All In The Family
Hidden gem serves up homemade Italian fare
By Greg Sabin
Odds are you’ve driven by Adamo’s Kitchen without knowing it. The tiny Italian restaurant at P and 21st streets in Midtown doesn’t stick out, and that’s how owners Chiara and John Adamo want it. Theirs is a neighborhood joint with just enough seats for those in the know.
Opened in the summer of 2014—“I only remember because we doodled our names and date in the soft concrete when we were renovating” Chiara tells me—Adamo’s was not a restaurant that aimed for a big splash.
Yet, through nine years of hard work and considerable skill, the Adamo family curated passionate patrons who come from near and far for handmade pastas, all-day sauces, and the Mama and Nona recipes that fill the menu.
John and Chiara Adamo, father and daughter, never owned or ran a restaurant before, but it was something they always wanted to do. When brother and son Polo returned in 2016 from cooking at Gary Danko, one of San Francisco’s most prestigious restaurants, the family operation was complete.
Now, all three play a vital role in keeping this enterprise at the top of its game.
John, a native Californian born of Italian immigrant parents, started nine years ago making every strand of pasta by hand. Now he focuses on teaching pasta classes (check Adamo’s website for availability) and importing wines from the Adamo family vineyards in Italy.
Polo dials in the recipes as head chef. He’s chief pasta-maker now. He has free reign to experiment with classics, coming up with favorites such as salmon picatta and a cheeky french fry dish marrying Kennebec fries with white cheddar, piquillo peppers, caramelized onions and bacon.
Chiara runs the restaurant. “We like keeping things simple,” she says. “We want a neighborhood place that has a Cheers-like feeling, where everybody knows your name.”
As a lover of our town’s food scene, I was disappointed when folks at Adamo didn’t know my name. That’s my fault for not having ventured past the plain-looking doors on P Street before. But on my first visit, I felt like family.
Don’t be surprised to find every table taken at dinner time. The brick-walled shotgun space doesn’t seat more than 40, and those seats fill up fast. Regulars know the joy of Adamo’s pasta Bolognese or the delight of ravioli made just hours before, kissed with house-made pesto and liberally topped with pine nuts.
The service makes everyone feel welcome. It’s rare that an order goes in without a little chat and some catching up. Frequent check-ins are the norm. Glasses never stay empty for long.
The wine list is brief but unique. The Adamos import their own family wines, along with several Italian vineyards that lack another U.S. importer. John hosts wine tastings nearly every month.
The menu skews seasonal. Winter recipes include butternut squash risotto and creamy white wine and cauliflower pasta. Polo focuses on local ingredients. “We switch out plenty on the menu with the seasons,” Chiara says. “But if we took the meatballs or the Bolognese off the menu, heads would roll. They’re on there to stay!”
A favorite touch, one that reminds me of family Italian restaurants throughout the land, is every pasta dish comes with salad and bread. Little things like pungent garlic bread and a crisp green salad transform a nice evening into an emotional event.
If you haven’t taken time to open the door on P Street, it’s time you did. “We love seeing our regulars,” Chiara says. “But we love meeting new customers just as much.”
Adamo’s Kitchen is at 2107 P St.; (916) 440-9611; adamoskitchen.com.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.