You can get relief from the cacophony that fills the gambling floor of the new Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park by ducking into one of the four sit-down restaurants spaced along the outer margins of the floor. Behind these restaurants' glass and solid walls, the sound of the clanging slots and hubbub of people talking fades away.
The four, dubbed "Casual Dining" by the casino management, are Tony's of North Beach for Italian food, the Daily Grill for American cooking, 630 Park Steakhouse, and M.Y. China — a Chinese restaurant by Martin Yan. All four will be reviewed over the coming weeks, starting today with Tony's.
Tony Gemignani is the restaurateur, and he's well known to many in the Bay Area for his three North Beach restaurants in San Francisco — Tony's Pizza Napoletana, Capo's, and Tony's Slice House.
In the world of pizza, chef Gemignani is a true superstar. He's a master instructor at the Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli USA, and he won the 2007 World Pizza Cup competition in Naples, Italy, beating all competition, Italian and international. He's in the Guinness Book of World Records twice — first for tossing the largest pizza dough in two minutes of continuous spinning (36.5 inches), and for most consecutive rolls across the shoulders in 30 seconds (37 rolls). He was inducted into the Legends of Pizza in 2006.
So he's brought his World Cup-winning Pizza Napoletana Margherita ($18, 4 stars) recipe to Rohnert Park. He imported a Cirigliano wood-burning oven from Italy. This beauty reaches 900 degrees F. and cooks a 16-inch pizza in 90 seconds. He imports all the ingredients that won the World Cup, from the San Felice "00" flour (a combination of American, Italian and European wheat), which is used only in this specific pizza and is proofed in Neapolitan-made wood boxes, to the San Marzano tomato sauce and sea salt. And production is limited to 73 pies a day, period.
The central crust of this remarkable pizza doesn't get crispy, so expect some limpness along with a crunchy, well-done rim. The pools of melted mozzarella, rich tomato sauce, and bubbled surface strewn with fresh basil make for one perfect Neapolitan-style pie.
Besides the three Neapolitan-style pizzas, four California-style pies also are flash-cooked at 900 degrees. Eight classic Italian-American pies (think standard pepperoni) are cooked in a regular pizza oven.
Among three New York/New Haven-style thin-crust pies, The New Yorker ($25, 3 stars) won Best Traditional Pizza in the World at a recent Las Vegas competition. Red sauce and mozzarella are loaded with house-made sausage, garlic, pepperoni and dabs of ricotta.
Tony offers four kinds of Sicilian pizzas with thicker, bready crusts and lots of tomato-y toppings on a large rectangular base, and three Roman-style pizzas ($38 each): long, thin pizzas, each with three sections and each section with different toppings. Yes, it feeds a party.
Pizzas are the stars of the show at this place, but there are full dinners, such as chicken Parmigiana, chicken limoncello, and chicken cacciatore, plus steak, hamburgers, meatball subs, calzones and strombolis. But avoid the Calamari Fritti ($11, 1 star), as these rubbery bits of seafood are unpleasantly chewy.
If you do want an antipasto, the Housemade Honey and Calabrese Sausage ($7, 2 1/2 stars) combines sweet and spicy as a whole peppery sausage is cut into coins and tossed with honey.
The menu says the pastas are made in-house daily, so I tried the Rigatoni alla Melanzana ($16, 2 stars), an intense and generous bowl of striated tubes of pasta mixed with eggplant, kalamata olives, tomatoes, garlic and pecorino Romano cheese. Too many olives turned the dish a little sour, but all in all, it was a success.
Even more successful was the three-inch cube of Tiramisu ($8, 3 stars). Luscious.
The wine list is well chosen, with some expensive bottles for the high rollers and lots of good Italian wines. Service alternated between snappy and slow.
To sum up: There's some world-class pizza in Rohnert Park.
Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.