Civico 1845 (San Diego, CA)

A child fell at my feet. Staring down in bewilderment, a lanky man leapt out from behind a brown paper covered door singing the child’s name in an Italian accent. Ushering the babe into a late night construction site, my eyes followed them past the reclaimed wood interior to the writing on the windows. My eyes paused when I saw the word: Vegan.

I bookmaked the Civico 1845 and waiting for the opening.

After an initial visit opening week, I returned with the lovely Dining with DevynRobins Vegan Life and Robin’s cousin. Sitting on the patio, our waitress approached, lips parted as through to speak. She caught glimpse of us holding the vegan menu and winked.

“I guess you don’t need to hear about the catch of the day,” she said.

“No thanks,” we smiled back.

“Hold on a sec…” she uttered while sneaking away. Moments later she returned with the tall lean man I had seen nights before.  “This is Pietro Galloo, our vegan chef!”

We introduced ourselves as Pietro went over the menu pointing out his favorites. He also explained how when opening this restaurant with his brother—even though the prime Little Italy corner needs no gimmicks to lure customers in—he insisted on offering a full vegan menu. The team agreed to let him produce the menu for one month. It became an instant success so it is here to stay.

We started off with the Piccolo Calzone. Crescents of dough filled with a seitan ragout, almond ricotta and homemade mozzarella. These taste very “homemade” which to me is just alright.

Next up was the much better Mushroom “Calamari.” Breaded and fried oyster mushrooms served with spicy arrabbiata sauce. Although Robin and her cousin ordered this dish, I instinctively reached across the table and took a forkful before they even touched it.

“Ooop! Sorry!” I exclaimed as I shoveled the mushrooms into my mouth. They taste as good as they look.

Robin order the Eggplant, parmigiana style, with a side of penne pomodoro. I had this dish previously and recommended it to the table–the portion was thankfully more generous than opening week. It is a simple dish of sliced eggplant stewed into silky slabs in tomato sauce. The penne is tender, with a bite some think impossible to create without egg, smothered in more sauce and fresh basil. I find this the most satisfying entree on Civico 1845’s vegan menu.

Also, Civico 1845 is the first restaurant I’ve been to with tableside vegan Parmesan–made with noosh, pinenuts and so on–it is such a joy!

Robin’s cousin ordered the Ravioli, stuffed with spinach and vegan ricotta, in a San Marzano Sauce. While I find the vegan pasta dough does not hold up well in the stuffed or layered dished (like the lasagna), the downy ravioli filling superseded this concern.

Having already tasted my way through the pastas, I ordered the Pizza di Scarola. This wedge of escarole pie is stiffed with buttery greens, black olives, sicilian cappers and chili peppers. The dough is simple, somewhat dense, which holds up to the rich interior whose complexity builds with each bite.

Devyn ordered the Penne alla Vodka, a pink tomato and cream sauce not often seen in vegan form. Again, I find Civico 1845’s vegan treatment of penne pasta to be superb; although the sauce got a bit lost in it all.

For dessert, we shared the vegan Tiramisu. Pietro charged it up that night with a chocolate, instead of vanilla, custard. To me, the thrill of tiramisu is the bite of rum and bitterness of espresso, neither of which I detect in this cake. Still, it is a very good moist white cake stuffed with custard.

Last, we tackled the Strawberry Cake with lemon creme filling. The ultra moist cake offers a homey end to dinner. I recommend it over the tiramisu… at least through strawberry season.

Civico 1845
1845 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101
619-431-5990
civico1845.com

La Bottega (New York, NY)

On a perfectly sunny summer evening the (cool) ladies of my offices hopped a cab to the airy patio of the Maritime Hotel. We quickly sank into a scene where the clientele sashay around the nautical piazza as though they are gracing an uber cool red carpet. They mingle with the hot dads, beautiful children, and monotonous models in scant breezy skirts that flashed bare ass with every butterfly flap.

Our waitress was beautiful but looked barely 17, and so I refused to take wine recommendations from her. I jealously admired her tight short shorts that looked like they hugged her perfectly, but then I saw her picking wedgies multiple times and felt better as I lounged in my summer dress.

On my side of the table, we order the cheapest bottle of white and it was one of the worst wines I’ve ever consumed. Thinking our lesson had been learned, the next round we ordered a pricier bottle, but it was only a hairline better. So we enviously watched our friends sipping on their lovely (although non alcoholic) cocktail across the table. The virgin cocktail menu assembles distinctive drinks that sounded more and more alluring as I drank my 2 bottles of crappy wine.

I found the palm sized rounds of warm pizza doughy bread and the salads to be the highlight of the dinner. Although we didn’t order pizza (until dessert ) the “bread” quietly establishes their pizza oven pride… which I’m sure is perfectly good for the tourist…

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