Pasta and pastry chef Penny Sheridan arrives at Mattone Ristorante in East Sacramento by 4 a.m. She’s the first one there, turning on lights and assessing what she needs to do in the next eight hours. Her goal: to make sure the chefs don’t run out of pasta. It has to be made fresh every day.
Her domain has two wooden tables running the width of the room, flanked by pots and pans, a dishwashing station and shelves packed with stuff. Sheridan’s hair is pulled into a messy bun, and a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder draws attention to her strong arms. She listens to true-crime podcasts or ’80s music while she works.
Sheridan prepares the restaurant’s lasagna, as well as string pasta, gnocchi and desserts. It’s tedious work making pasta—you’re doing the same things over and over. But she loves it. “It’s like the feeling when you leave the gym, that sense of accomplishment,” she says.
One “brick” of spinach pasta dough, which has to rest overnight, goes into a hotel pan of lasagna. After flattening it with a large rolling pin, Sheridan feeds the dough into a pasta-rolling machine with her left hand and catches it in her right, over and over, arranging the pasta sheet on her floured arms. Soon, the pasta is thin and smooth as paper. With a ruler made by her husband, she cuts the dough into sections. “Everything is measured very precisely. This is where going to culinary school to be a baker comes in,” she says. Sheridan makes it look easy.
Like most of Mattone’s close-knit staff, including owner June Chang, Sheridan worked at Biba before the iconic restaurant closed in May 2020. That was a strange and scary time, she recalls. “Since I was 15, I’ve always had a job . . . I’ve never been on unemployment.” When Chang suggested putting his work family back together, she liked the idea but wasn’t sure it would happen.
Chang signed a 10-year lease on the building that had been home to Español—another historic Italian restaurant that closed during the pandemic. The building features a brick exterior and rows of parking spots. Walk inside and you’ll find more brick and the bar on your left (check out the cash register—a relic from Español—on the way). There you can catch Chang serving drinks.
For lunch or dinner, head to the dining and banquet rooms. Start with the breadsticks, and maybe the antipasto board. Order the lasagna, or spaghetti carbonara, and, later, one of Sheridan’s desserts. Try a martini made with Absolut vanilla vodka, Kahlúa, Frangelico, crème de cacao dark and a shot of espresso; it’s worth losing a night’s sleep.
Executive chef Karel Mulac, another Biba alum, heads up Mattone’s busy kitchen and seasonal menu selection. He was raised in a small village near Prague, where his family grew potatoes and cauliflower and kept rabbits and chickens in their backyard. “I’m not an Italian guy,” Mulac says, but his style of cooking, early on, was influenced by Italy.
Mattone’s opening, a year after Biba closed, felt like a reunion, Sheridan says. About three weeks later, Biba Restaurant, Inc. filed a complaint against Mattone, naming Chang and three of his employees (including Mulac and Sheridan) and alleging, among other causes of action, false advertising and trademark infringement and dilution. Chang is uncomfortable talking about his former boss, Biba Caggiano, and her namesake restaurant right now, but he says the lawsuit will not change what they’re doing at Mattone.
Back in the kitchen, Sheridan briefly blanches sheets of pasta, followed by an ice bath and a quick wring and dry. She and her assistant, Tony Allen, place them between plastic wrap. They’ve worked together for 20 years, Sheridan says, and that longevity is reflected in their banter. The sheets will rest in the walk-in refrigerator until she arrives early the next morning. She estimates it would take 10 hours to produce a single pan of lasagna, but she makes it in batches.
The finished dish—with Bolognese sauce (the pasture-raised veal comes from Rossotti Ranch in Petaluma), béchamel, cheese and a dozen pasta sheets—cuts like butter. (Insider tip: Lasagna is available only Tuesday through Friday.) “It has a following. People fight over it,” Sheridan says.
The breadsticks have their own fan base. Allen makes them with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil and jalapeño salt from Lantana, Texas. Naturally, he rolls and cuts each one by hand. “We don’t charge for them,” Sheridan says. “We want people to have a good dining experience.”
5723 Folsom Blvd.