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Dining profile: Family run Toto Trattoria bringing a taste of Sicily to Morgan Hill

Downtown restaurant has authentic Italian feel and a welcoming atmosphere

Published in the July 20 – Aug. 2, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Lauren Newcomb

Photo by Lauren Newcomb Salvatore Graffagnino at Toto Trattoria in downtown Morgan Hill.

Photo by Lauren Newcomb
Salvatore Graffagnino at Toto Trattoria in downtown Morgan Hill.

Journeying from the Italian city of Palermo on the island of Sicily to Morgan Hill, Salvatore Graffagnino brings an authentic Italian flavor to our downtown at Toto Trattoria. Graffagnino’s uncle owns the Sicilian Italian restaurant, making it a family enterprise. That inclusive sense of family extends to the staff as well as the customers, creating a comfortable and friendly atmosphere.

“My uncle made this restaurant with families in mind,” Graffagnino said. “I work with people from Sicily, too, and that’s family. Everybody that comes here feels like family.”

After finishing high school in Sicily, Graffagnino studied under a professional chef at a restaurant. The high-intensity long hours and stress of the job dragged on him, and he decided to make a change. Now, Graffagnino runs Toto Trattoria as manager, bartender, waiter, busboy and pizza chef, sharing the workload with his staff and doing what he loves at the same time.

Graffagnino credits his cooking skills to his grandmother, who taught him recipe after recipe of traditional Sicilian dishes. Toto Trattoria’s menu reflects that traditional and authentic feeling, from the ever-popular Bolognese, to the lobster ravioli, to the pizza fired in a hot brick oven.

“We make traditional Italian gnocchi, homemade pasta, fresh pizza dough,” he said. “I like to create new dishes too, like the pasta ballaro.” This dish derives its name from the Mercato Ballaro in Palermo, a street market where Graffagnino often went as a youngster.

“It’s beautiful there, in the morning with all the colors mixing with the fish and the fruit, and all the people walking on the street,” he said.
Although the restaurant specializes in Sicilian Italian food, Toto Trattoria serves dishes that come from all over Italy. Polenta is a common accompaniment to a dish, and it comes from the north of Italy. The spicy Italian foods come from Calabria, in the south of Italy in the “toe of the boot,” Graffagnino explained.

Creating dishes that hail from all over Italy is fun for Graffagnino, but he also maintains that Sicily has the best kitchen in the world. “We are lucky to have a favorable climate for growing herbs and spices,” he said. “Also, l’olio d’oliva, the olive oil, is best from Italy. I make sure to get Italian olive oil.”

Using this genuine ingredient in his dishes is especially important for Graffagnino because often there is fraud concerning olive oil in which people try to pass off olive oil made elsewhere as Italian.

Toto Trattoria’s bar boasts a wide variety of drinks, from imported wines to local wines, to vastly different mixed drinks. Graffagnino mixes the popular ones such as the Moscow Mule as well as the more obscure Vesper.

“I like making the Mocha Grappa too, although I modified it,” he said. “I mix it with a chocolate liqueur and serve it in a martini glass, so it’s dark on the bottom and white on the top. Then I make a little decoration on top because I like making it look fancy and nice.”

Graffagnino has big plans for the future of Toto Trattoria. If he’s able to get permission from the city, he’d like to expand the restaurant to include an outside dining area next to the mural that is in the process of being created now. The mural merges Graffagnino’s vision of Sicily with the landscape of the Morgan Hill area, creating a pleasing mix of rolling hills and grape vines. With its authentic Italian feel and its welcoming atmosphere, Toto Trattoria brings a taste of Sicily to Morgan Hill.

TOTO TRATTORIA

Where: 17230 Monterey Road
Contact: (408) 782-3100 or www.facebook.com