Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews and Features

Catania Coastal Italian: Aperitivos at the Latest La Jolla Restaurant from Whisknladle

Featuring San Diego restaurants has been so fun lately. Papa Bird and I have enjoyed every single meal we’ve shared at Prep Kitchen and Whisknladle. So when my friend, Cassidy, invited me to happy hour, or “Aperitivo,” at Catania Coastal Italian, the latest from Whisknladle Hospitality, “YES” was an easy answer. In addition to the excellent, peak of season food you might expect, Catania has a peaceful ocean view and laid back, upscale vibe.

Gorgonzola Cheese plate at Catania

Disclaimer: We were invited by the restaurant to sample the Aperitivo menu and craft cocktails. I wouldn’t share here if I wasn’t impressed and thought my readers would appreciate. The general manager, Steven, even invited the two of us behind the bar to view all the Italian liquors, wines and craft beers. Being old (well me, not Cassidy), married moms, we tried not to get into too much trouble.

Catania Coastal Italian - behind the bar

Aperitivo Menu at Catania

The menu changes frequently with seasonal availability, but my pick of the summer happy hour menu was easily the Gorgonzola (pictured at the top of the post). On my first bite, I swore it was the best gorgonzola I had ever tasted. And I take my cheese seriously. Yup, this is the girl that once made a version of Humbolt Fog at home. I grew up sampling everything in the Cheese Shop in Carmel; it was the only store ever that had a charge account for my family. Anyway, at $6 during happy hour, the cheese plate is a surprisingly good value (especially for the upscale location in La Jolla), and is accompanied by fried almonds, a nectarine mostarda, grilled bread, basil and olive oil. Yum!

aperitivo happy hour menu at Catania

We sampled, clockwise, from upper left:

  • Beef Heart Carpaccio ($6), arugula, parmesan and olive oil.
  • Grigliata Mista ($9), Suzie’s Farm squash, peppers, eggplant, basil pesto, and bread crumbs.
  • Gorgonzola ($6), fried almonds, nectarine mostarda.
  • Prosciutto and Melon ($6), ricotta salata, saba.

Prices listed are for the happy hour, which is daily, 3pm-7pm.

Craft Cocktails

In addition to an impressive collection of Italian wines and craft beers, the cocktails are mighty tasty. Luckily, we were with a group of friendly foodies, and were able to taste many of the cocktails.

craft cocktails at catania

I gravitated towards the Grigio Bianco (Gin, Carpano Bianco, Lemon, Thyme and White Wine), as I’m obsessed with vermouth bianco, even simply on the rocks. Our waiter’s recommendation was a Boulevardier, which was not actually on the menu, but replaced the gin in the Negroni (gin, Carpano Antica and Campari) with bourbon. Another favorite of the group was the Api E Radice (vodka, honey, roasted carrot and lemon). Pictured above is the Ciao Bella in the foreground (bourbon, seasonal jam, sweet vermouth, angstura bitters) and a Seasonal Bellini in the background. The Bellini was a little sweet for me, but I am not a Bellini fan.

roasted carrot cocktail and sunset at catania in la jolla

Above is the famous roasted carrot cocktail and roasted olives. The olives ($6) were roasted with rosemary, orange, garlic and chili flakes, and inspired me to start cooking my olives (see how below.) As long as you are taking advantage of the “Aperitivo” hours, from 3pm to 7pm, the craft cocktails range from $5 to $8– totally reasonable!

So I Was Invited for Happy Hour but Stayed for More

Since the little birds were safe sleeping at home with their papa, and the menu looked so tempting, I ended up staying on! On the recommendation of Steven, I ordered a Yellowfin Crudo, that came with avocado, jalapeño oil, and a melon-cucumber granita that reminded me of a refreshing summer drink.  It was amazing, light and cool, perfectly balanced in taste. New friends Laila and Cindy also shared a bite of their Peach and Prosciutto Crostini (below.) I reposted it on Instagram. By the way, I recently made my (four-year-old) Instagram account public and have been enjoying sharing quick glimpses of food and our urban homestead. Please follow!

Catania is Truly Farm to Table

I’ve written before about how every restaurant that boasts a farm to table garden is not all that. And more recently, San Diego Magazine highlighted outright fraud in an article entitled Farm to Fable. Catania’s fresh food is the real deal. I’m so glad I stayed longer and got to hear more. As our water served us a plate of squash roasted with walnuts, rosemary, honey and parmesan, he told us how he and the rest of the staff had planted the squash at Milagro Farms.

“Our waiter planted the squash he served us.” True #FarmToTable – tweet this

Small world, but our friend and neighbor, Ari of Revolution Landscape, happened to help Whisknladle Hospitality set up their garden at the Milagro Farm Winery. Ari told me that the owners of the restaurant group are also part owners in the winery. They recently developed a portion of the winery with produce for the restaurants, and brought in Revolution to get them started. He confirmed that the restaurant staff helped plant. So I can confirm that our waiter wasn’t just boasting!

Easy Recipe Recreations and Inspiration

I love getting inspiration for cooking when I dine out. Some restaurant dishes I can only admire and go back for. But others are easy enough to recreate. After eating at Catania, I threw some Kalamata olives in a hot pan with some rosemary from our garden and red pepper flakes. Along with Carpano Bianco on the rocks and Gorgonzola crackers, I enjoyed “aperitivo” watching my kids dip in their kiddie pool.

Fried Olives with rosemary and red pepper flakeswatermelon, burrata, cherries and hazelnuts

Above is an example of a restaurant recreation from last month, a burrata, watermelon, cherry and hazelnut salad, inspired by a similar appetizer at Kettner Exchange — another quick post and recipe I only shared on Instagram.

Visit Catania

Catania website

Suite 301, 7863 Girard Ave, San Diego, CA 92037
(858) 551-5105

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Go and Let Me Know What You Think!

Three San Diego Date Night Ideas: Bracero, Caffe Calabria [Giveaway] or Cook with Specialty Produce

Three cheers for date nights! Papa Bird and I have a professional Disney princess who babysits and sings. And with the Little Birds happily entertained, we are starting to venture out to more San Diego restaurants. Here are three of my top date night picks in San Diego for foodie couples — including a giveaway to one of them below.

Abby of Baby Birds FarmMany thanks to Jenny from Vintage Sugar Cube for the picture of Papa Bird and me.

Disclaimer: Specialty Produce invited us to a night of fresh Italian and Mexican dishes by chefs Javier Plascencia of Bracero and MJ Testa of Caffe Calabria in order to sample their Farmers’ Market Boxes. There was no obligation to write about them and my decision to post was based on my excitement to share them with you. Opinions are my own, as always.

shrimp and squash from specialty produce, made by chefs javier plascencia of bracero and mj testa of caffe calabria

1. Modern “Baja Med” Fusion at Bracero in Little Italy

Javier Plascencia’s restaurant empire in Tijuana ranges from the modern Misión 19 to Mediterranean/Mexican “BajaMed” fusion and often features fresh Baja California ingredients. Over the last decade, he has frequently outshone most San Diego chefs. Bracero Cocina de Raiz, named after a guest worker program that brought Mexican labor up to the U.S., is his second restaurant this side of the border (after Romesco in Bonita), opens tonight in Little Italy, and is at the very top of my list of San Diego restaurants I most want to visit. Check out a sneak peek of their modern Mexican fusion menu here, and see why I can’t wait.

Below is a sample of what to expect: Yucatan-style cochinita pibil sopes, made from heirloom corn masa, slow braised pork, heirloom beans and fermented pineapple. You can make a reservation for their upstairs dining room here, or try your luck walking in to the more casual downstairs and crudo bar. And if I haven’t convinced you to try Plascencia’s cuisine, maybe Jonathan Gold or Dana Goodyear can.

cochinita pibil sopes made by chef javier plascencia of bracero at a specialty produce event at caffe clabria

2. Neopolitan Pizza and Craft Cocktails at Caffe Calabria in North Park

When I was chipping away at my Masters of Social Work, I often studied at Caffe Calabria. I usually ordered a Viennese and brought home a bag of the beans they roast on site. Since then they have added a traditional wood-fire pizza oven from Naples, and brought in chef MJ Testa. Caffe Calabria has also started mixing craft cocktails with the same level of attention they bring to the coffee bar. Enter to win two free pizzas from Caffe Calabria at the bottom of this post.

My favorite dish of the night was chef Testa’s Grilled Prawns with farmer’s market box squash and peppers in a cream sauce, inspired by the Amalfi Coast of Italy. I was too busy chatting and the first dish she put out was inhaled by the crowd. For dessert, she roasted white donut peaches and served it with a honey marscapone crema.

As an aside, they have done a lot to renovate the upstairs and back patios. I would definitely look into Caffe Calabria for hosting a private event. The building was once a bank and has tons of character. North Park has changed a lot since I lived there, and there are a ton of bars and clubs to walk to after dinner. Want to be the lucky couple to win dinner there on me?

caffe calabria cappuccino with a roasted doughnut peach by chef mj testa

You can see more of our night in the gallery below.

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Green Acre: A San Diego Restaurant Feature

Now that my little birds are getting a little bigger, I am excited to get out of the house more and enjoy restaurants. I mentioned Green Acre Campus Point in my post on Abigail Burd, LCSW, about Chula’s Mission and their Mother’s Day fundraiser at Green Acre. I was thrilled to return a few days ago.

green acres san diego restaurant

Disclaimer: As part of a group of San Diego food bloggers, I was invited to lunch at the restaurant. This post and all opinions are written by me. We also received a tour of the facility. It is huge! What I love most about the architecture is the seamless flow from inside to outside. It has been about six years since I toured wedding locations, but this place would’ve been high on my list of San Diego reception venues. Apart from the bright and open layout, there are so many different areas that can accommodate large or small parties and events, including board rooms, conference rooms, a dance floor and billiards room. Their catering menu is here.

green acres san diego restaurant

San Diego Restaurant Gossip

At lunch, I sat next to Katherine and Lisa from the restaurant’s PR firm, Katalyst PR. Aside from being super sweet, they represent several top restaurants in Southern California, such as Sea & Smoke and Puesto. Katherine confirmed the rumor I heard that Green Acre’s Executive Chef Brian Malarkey is opening a new restaurant next to Richard Blais’ Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy, starting a celebrity row. Malarkey’s place will have two sides, a restaurant, called Sea Salt and The Herb Box, and a market side, called Eatery Green. Expected opening is September of this year, so it’s coming up!

Something I thought was interesting is that both the new place, and both locations of Green Acre are totally locally owned. The Searsucker restaurants and Herringbone are co-owned by Chef Malarkey and a Las Vegas company that runs a lot of nightclubs.

Katherine told me they often take their work to Green Acre and spend half the day there working. Makes me a little jealous that therapy has to be done being closed doors!

Finally, a bit of celebrity chef gossip from me… Although Brian Malarkey, who was on “Top Chef” and “The Taste,” wasn’t a part of my tour the other day, he was very much a part of the Chula’s Mission fundraiser. He brought his wife and three kids and was totally a “Stars – They’re Just Like Us.” He reminded me of Papa Bird, holding his little girl while he gave a speech. Adorable. Malarkey chased his boys around the restaurant with one of the taxidermied chickens. And when someone else won the “Frozen”-themed raffle basket, he consoled two of his crying kids, just as I did with Little Bird.

green acres san diego restaurant  farm to table

Farm to Table

Speaking of down to earth, Green Acre has a sizable garden at the entrance to the property. Some restaurants’ “kitchen gardens” are a few herbs, but not here. The specials and menu items such as the “garden vegetable pizza” are driven by what is fresh and good now. I swear, my single most flavorful bite was the raw snap pea on top of my “Nice!” salad, pictured above, a lightly dressed take on Nicoise salad. Much of the menu is designed to let the ingredients shine.

green acres2

The Food

At the fundraiser in May, my daughter and I enjoyed cheese pizza and chocolate chip cookies. They were extremely well made, a great crust and sauce on the pizza… dark chocolate chunks in a buttery crust topped with a generous sprinkle of sea salt… I actually want more of them, writing this, but it was great to sample more of the variety on the menu the other day. Here are some of my favorites:

  • We started with the root fries and pickle jar. The root fries were a mix of Kennebec and sweet potatoes, freshly fried and dressed with cotija cheese, cilantro and a 5 pepper blend. Not sure what the 5 peppers were, but it tasted like a smoked paprika was in the mix. They were served with a Meyer lemon aioli and ketchup.
  • The pickle jar was an assortment of house-made pickles. Last week’s assortment included fennel, pineapple (my new favorite pickle), golden beets and various peppers. They were a perfect tangy bite to balance the rich fries, as was my slightly floral, unsweetened iced tea. I would love to try their kale chips next time, too.
  • My “Nice!” salad (pictured at top) featured a generous helping of seared albacore, fresh snap peas, olives, house-made potato chips, and a farm egg over organic greens. I would easily order it again, though the “Corn Cobb” with avocado, bacon, bleu cheese, chicken,  and egg was tempting.
  • The table shared a sampling of the Brick-Oven Pizzas, including the mushroom (pictured above) with garlic, cremini mushrooms, burrata, truffle oil and chives; the la mesa on a gluten-free crust with BBQ chicken, red onion, gruyere and cilantro; the garden vegetable with house-made ricotta, sunflower pesto, and summer squash from the garden; and (not pictured, but possibly my favorite) the fig with Shaft’s bleu cheese, prosciutto and arugula.
  • For those that eat gluten free: any pizza can be made gf. My friend, Stephanie, of Recipe Renovator is a gf expert and MPH. She thought that the gluten free crust was not made in house, as the rest of dough is. She recognized it as coming from a Los Angeles company, but says it is decent. Frankly, if you are worried about cross-contamination with gluten, it is probably better to have the dough made in a dedicated kitchen.

Click on any pizza photo in the gallery below to see larger. Be careful not to drool.

The Friends

Part of the fun of the restaurant preview was meeting up with other local food bloggers from San Diego. Usually I just see them online. As much as we can share pictures and descriptions of food, let’s be honest, food is a real life experience, and there is no substitute to sharing a meal in person. It was great to see Maggie again, as we hadn’t met in real life since we went wild in a chocolate shop, and since she got married and I had Littlest Bird. I also saw friendly faces in Lynn, Hillary and Stephanie, all of whom I met at a tamale making party. I was lucky to also sit near Brandon of Kitchen Konfidence and Holly From My Impossibly Tiny Kitchen, who were both hilariously entertaining and successful food bloggers, generous with their foodie and technical tips.

Visit Green Acre Campus Pointe

10300 Campus Point Drive
San Diego, CA 92121
(858) 450-9907
Monday – Friday: 7am – 3pm and Happy Hour Thursday – Friday: 4pm – 7pm

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