Italians living in the Bay Area, and Elmwood Americans, have all discovered Casa Barotti
Chef Daniele Carsano has noticed that Italians have come into Casa Barotti from San Jose, Half Moon Bay, San Francisco and Petaluma. This Elmwood cafe is a “spizzicheria,” an Italian term for an all-day restaurant that serves snacks or lighter fare. Customers who were born and raised in Italy tell him that the food he serves reminds them of home. “The fact that they’re enjoying our products means we’re doing something right,” he said.
The chef and his three business partners are all from Torino, the capital city of Piedmont. “We grew up with this kind of pizza,” he said. “When we were going to school, we’d get a couple of slices on the go.” Casa Barotti’s specialty is a kind of pizza that’s a rarity in the States. The toppings are all familiar—fresh mozzarella, soppressata, eggplant and zucchini. But the “al trancio” dough is different, halfway between a focaccia and a thin crust pizza.
At the counter, there are at least a half-dozen pizzas to choose from, including a daily special. Think of the word “snack” broadly. Ordering a couple of different slices turns out to be a substantial meal. The rectangular slices ($5–$7) are extremely generous in size, and filling. When dining in, the slices are heated up in the oven and then brought out to one’s table. Carsano compares the “at trancio” concept to Chicago and Detroit-style pizzas. “It’s cooked in special black or blue steel pans that we import directly from Italy,” he said.
The dough ferments for three days and then is proven twice. “So it takes almost four days,” Carsano said. “By cooking it in the special oven and special pans, you have a slightly thicker pizza that’s crispy on the bottom and soft on top.” Before opening, they tested flours and ingredients for months in order to arrive at the consistency they wanted to achieve.
For vegans and customers who want a gluten-free option, Casa Barotti also serves “farinata.” Cut into pizza-like wedges, farinata is another dish that springs from one of Carsano’s childhood memories. He and his family used to vacation in the coastal town of Genoa. While some restaurants served farinata in Torino, the chef said it was a specialty from the Ligurian coast. “It’s a simple mixture of organic chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt,” he said. The dough is fermented for a couple of days, then cooked at a high temperature in special copper pans. “The layers on top are crackly, and then the inside remains soft.” Carsano wanted to highlight farinata both because it’s a “unique creation,” and to serve people who can’t digest gluten. “I eat it almost daily just because I love it,” he said, adding, “And I’m not gluten-intolerant.”
“A big part of what we do is the aperitivo,” Carsano said. He describes it as an “Italian happy hour” from 4–6:30pm. Just as it’s done in Italy, one orders a glass of wine or beer and automatically gets a complimentary tasting of the day’s pizzas and focaccias. “It’s a good way to try different flavors, maybe things that you wouldn’t try on your own,” he says.
At the end of February, Casa Barotti will celebrate its first year. Carsano said the restaurant was supposed to open in 2020, but the pandemic caused a series of delays, from construction delays that limited the number of workers, to long waits for equipment from Italy—including the pizza oven and a mixing machine for the dough. However, the challenges didn’t end when the doors opened.
Carsano describes his response to the pandemic’s disruptive force as a “constant patching.” As soon as one problem is fixed, another one pops up. But he is pragmatic and happy to have made it through the first year. “When you have your own business, you have to be ready for everything,” he said. “It was a challenge to remain open, but we’re forever grateful for all the support and the loyal customers we’ve developed in such a short time.”