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.
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 sorriso-italiano.com.