Trattoria Lupo: Santa Rosa


Roberto is back. Seems the popular Santa Rosa restauranteur couldn’t sit by idly and watch his Italian trattoria fade into mediocrity after selling it several years ago. So Roberto Catania bought it back and now mans the door like the paisan he can’t help but be, embracing old friends with tight hugs and sidling into crowded booths like he never left left the place.

You’re either one of the family, or you soon will be.

Roberto’s, now renamed Trattoria Lupo in honor of Sonoma Valley scribe Jack London (lupo means ‘wolf’ in Italian) is the same dark, crowded, neighborhood chianti and osso buco spot it’s always been. Black-clad waiters snap around the room under the watchful eye of the restaunt’s affable Don.

And though Roberto probably wouldn’t appreciate all the Soprano’s comparisons folks can’t help to make about his chummy Italian eatery, he doesn’t exactly eschew the old school veal and red sauce vibe that permeates every corner of the room.

Which is not to say this is ‘Mama Mia’ spaghetti and meatballs fare. Roberto has pared down the menu to a managable list of classics – Veal Saltimbocca, polenta with sausage, unparalleled gnocchi, lamb shanks and Calamari Steak Dorado among the favorites.

This isn’t a fussy, ‘whatever’s in season’ menu. Chances are if you loved the ravioli last month it will still be on the menu next month — and consistency, predictablility and comfort always attract a crowd. There are a few daily specials, and Osso Buco (which wasn’t on the menu on either of my visits) is a much-anticipated treat.

What works so well is that the food is so unexpectedly good. Not haute cuisine, not tweezer-perfect and not even dead-on with every dish, but consistently tasty. The exterior, with its 60′s ranch architecture, faux-finish facade and Creamsicle orange paint, can be a barrier to entry. But inside it’s cozy and pin-neat –on the weekends, jammed to within an inch of bursting at the seams.

Waiting at the tiny, seemingly tacked-on full bar at the back, gives you a few minutes to peruse the menu and watch the drama unfolding in the dining room — families, a huge booth of gals having a well-earned night out, Roberto kissing babies and glad-handing old friends.

Best bets: Pasta and polenta are top-scorers for BiteClub. BiteClub Jr. and I nearly came to blows over a plate of cloud-like ghocchi. Veal is a signature dish, the Saltimbocca topped with mozzarella, prosciutto and a light white wine sauce. The carpaccio can’t compete with (as one Yelper pointed out) Cucina Paradiso’s in Petaluma, tasting more like very rare roast beef than the very sweet, clean flavor I prefer, but it’s certainly still worth a try. If you do nothing else, do not miss the housemade tiramisu. Layers of booze-soaked lady fingers, espresso powder, macarpone.

Working the room obsessively, Cantania stops at each table to ask if your food’s alright. If you need more wine. If you’re happy. And with Santa Rosa’s favorite paisan back in charge, chances are you will be.

Trattoria Lupo (formerly Roberto’s), 4776 Sonoma Hwy, Santa Rosa, 707-539-0260, open Tuesday through Sunday, from 4pm to 10pm.



Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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12 Comments

  1. Okay so after a brief discussion my two adult “kids” – daughter and son-in-law – agreed that some traditional Italian cuisine was in order for a recent family dinner.
    Off to Trattoria Lupo we headed, they armed with the warning that the place looked awful but came highly recommended, me with the hope that dishes were not limited to pork-based sausage and veal – neither of which are considered morally edible in our family…
    Alas and Alack – hardly anything “just beef”-ish (okay, okay so we’re not terribly sophisticated – please, keep your comments to yourself) and the fish special was probably delish but sounded boring as all get out…
    We dipped the extraodinarily light warm bread into the artichoke heart – ? – paste/evoo/balsamic concoction, sipped our vino and debated whether salad would take up the space we planned to save for dessert…while we waited….and waited….and waited….for our very friendly waiter to take our order…
    The salads offered only a lack luster dalliance with icy romaine slathered with a plain, completely forgettable excuse for fresh caesar dressing – what? only 3 croutons per plate? ech…no worries about salad ruining our taste for dessert…as soon as the lettuce warmed, we set the whole affair to one side…..to wait …..and wait….and wait…another interminable length of time….”Whoa – those people were here before we got here and they are JUST NOW getting their dinner?”….at last the bowls, filled to the brims and adorned with little flourishes of herb and/or tomato arrived…
    Not a moment too soon and thank goddess for pasta and um, well, for my own loose morals because the kids enthusiastically tucked into their gnocchi and spaghetti – remarking over the lightness of the pillows and the flavor of the meat sauce…. and I fell off my moral high ground and fell upon the bowl of Osso Bucco as if I hadn’t been fed in months and had no idea of how veal is raised….
    Both the spaghetti and gnocchi got rave reviews….as for me, I realized I was craving polenta, which was abundant and melted in my mouth, but was somewhat disappointed in the much anticipated shank, finding its flavor flat and the meat dry and stringy. Today it proved more interesting when I warmed the leftovers for lunch but honestly, I’ve had better versions of OB made with ox tail…..
    Now, dessert!! Ah!! Finally – something to get excited about on a consistent basis. We ordered the three desserts that are house made: tiramisu, canoli and panne cotta and were thrilled with all three. The tiramisu was a little on the rummy side but still lovely; the panne cotta with raspberry sauce absolute creamy perfection; and the canoli – aaaaah, the canoli! Let me put it this way – next time I drive to the Bay to see the kids, I’m expected to arrive bearing a box of Roberto’s canoli…..

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  2. Now that Roberto is back the food is outstanding. A little slice of Italy in Sonoma County. The service is top notch. The BEST ITALIAN FOOD IN SANTA ROSA!!!!!

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  3. Still the best Italian restaurant in Santa Rosa. Ample portions of delicious food. A must for everyone in Sonoma County to enjoy.

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  4. So happy to see Roberto’s back as Trattoria Lupo. It’s like having your family back, The food is very good especially the specials of the day. Everything is like being in Italy, but in Santa Rosa. Love it, love it.

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  5. it is the closes you can get to Italy without traveling…their daily specials are to die for. :)
    very affordable!!!!

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  6. best food, and the best service. if you live in santa rosa or passing by you got to try their veals

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  7. Loved the food! the service is great too. Very personable and relaxed atmosphere. four stars

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  8. I bought a gift certificate for Roberto’s a little while back, are they going to accept it now that is is Trattoria Lupo???

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  9. took my friend there had a great dinner, nice time very good service

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  10. Just had a great dinner here – oh, that gnocchi, soft potato pillows for Roberto’s fabulous sauces! Highly recommended – we’ll definitely be back!! But please note the cafe doesn’t open at 4pm, as this article sez. Try 5pm, a more reasonable opening hour.

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  11. Jeez, I guess I haven’t been in a while since I didn’t even know they closed. Glad to have the new incarnation of Roberto’s back. I love taking my wife there, very romantic and great food.

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  12. Welcome back Roberto. Can’t wait to go back to your wonderful eatery and have some succulent veal dish.

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