housed in the same building, strive to maintain a unique
personality. How well the dinner and bar crowd will jive (because they
are in close quarters) remains to be seen.

Franco’s: 505 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa 707-523-4800. Open from 11:30am
to 9:30pm(ish) daily. Beer and wine only.

Check out BiteClubber Gregory’s awesome pictures: