Cedro Ristorante, a family affair


When Elizabeth Nevigato told her parents, Giuseppe and Maria Nevigato, that she wanted nothing more than to open a restaurant, her mother worried that her eldest child, barely 20 years old, didn't know what she'd be getting herself into.

"I told her she needed to work at her aunt's restaurant before she thought of opening her own place," Maria says.

Elizabeth agreed. For some time she could be seen at Mona Lisa restaurant in San Francisco, waiting and busing tables, fulfilling her management duties, even standing just outside the doorway, encouraging North Beach strollers to come in and sample the food.

It was hard work, sometimes beginning at noon and ending at 3 the next morning. But it didn't change her mind.

The Menlo-Atherton High School grad persisted in trying to persuade her parents to join her in her dream enterprise of operating a family restaurant, and last fall, opportunity knocked. Family friends Renato and Diane Cusimano of Atherton were looking for buyers of their Palermo restaurant, which they opened in 2005 in the Menlo Center, near Kepler's bookstore and Cafe Borrone. It seemed as if it were meant to be.

The Nevigatos, longtime Menlo Park residents, took over the comfortable, smartly designed space that was formerly Palermo by mid-November, and have been serving up lunch and dinner every day, and breakfast on the weekends, ever since. Elizabeth is at the helm of the business -- at the tender age of 23 -- and her mother is executive chef, an important element of Elizabeth's dream of a family restaurant.

"I told my mom, 'If you cook the way you cook at home, (the restaurant) will succeed,'" Elizabeth says.

Elizabeth's father, Giuseppe, and one of her brothers, David, also work at the restaurant, although Giuseppe also works as a distributor and David is a college student.

The restaurant's name changed with the new owners: It is now Cedro Ristorante Italiano -- the cedro being the large citrus fruit grown by Elizabeth's grandfather, Osilio Nevigato, in the Italian region of Calabria.

It was Osilio's wife, also named Maria, who taught the woman who would become her daughter-in-law how to cook, according to the younger Maria Nevigato. That was when Maria's mother and her future mother-in-law were good friends, working together at the long defunct Parsons Manufacturing Co. in Menlo Park.

"She was like a second mom to me," the younger Maria says, adding that she was in her early teens when her own mother died.

Growing up in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, Maria started cooking when she was about 9, and regularly cooked for her large family.

Before the restaurant opened, she worked as a personal chef, which became easier as her own children got older and developed a love of cooking themselves. "My brothers and I all know how to cook," Elizabeth says, adding that growing up they would rotate cooking nights. "The kitchen has always felt more like a family room to us than any other room in our home."

Maria hasn't had any trouble adapting to the larger kitchen and greater number of people at the restaurant because her cooking standards haven't changed, she says. "When people come here, they're coming to my home," she says. And that means the freshest ingredients available, homemade sauces and stocks, and creative desserts.

Elizabeth says she and her mother shop for the restaurant, choosing organic and local foods whenever possible. The goal, she adds, is to eventually be "100 percent sustainable" in everything they serve.

The lunch and dinner menus feature a range of pastas, risottos and salads. Panini are also available for lunch, and the dinner menu includes meat and fish dishes. Wine and beer are available, and there's a full bar.

The family is eager to open the restaurant's doors to community events, and two are coming up in the next month.

On Feb. 24, Cedro will co-host an event with its neighbor, Kepler's bookstore, that will include a presentation by author Valentina Cirasola, whose cookbook, "Come Mia Nonna -- A Return to Simplicity," features food from the Puglia region of Italy. The event will include a five-course meal cooked by Maria Nevigato, showcasing some of the recipes in the cookbook, Elizabeth Nevigato says.

The event is set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

A fundraising breakfast for Haitian emergency relief is set for Sunday, March 14, from 6 to 11 a.m. Elizabeth explains that on a recent day, her youngest brother, Josef, a Hillview School eighth-grader, came home from school "really distraught" and wanting to do something for the Haitians suffering from the effects of the earthquake.

"We came up with this idea for an event, Pancakes for Haiti," Elizabeth says. On that morning, the restaurant will serve only Maria's signature buttermilk and whole wheat pancakes, with all the proceeds going to relief efforts in Haiti, she says.

Next month, the restaurant will begin a series of "opera nights" with professional singers. It will also host other live music, but details are still being developed, Elizabeth says.

Cedro Ristorante Italiano is at 1010 El Camino Real, No. 140, in Menlo Park. Phone: 322-3376;


Cookbook author Valentina Cirasola will present a program based on her book, "Come Mia Nonna -- A Return to Simplicity," on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at the restaurant. The event includes a five-course meal showcasing recipes from the book. The cost is $72.95, which includes a copy of the book. Seating is limited and reservations are advised. Tickets may be purchased at the restaurant, or around the corner at Kepler's bookstore.

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Like this comment
Posted by Alli
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I have to second that Cedro's is absolutely top-notch, and you really do feel like you are home, as Elizabeth is such a gracious hostess, and "Mama" often comes out of the kitchen to check if you are enjoying her cooking.

Next time you are headed to Kepler's or Barrone's, take a detour instead and try Cedro. Their lunch prices are VERY reasonable, and dinner is slightly more expensive, but the taste-bud explosion you experience will make the marginally higher check worth every penny.

Cedro's is my new favorite in Menlo Park, and I hope it becomes your favorite soon too!

Like this comment
Posted by McGee
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 16, 2010 at 12:32 pm

We were there Saturday night. The menu was better under the previous owners. The big problem with this restaurant is that there is only one restroom, and a queue forms by the bar. This is unacceptable for an expensive restaurant. This is probably a code violation since there must be some metric of restrooms per seat. The city turned a blind eye to the permanent expansion (that added 30+ seats), annexation and enclosure of the restaurant in the common area.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Best new restaurant in the area. Authentic Italian cooking - by Italians - one of the few hereabouts. Menu superb and flexible - the chef (Mama) adjusts to suit customers' wants, allergies,
doctorwon'tletme, whatever. Very good wines at reasonable prices. I've eaten there four times since they opened a few weeks ago.(Note re the dyspeptic comment of "McGee", above: the current owners did not expand, add any seats or annex or enclose anything. Nor have I have ever seen a queue at the bar. My sense is that "McGee" is simply shilling for one of the "Italian" restaurants in the area whose mediocrity and cynicism is being threatened by competition from the real thing. As to "McGee's" assessments of restaurant toilet facilities, I am utterly baffled: "expensive" or not, precisely which MP or PA restaurants are well-positioned to brag about their restrooms? In my experience, most are either up a flight of stairs or back behind the kitchen or - How shall I put this politely? - breathlessly uncared for. The most traditional (and expensive)Italian restaurant in MP has separate but equal restrooms which compare favorably only to those of the MP McDonalds. In any event, what possible benefit accrues to MP from undifferentiated sniping at a local family that is trying to create a genuine, old world, restaurant in which mama takes personal - not corporate - responsibility for the cooking, and daughter works tirelessly to give customers a cheerful sense of individual welcome? "McGee", if that's his/her name, seems determined to ignore the tastiness and wholesomeness of the food - in my experience the best in the area. I have no financial or other personal interest in this restaurant, other than as a customer; I'm just tired of gratuitous and baseless attacks on good people, running a family business, trying earnestly to introduce quality service to a community that could sure use it.)

Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Just wondering if this is an advertisement paid by Cedro's or a community plug for this new restaurant? Do they do this for all new restaurants in Menlo Park?
I will try Cedro's as Palermo's is gone, but if anyone knows how you get Almanac to plug your new business for free can they explain?

Like this comment
Posted by Polly
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Ranch Gal: It's called news coverage.

Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm

That is what I suspected, but when my dear friend opened HIS Menlo Park restaurant, there was no "news coverage of it at all" and he was offered a paid ad. I think what's fair is fair, unless of course, the owner is a relative of the newspaper owner or??? Then special coverage is warranted. I just don't get it that certain new businesses are "covered" like this and most are not.
I am sure Cedro's is a terrific place, albeit out of the high traffic area in a corner, and perhaps that is why they chose to tout this business. It was just weird to see "coverage" for one and not for all.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunther Steinberg
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Apr 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Our first family party there (4-12)was not enjoyable. The service was poor, it took forever to get the meal, though they made some excuses about a new chef. We waited over an hour for the food, which was fair.
What took the cake (literally) was that the waitress overheard that we were celebrating my wife's birthday. So she brought one piece of cake with six forks and a candle on top.Nice?! Until I noted that this desert, which no one ordered appeared on the bill for $9.00.
Compare that to Sam's Chowder House in Montara: the waiter also heard the happy Birthday, and brought the ordered desert. BUT, on the bill, the deserts were "Courtesy of the House".
It is not the $9, it is the attitude and customer relations !!!

Like this comment
Posted by Sara
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 27, 2010 at 9:34 pm

This week we were fortunate to reserve a table at Cedro for the Opera evening of this month.
The owner, and her staff were wonderfully welcoming to all who came and there were many who had clearly attended before. We had heard (not read) such rave reviews of Cedro's food and we were not disappointed. The SF opera artists who sang were magnificent, both
tenor and soprano, and thrilled everyone present.. We will return again and again, lunch
or dinner and definitely for the opera evenings too. We pity the above writers for their
evidently bitter lives. They must try to broaden their experiences, and they wiil then know
the joys of superb dining such as Cedro offers. We thank and compliment the family
who has brought this wonderful ristorante to Menlo Park.



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