Good eats are at Antonio and Elisabetta Gerli's Sorriso Italiano.

Courtesy Photo

Good eats are at Antonio and Elisabetta Gerli's Sorriso Italiano.

Authentic Italian Restaurant in Isla Vista

Antonio and Elisabetta Gerli’s Sorriso Italiano

Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Article Tools
Print friendly
E-mail story
Tip Us Off
iPod friendly
Share Article

Located on the ground floor of one of Isla Vista’s swanky new apartment buildings, Sorriso Italiano combines the modern look of downtown I.V. with traditional Italian delights. When owner Antonio Gerli and his family moved to Santa Barbara from Italy a year and a half ago, Gerli knew he wanted to get into the restaurant business.

“My dream was to open an Italian restaurant close to one of the California universities,” Gerli said. “I drove from San Francisco to San Diego, and when I came here … I entered from the main entrance of the university and saw many, many students …. When I saw I.V., I thought, ‘Wow! That’s the right spot to open a restaurant!’”

But Gerli’s talents are not limited to food alone. He’s also a sommelier, and shares his knowledge with his customers every Thursday night, when he hosts wine-tasting classes at his restaurant. [EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Gerli was certified as a Master Sommelier.] “It’s something in between a wine tasting and a wine class,” said Gerli. “One of our wine tastings is blind, so I cover the labels … and we try to understand what kind of wine we are drinking and if it’s good, why it’s good, why it’s not good.”

Gerli and his wife, Elisabetta, have combined their traditional family recipes to create Sorriso’s menu, using fresh ingredients and cooking everything from scratch. “Everything here is homemade,” Gerli said. “Nothing is frozen. We don’t have a freezer. Everything we prepare is fresh.” Even the focaccia bread is made from scratch.

By Courtesy Photo

Sorriso Italiano

Here’s a look at some of Sorriso’s best dishes:

Bolognese Lasagna: According to Elisabetta, this lasagna has become Sorriso’s signature dish and is one of her personal favorites. Starting with a layer of lasagna, the dish builds from there with layers of meat sauce, mozzarella, and parmesan. The combination of cheeses makes for a gooey, delicious bite that you won’t get from that frozen lasagna you have at home. The restaurant also offers a vegetarian version of this dish, which means that non–meat eaters have no excuse not to try it. This dish is simple yet delicious.

Meatballs: Sorriso’s meatballs are made with ground beef, parmesan, olive oil, parsley, and mortadella (Italian salami), all rolled up into three big meatballs with a side of focaccia bread. “The recipe comes from my family,” Elisabetta said. “My father is a really good cook, and Antonio’s mother is a really good cook, so I learned from them.” Elisabetta also studied at one of the most famous pasticcerias in Sicily, Italy, giving her cooking a southern influence.

Sweet Sorriso: A recipe of Elisabetta’s own creation, the “Sweet Sorriso” is a sweet dough pastry filled with your choice of berry preserves or Nutella. According to Elisabetta, this pastry has become Sorriso’s main dessert, and it’s not hard to understand why. This warm, fluffy pastry is filled to the brim with rich goodness, perfect for warming customers up during cold winter evenings. This dessert alone makes dining at Sorriso a worthwhile experience; it is just that good.

Panna Cotta: A new addition to Sorriso’s menu, panna cotta is a sweet custard topped with a berry preserve. A traditional Italian dessert, this dish combines the rich taste of the berries with the creaminess of the custard, making for a delightful dessert experience. This dessert is the Gerlis’ newest attempt at bringing traditional Italian food to Isla Vista, and what an excellent decision they have made. If you are looking to try a tasty new treat, this is absolutely the dish for you.


Sorriso Italiano is located at 901 Embarcadero del Mar in Isla Vista. Call (805) 324-4367 or see


Independent Discussion Guidelines

As far as I can tell, Antonio Gerli is not a Master Sommelier, i.e., one of the 214 men and women so designated by the Court of Master Sommeliers, as his name does not appear on the membership roster on the Court's website. There's at least one culinary school in Italy that for the past year or two has been issuing certificates that say "Master Sommelier," almost certainly in violation of EU trademark rules. Might this be the qualification Mr. Gerli holds? And anyway, a bona fide MS wouldn't be caught dead sporting that ridiculous tastevin on a chain (they wear a small, discreet lapel pin).

DancingBear (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 1:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorriso's Italiano is PRIMO!!! Their dough, sauces, desserts- everything is DELICIOUS! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 9:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Court of Master Sommeliers is just one group that certifies sommeliers. France has the Union des Sommeliers founded in 1907, among others. In Italy, the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers, which issued the certificate Antonio Gerli holds, was founded in 1965. It is one of the oldest in Europe and is part of the international Worldwide Sommelier Association. In Britain there is WSET founded in 1969. The Court of Master Sommeliers is the youngest association, founded in 1977.

Antonio is the real deal. My husband and I are in the wine biz and we love going to Sorriso Italiano. Members of my wine tasting group Inside Wine Santa Barbara have gone frequently to Antonio's tastings and found him both knowledgeable and charming. His wife Elisabetta is a fantastic cook who makes the fluffiest foccacia I've ever had in Italy or the US.

Antonio and Elisabetta are Santa Barbara gems. Their Thursday night tastings for just $20 for the wine and dinner are one of the best deals in this city. See Inside Wine's Facebook page for a photo of Antonio's certificate plus photos of some of the fun times we've had at Sorriso Italiano.

Tama (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 10:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tama, you miss my point. I am well aware that there are several different paths that lead to professional recognition as a sommelier. The article claims, however, that Antonio holds the title "Master Sommelier," and refers specifically to the fact that only 214 people worldwide have been awarded this certification, in which case the article is referring to a title which can be issued only by The Court of Master Sommeliers...just as the title "Master of Wine" can only be awarded by the Institute of the Masters of Wine.

I am not insinuating that Antonio was being anything less than truthful; I think it's far more likely, in fact, that the reporter was lazy and got her facts wrong. I know very well the Italian organization, AIS. Its high standards and its credibility among wine professionals are indisputable. If Antonio holds, say, the Sommelier Professionista diploma from AIS, then that's how the article should read. If he holds something called "Master Sommelier" issued, say, by ALMA - Scuola di Cucina in association with AIS, that's all well and good, but it's not the same MS as that held by the organization with only 214 members referenced in the third paragraph of the article (and any IP attorney retained by the Court of Master Sommeliers would certainly dispute an Italian organization's right to use a term which, I believe, the Court has trademarked with the EU).

I didn't mean to impugn either Antonio's integrity or his wine knowledge, and I apologize if my first post came off that way. I do, on the other hand, feel that I'm not being unreasonable in insisting that the reporter get straight the exact certification Antonio holds if she's going to stress his professional qualifications in her article.

DancingBear (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 12:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Truly one of the best and most authentic restaurants to open up in Santa Barbara in a very long time. Coming from an Italian family and having visited Italy many times, it reminds me of some of the wonderful modern eateries in central Rome or Milan. Not only is the food great, but the owners provide that personal touch that I do not see much of in Santa Barbara these days.

am (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 1:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

To address DancingBear's concerns, the error was rooted in a simple miscommunication between the reporter and Gerli. It has been amended and noted.

Matt (Matt Kettmann)
February 11, 2014 at 1:32 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DancingBear just sounds like a SnootyPuss. Dude, its NOT a 5 star VonWiesenberger snobatorium, its a place to eat in Isla Vista & the food is actually good!
Would rather eat there than the places your "sophisticated palate" probably back.
Good food, relaxed atmosphere versus "fine dining" & a bunch of stuffy people? STICK IT!

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 3:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorriso Italiano IS a five star restaurant in all the important ways.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
February 11, 2014 at 3:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@DancingBear, your highbrow comments are quite amusing...quite droll for a jitterbugging Ursine, but chilllllllllllll out dude, get down with some tasty tortellini, and leave the driving to us.

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
February 12, 2014 at 3:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

And to the wine tasting culture, this song is dedicaded to U

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
February 12, 2014 at 3:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

No wait, THIS song is much more apropos

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
February 12, 2014 at 3:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

thanks for the review. sounds like its worth waltzing out there.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
February 12, 2014 at 12:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

event calendar sponsored by: