Island “Character” Gerald Simonsen Opens Bainbridge’s Newest Italian Eatery – Trattoria Isola – in The Pavilion

Gerald Simonsen is a bit of a character. With his long hair and impressive beard, he looks like he could have been a radical professor at UC Berkeley back in the 1960s.

Instead, he’s an entrepreneur, with a flair for taking chances and having “adventures.” One of his first forays here was opening The Islander restaurant in The Pavilion prior to the Pandemic. The reason? “There was no place to get beer (on Bainbridge) after eight o’clock.”

Simonsen with helpers Adam Pelandini and Arissan Ugles

He and his silent partner (also an accomplished chef) sold the Islander, which is now a popular local watering hole and steak house, and just recently opened Trattoria Isola, also located in The Pavilion, 403 Madison Avenue, next to the Bainbridge Tapas restaurant.

“The space (formerly a wine bar) came empty, and I said, ‘why not,’” recalls the sixty-something year old Simonsen of his decision to open up the island’s second Italian restaurant. Viva Rosa 11 in Rolling Bay is the other one, but it’s more of a takeout place than a traditional sit-down eatery.

“It’s another adventure in a string of adventures,” says Simonsen. “Our goal is to create a nice, family-oriented Italian Restaurant where everyone feels comfortable, including the kids.”

Simonsen’s cozy space is roughly 400 square feet and includes a bar with six seats, and eight tables that can accommodate about 30 guests. He admits to knowing “next to nothing about Italian food,” other than the fact that he enjoys eating it, relying instead on his silent partner chef to create the menu and the restaurant’s European ambiance. “I can order like a Big Dog,” he muses, “but I don’t cook.”

Simonsen says, pointing to the menu, “He came up with all this and modeled it so they’re some vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes.”

Simonsen takes in his new digs

The menu includes Antipasto, with dishes ranging from Minestrone, to Salumi & Formaggi to Shrimp Scampi. There’s five Fresh Pasta servings in which you can add grilled Portabella Mushrooms, chicken and even a Lobster tail. These include Saffron Tagliatelle for $18 to Ravioli Alla Aragosta (Maine Lobster, Asparagus, etc.) for $39. Right now, the restaurant includes four main Entrees, from Portabello Al Farro ($19) to Filetto Con Gorgonzola, (Filet Mignon, with potatoes, vegetables and sauces – $39). Dolce, or desserts. include everyone’s favorite Tiramisu ($10) to Gelato & Sorbetto ($8).

Like any good Italian restaurant, Trattoria Isola features 25 to 30 varieties of wine, sourced from all over the country, as well as brands from Sicily and other Italian locales. There’s wine by the glass, $10 for a sip or two of La Bastarda (Pinot Grigio, Italy) to $20 for several hits of Cascina Alberta Barbaresco (from Glacone, Italy). Of course, there’s wine by the bottle, including a Speri (at $120) to an Umberto Cesari (at $38 a bottle). There’s also an assortment of cocktails to be had, more than likely to be served up by the restaurant’s Manager Adam Pelandini, who has an Italian-sounding name but is mostly of Irish origin.

So how did Simonsen and friends come with the name Trattoria Isola, which roughly translates into “Island Eatery”? “I put it out (a call for the name) on (the website) Bainbridge Island Community,” he says. “I put out eight names and this one won. … The people spoke and I listened!”

Simonsen, who likes to laugh and, generally speaking, is a pretty laid-back dude, spent his career as a computer programmer working for Unisys Corp., and traveling the world teaching, installing or consulting with a bevy of airline clients, the US. Air Force, and other organizations that used the company’s mainframe system.

Along the way, he got into the bar and restaurant business, even buying a laundry and bar on Capitol Hill in Seattle, where he moved to from Los Angeles at the age of 21. Later on, as the story goes, “I was living in Yugoslavia. I had a lot of money then and called my mom and asked her to buy me a beer bar. She said no, (but after some negotiation), we decided on the other place” – the laundromat.

In true entrepreneurial form – especially in the tech world – Simonsen was a college drop out. (Think Bill Gates or Steve Jobs). He attended one semester at El Camino Community College in Torrance, CA., and he basically quit school, figuring he knew enough programming to land a job. But before he went out into the working world, he wrote a resume that essentially said he had a four-year degree from a two-year school. He laughs at the memory.

The lack of a degree didn’t seem to matter, though, as he worked for Unisys and later spent 15 years at the University of Washington handling “computer stuff” for the prestigious UW Medical Center. Besides running his new restaurant, Simonsen has a side business as a Notary public, one of the few on the island these days, and is self-proclaimed Bubble Master.

Using a Bubble Machine he bought through Amazon, Simonsen has declared Friday June 28th, the first internationally celebrated Annual Bainbridge Island Bubble Day. “There are no rules,” he says. “There are no sponsors. There is no money involved (well. except if you don’t have a bubble machine, you would need to buy one!) There is no commitment. There is no charge. There is only the suggestion that you put a bubble machine in front of your store on June 28th and we will see if we can get this place engulfed in bubbles for the day.” Fun idea!

It might not be too much of a stretch to say that Gerald Simonsen is truly one of a kind!

To read a previous story on Gerald Simonsen check out this link: Gerald Simonsen – Notary Service for Free, Making Bubbles, Promoting Live Music and living a life where “stuff just sorta happened…” | THE ISLAND WANDERER

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