Sept. 27 2011 06:13 PM

The neighborhood restaurant's chewy potato dumplings covered in gorgonzola are worth the trip to Tierrasanta

Photo by Alyssa Stocker-Keefe

I grew up on the mean streets of Tierrasanta. Sandwiched between Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Mission Trails and two major freeways, it's a quiet community where nothing too exciting ever happens—and that's perfectly OK with everyone. It's not edgy or cool or trendsetting; it's the definition of suburbia. You can cynically roll your eyes at its homogeny or celebrate its small-town charm.

The biggest community events of the year are the annual parade and spaghetti dinner and the Catholic Church's annual fundraiser (where many Tierrasanta children are introduced to the wonders of the bouncy house). But for non-residents, there aren't many reasons to go out of your way to visit the Island in the Hills. Except for Andiamo.

On the spectrum of Italian food, you have the divey, starch-and-red-sauce joints that hit the spot when you're

looking for a fix for your cheese habit. Then there are the upscale, sophisticated temples to Italian gastronomy.

Andiamo is perched in that sweet middle spot, with the gracious (if not at all hip or trendy), welcoming attitude of a neighborhood restaurant and behind-the-line food know-how that offers you something more than vague food smothered in mozzarella.

Andiamo is one of the few places for which I get a very specific hankering: the gorgonzola gnocchi. I get a little misty when my face is introduced to a fat bowl of dense, chewy potato dumplings, sensuously covered in a stinky cream sauce whose only redeeming nutritional value is probably the calcium. It's utterly decadent and makes me glassy-eyed and happy.

There's frequently a special early dinner menu, featuring soup or salad, main course and dessert, all for $18—not a bad deal considering the amount and quality of food and potential for live, patio-side entertainment. If you're lucky, there's live jazz that ranges from really talented community members to fantastically cheesy lounge acts. I can't get enough of that stuff.

It's not always on the standard menu, but Andiamo does an excellent seafood agnolotti. Ravioli pockets are filled with finely chopped crab and shrimp—meaty and sweet sea flavors that marry perfectly with a warm and nutty brown butter sauce, all garnished with crispy fried sage leaves that could be a delicate snack on their own.

There are plenty of unique specialties to check out on the menu, though pasta dishes are where Andiamo really excels. The baked salmon, though a nice hunk of fresh and rosy fish, is a bit on the dry side and falls short of the ideal soft and buttery consistency a nice piece of salmon should have. I can't resist a hearty pork chop, and as we head into fall, a chop with an apple and balsamic reduction gets the autumnal fantasies flowing. The flavors are all there, but I'd request it on the medium side as, like the fish, Andiamo's pork chop can come out a bit tough and lacking in juice. If you don't want pasta, go for the Pollo Chef, an oven-baked chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and basil and served with a yummy polenta that is soft and creamy but with just a bit of crispness.

I'll admit to having a sentimental soft spot in my heart (clogged from gorgonzola though it may be) for Andiamo. But I embrace an eatery with no pretensions, an enthusiasm for community, a sense of gathering and a desire to serve lovely meals made by lovely people. Andiamo may be short of perfection if you want to get persnickety, but that can be said about all of our loved ones. Isn't that what makes us love them more?

Write to and Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


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