Restaurant News & Reviews

At Gennaro's in San Luis Obispo, Italy and Cuba meet

Italian and Cuban influences make for a new and tasty twist on the menu at Gennaro's Grill and Garden. More photos »
Italian and Cuban influences make for a new and tasty twist on the menu at Gennaro's Grill and Garden. More photos » jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It’s not unusual to see various cuisines paired on a restaurant menu, but the Italian and Cuban combo at Gennaro’s Grill and Garden in San Luis Obispo is a new and tasty twist.

On Marsh Street near the corner of Carmel, the restaurant sits within a charming old residence that for many years was Benvenuti Ristorante.

Several different rooms are available for dining, all of which offer the welcoming feel of being a guest in someone’s home. Choose from the main dining room, the cozy fireplace room, the outdoor garden area, the stylish bar lounge area, or the intimate sun room at the front of the restaurant.

Gennaro’s is co-owned by Dr. Raul Cano, professor emeritus of biological sciences at Cal Poly, and veteran restaurateur Gennaro Rosato, whose 50-plus years of experience included not only Benvenuti but two other Italian establishments in the Los Angeles area.

Looking to revive business in his Marsh Street building, he was introduced to Cano through a neighbor “and we just started talking about different things.”

One of those things was Cano’s Cuban heritage, so you can see how the unique menu came about. Known for his work with ancient DNA and yeast rather than restaurants, Cano still jumped at the chance to become involved in the business, especially because Gennaro is his mentor.

Gennaro’s Grill and Garden unveiled its intriguing menu on May 10.

The Italian side of things includes everything from seafood risotto to zuppa del giorno (soup of the day), crispy potato gnocchi to papardelle pasta with sausage, and linguini with fresh seafood to Fettucini a la Romana — pasta in cream sauce with Prosciutto, Parmesan and peas. For dessert, don’t forget the classic Italian offerings of tiramisu, panna cotta and gelato.

The Cuban dishes feature familiar touches such as arroz con pollo and the cuisine’s signature black beans and fried plantains, plus a few other equally approachable items. Try the shredded and well-seasoned Ropa Vieja beef, the fish dish of Pescado a la Vizcaina served with potatoes and tomatoes in a white wine sauce, or the traditional El Cubano sandwich with slow roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese and pickles served panini-style.

As far as potent potables go, Gennaro’s features a full bar and an extensive wine list, no surprise since “wine is one of my passions,” said Rosato. Bottled beers are available, but if you’re going that route, get a draught of Fossil Fuels beer made with a 45 million-year-old yeast strain isolated by Cano and only available locally at Gennaro’s.

If you’re having a hard time deciding what to order, consider joining Gennaro’s in the bar lounge for the Monday-Thursday Happy Hour. The tapas selection offers several Italian and Cuban dishes, plus other small plates such as beef sliders or steamed mussels in garlic cream sauce.

Cano noted that everything possible is made from scratch, including “all of our breads ... (and) we just got a pasta machine, so we are doing all of those now too. We like to make healthy food — there’s no fryer here, so everything is roasted, baked or grilled.”

Rosato added that the menu will change seasonally and continue to evolve as the fledgling restaurant gets feedback from its customers.“We’re also very sensitive to vegetarians and vegans,” said Cano.

“We want to make you feel at home with good food. I’ve eaten in a lot of restaurants all over the world in traveling for my career and I really think this is one of the best,” he said, though he admits to just a little bit of bias.

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