Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel
Enoteca Adriano4864 Cass St.Pacific Beach858-490-0085
I'm trying my best not to be bitter, but I'm supposed to be in Italy right now. The trip would have been one for the books, timed to hit truffle season in Piedmont, with stops at a couple craft breweries near Milan. We'd do the whole agri-tourismo thing in Tuscan wine country and then settle into an apartment in Florence. It was ambitious. It would have been amazing. It was too expensive. It would have cost too much to do all the things I wanted to do, especially in these uncertain times.
So, the trip has been postponed, hopefully just until next fall. I've mostly been fine with it, but every now and then, when I'm staring at the computer screen for the fifth consecutive hour, I start thinking about where I should be and what I could be eating. And though I do wish, very earnestly, that my recent meals at Enoteca Adriano could have eased the regret of this missed trip, the food does not hold up well in comparison, despite the restaurant's best intentions.
Chef-owner Franco Tassone has been cooking and restauranteur-ing locally for 20 years, including at an original Italian spot in the Gaslamp and a Garnet Avenue tapas lounge that was a little too Downtown for Pacific Beach. In late 2008, he transformed a North P.B. Mexican torta shop from the ground up and opened Enoteca (meaning “wine shop”) Adriano this summer on a quiet block whose sidewalks see more strollers and dog-walkers than partiers. The cottage is charming, spare but comfortable and welcoming. Neighborhood regulars are greeted warmly by the friendly young staff and offered generous tastes of wine. A painted quote on a back wall reads, translated from Italian, “A day without wine is like a day without sun.” And a chalkboard lists nightly specials, including lasagna and osso buco.
It started as a simple wine bar, with a list of all-Italian wines and a menu of snacks for pairing: cheese and salumi plates and small paninis. A few pastas were offered, until they became so popular that the enoteca became more of an osteria, with a bigger lineup of more substantial dishes. I wish it had stayed as it was. The pastas, although well-liked by the regulars and take-out crowd, are mostly unremarkable and oftentimes served lukewarm. The chef occasionally makes his own gnocchi from scratch, but it's sometimes store-bought, as is the seafood ravioli. A Tuscan white bean soup had underdone veggies and so much cubed pancetta that it was too salty to finish, even for this diehard fan of savory pork products.
I would go back to Enotica Adriano, to sit on the sidewalk patio and share a bottle of Italian wine with friends. I can recommend the appetizers featuring mozzarella's silky cousin, burrata, a sphere with a tender skin of mozzarella surrounding fresh cheese curds and cream. It's lush and lovely, either on a plate with honey-sprinkled rolls of raw zucchini, cherry tomatoes and candied pecans or atop their Insalata di Casa, less a salad than a hearty square of toasted bread, sprinkled with chopped tomato, onions and fresh basil, then drizzled with olive oil and a balsamic reduction.
But if we were still hungry, I'd probably invite everyone back to my house for one of my favorite simple pastas—spaghetti tossed with garlic, olive oil and hot pepper flakes or maybe gnudi—little dumplings made with ricotta instead of gnocchi's traditional potato. We could always walk back to the restaurant for dessert, bringing our own bottle of wine (free corkage on Mondays through Wednesdays). The signature dessert, cheekily called The Pope's Pillow—a rectangle of puff pastry split and filled with custard and a strawberry-mascarpone cheese mix—is a sweet distraction to temporarily appease my travel bug.
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