Cincera’s Italian was a Petaluma staple in the 1950s
Silvio Cincera’s gnocchi was legendary in Petaluma in the 1950s. As were his raviolis, which the San Francisco Chronicle called “the best raviolis outside of Italy;” but his gnocchi was rare.
“This product is delightful and requires great care in preparation. For that reason, the Cinceras make gnocchi only on special occasions, or when specifically ordered by parties large enough to be worth the effort,” wrote Argus-Courier columnist Harry Hall in 1955. “It is no surprise that diners beg for it.”
Cincera was already a Bay Area food icon when he opened Cincera’s Italian Dinner on Petaluma Boulevard in 1951. Prior to that, he operated the Tivoli Hotel and Restaurant, Little Hill, Cincera’s Tavern and Merrills Restaurant, which were all successful Petaluma ventures for decades before he decided to go back to his roots.
Raised in Sondrio, Italy, Cincera came to San Francisco when he was 16. He cut his culinary teeth in the kitchen of his uncle’s North Beach restaurant, where he learned to make chicken 90 different ways, according to a 1955 Argus-Courier article, including sauces ranging from cacciatora to curry. When he opened Cincera’s, he wanted to bring an authentic Italian experience to Petaluma.
“People don’t have the patience to enjoy a good meal anymore,” he told the paper in 1955, lamenting the rise of fast food and quick dinners. “They used to take an hour-and-a-half for lunch, and two hours for dinner. Now it’s rush, rush, rush, grab a hamburger here, a Swiss on rye there. Good Italian and French food, the kind I like to prepare, takes more than a few minutes to cook properly.”
Cincera’s was a place where time slowed down. Where the owner’s wife, Lee, often greeted guests with a glass of wine. It was built entirely on Cincera’s love of his native cuisine.
It was big news in town when Sil Cincera fell ill in 1958, and the restaurant temporarily closed. No one else knew how to cook his recipes, so without him, there could be no Cincera’s Italian. The Argus-Courier ran numerous mentions of his illness, all with well wishes of a speedy recovery. In August 1958, Hall wrote, “(Sil) has recovered and will be back in action. I dropped in a few nights ago, during the early evening for a cocktail and found him looking better than in months. He asked if I had had dinner, which I hadn’t. He disappeared kitchenward and returned a bit later with the grandest bowl of minestrone I have ever tasted.”
Sadly, Sil Cincera succumbed to illness a few months later in December 1958. His wife kept Cincera’s cocktail bar open for a short time longer, but the restaurant, and Sil’s famed gnocchi and raviolis, died with him.