For more than 20 years, Spaggi’s has transported patrons from its strip mall location in Upland to a charming café setting like you would find in Italy. Beautiful paintings and cozy tables draped with white linen create an elegant atmosphere for enjoying fine Italian cuisine.
Owner and Executive Chef Henry Gonzalez has a reputation for being both personable with his patrons and innovative with his menu, creating dishes that please both the eye and palate. His skills have been a lifetime in the making.
At 9, he washed dishes in the restaurant where his father worked as a chef. In order to do so, he had to go to church and keep his grades up, but that was no problem. He loved being in the kitchen. And he did more than just wash dishes: he watched, observed and tried his hand at a few tricks of the trade, including knife skills. Once he fainted after cutting himself, but didn’t tell his father. When Dad found out, he asked Henry why he hadn’t told him. Henry said he was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to work there anymore. His father then understood how much Henry wanted to work in the restaurant industry.
Those youthful ambitions didn’t fade. At 16, Henry went to work at Rosa’s Restaurant in Baldwin Park and eventually moved to its Ontario location. He attended the Los Angeles Culinary Institute and later gained experience at other restaurants, including Melvyn’s in Palm Springs, where patrons included Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Henry eventually landed at Wolfe’s Market kitchen in Claremont, then in 2002 he became co-owner of Spaggi’s; in 2009 he assumed full ownership. He runs the restaurant with his wife, Ana, and a team of chefs.
The recipient of numerous culinary awards, Chef Henry is one of the Inland Empire’s most highly acclaimed chefs.
On a recent visit we sampled several items, starting with Linguini Pesto Pomodoro. This dish features Barilla pasta imported from Italy topped with fresh organic Roma tomatoes, puréed basil, pesto sauce, imported Parmesan cheese and pecorino cheese. The al dente pasta is tossed in extra-virgin olive oil and cream, and garnished with toasted pine nuts and a tomato rosette. Perfectly seasoned, the pesto was present but not overpowering. The rich, fresh tomatoes and sauce on the side of the noodles can be scooped up and savored like tomato soup.
The flavorful Sand Dabs can be enjoyed as an appetizer or main dish. The small, buttery fillets are dipped in egg and sautéed in Asiago cheese, garlic, white wine, lemon and capers. As a main dish they are served with a side of vegetables and potatoes.
The Chilean Sea Bass has a distinctive twist. Chef Henry says he uses the center loin of the bass so it is cut in a “nice medallion style.” The fresh fillet is delicate and tender. What separates this refined fish selection from others is the sauce: balsamic vinegar with red wine, caramelized Maui onions, sun-dried tomatoes, and a mix of shiitake and porcini mushrooms. Fresh, colorful vegetables and mashed potatoes are served on the side.
Beef enthusiasts will appreciate the signature steak, a 16-ounce prime, dry-aged rib eye. “We felt we needed to have the best quality steak to have the best tasting steak, so we invested in that and a broiler that cooks at 1,600°F to produce a steakhouse-tasting steak,” Chef Henry says. The meat is tender and lightly seasoned, and is served with a Chianti red wine sauce on the side. Fresh vegetables and au gratin potato, which is shaped to resemble a rose, accompany this dish.
Henry and Ana support numerous charitable causes in the region, and their sense of community is visible on the menu. Three heart-healthy dishes are named for local hospitals. For example, the Casa Colina features broiled salmon served on fresh uncooked spinach, bruschetta and goat cheese and is surrounded with toasted bread points.
The end-all is the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream. Refreshing, sweet and very light, the cake is large enough for sharing.
Spaggi’s offers an extensive wine list, signature cocktails, and both imported and domestic beers.
Arrangements can be made for private lunches and dinners. Private and semi-private rooms are separated by glass doors. Catering is also available.
1651 W. Foothill Blvd., Upland • (909) 579-0497, spaggis.com
Lunch Tues.–Fri. 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. • Dinner Tues.–Thur. 5 to 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 5 to 10 p.m.