By Kate Gruetter
When asked to describe her restaurant in one word, Yvonne Khananis chose heart. Khananis, the chef of Polenteria in downtown Los Gatos, located on Victory Lane, stated that she “shows love through food. I love cooking for people, and it makes my heart happy to see people immersed in the experience of the restaurant and my team.” The restaurant hosted its grand opening on July 7, and the staff documented their journey on the Instagram page @polenterialg.
Khananis committed to providing dishes entirely free of gluten when creating the eatery’s menu, in the hopes of creating more inclusivity in Italian cuisine. The quaint restaurant caters to those who often find themselves unable to eat somewhere because of a gluten-heavy menu or the potential threat of cross contamination. According to Khananis, this accommodation has moved some diners to tears, and “almost every night, someone feels compelled to give my staff a hug.” After watching friends struggle with Celiac disease and the change in lifestyle it demands, Khananis saw “the need in the community for a restaurant that [her] friends and their families could feel safe at and also feel love from the food.”
The restaurant’s ambiance is unmatched. Seating just 22 people at a time, Polenteria’s small interior and location, tucked away in the rear of North Santa Cruz Avenue, creates an intimate atmosphere. The low-lit setting and friendly staff makes you feel right at home from the moment you sit down. Chef Khananis explained that the intimate decor and feeling was very intentional: “Whether it is the natural beeswax candles, the unicorn lamp, the ship’s brass bell or the original photographs of Italy taken by one of my best friends, everything exists for a reason.”
After sitting down, servers bring you gluten-free bread, made with a recipe Khananis and her team spent months developing, explaining that at first they just could not get it right. The restaurant’s antipasti dishes are just as impressive as their bread. Though polenta is key in main dishes, you can also find it stuffed with cheese when searching through antipasti. If you’re looking for protein rather than polenta, the restaurant also offers a variety of meat and cheese plates, as well as dips and risotto balls.
Of course, you couldn’t label the restaurant Polenteria without its key dish, polenta. Whether it’s topped with parmigiano or accompanied with mushrooms and vegetables, the polenta is a dish you cannot skip. According to Khananis, one of the staff’s favorite dishes is the sausage and mushroom over polenta, though Khananis clarified,“I love every dish on the menu if it brings my customers happiness.”
Polenteria is not the end of Khananis’ gluten-free cuisine dream, however. The chef also opened “OY!” on 242 N. Santa Cruz Boulevard, a gluten-free bakery located next to Grocer & Goddess. Whether you’re looking for bread, polenta, or grab-and-go dishes that are also Celiac-friendly, you’ll be sure to find Khananis offering it all.
(Sources: Instagram, Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle)