Marcelo Machado has spent months turning what used to be a classic American restaurant and community landmark -- The Nutcracker -- into a little piece of Europe called Marcello's Bistro and Lounge.
He hopes it's the sort of place that transports people, especially those strapped for cash and pining for a trip to some far-flung destination.
"We want people to come in and relax, enjoy the atmosphere and not be rushed to leave," said Machado, who co-owns the Oakdale bistro with his wife, Nelda.
The Machados gave the bistro Marcelo's name spelled the Italian way to reflect its Tuscan décor.
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The Nutcracker, which closed a few months after the Hershey plant announced it would close and as the economy slowed, inhabited the building for 27 years. Its former customers will find an extensive transformation. The wood walls and mirror collection have been replaced with a warm faux-stucco finish.
The Oakdale couple used to own El Jardin in Turlock before moving to Oakdale and selling the place five years ago. Now that their children are older, they've decided to return to the restaurant business.
"Our motto is: A small taste of Europe," said Machado, whose mother is Portuguese.
Machado's mother can be found in the kitchen, making the same treats she made for her son when he was growing up.
The restaurant has been open for 1½ weeks and features established favorites (T-bone steak) with European flair (Spanish saffron risotto). The steak plate, which includes seasonal vegetables, is Marcello's priciest dish at $28. At $11, niçoise salad, a traditional French salad topped with tuna, is the least expensive.
The menu is a combination of Spanish, Italian and French food with some New World influences, Nelda Machado said. Personal taste inspired the menu more than heritage, said Marcelo Machado, who was born in Brazil.
"I always wanted an Italian restaurant. I like the cuisine and fine dining," he said. But don't mistake the fancy touches and French dishes for elitism.
"We aren't stuffy. We just did what we like here. It reflects who we are," he said.
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2382.