by Tanya Henry
It all started with fishing. Johnny Catalano set out driving from Virginia to California in 1987 with the intention of discovering as many lakes, rivers and streams along the way as he could find. When the self-described ‘fishing junkie’ set eyes on Marin County—with its endless hiking trails, lush waterways and pristine open spaces—he knew he was home.
With several years of restaurant work already under his belt, Catalano lucked upon a job at the Lark Creek Inn that had just opened under the talented hand of rising chef Bradley Ogden. Catalano spent seven years there learning fine dining from one of Marin’s most accomplished and long-running restaurant groups. It was at Lark Creek where his education in California wines really began. A stint with Roland Passot’s Left Bank expanded his understanding of French varietals, and eventually he would open Boca as the beverage director with well-known chef George Morrone, and stay with the Novato-based steakhouse for nine years.
Catalano is now excited to bring his considerable wine acumen to a new frontier—Sausalito’s Poggio Trattoria. “I used to be pretty intimidated by the restaurant and the wines,” admits the newly appointed (since October) wine director, “but now I’m just really impressed,” he says.
Catalano has embraced the task of learning about the many nuances of different varietals and regions on an extensive wine list, and sees endless possibilities for inspired pairings. Tuscan Barbarescos, Barolos from Piedmont and a few Nebbiolos all share space on Poggio’s list, which doesn’t leave out California favorites from up and down the coast, and from our two nearby famous wine regions.
Catalano describes a favorite white wine that “expresses itself with white peaches and floral notes, creating an explosion of flavors in your mouth when paired with grilled prawns, romesco and a salsa verde.” He enjoys catering to wine lovers, but is mindful of keeping the list value-driven and accessible, and always food-friendly.
As for fishing—he has never stopped. In fact, Catalano lives in Bel Marin Keys and can literally cast a line 50 feet from his kitchen. He proudly recalls catching a 15-pound, 30” striped bass right from his backyard. I bet it would pair quite nicely with that lovely Vermentino Blend from Liguria’s Cinqueterre.
Poggio Trattoria, 777 Bridgeway, Sausalito; 415/332-7771; poggiotrattoria.com.