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This year we attended our first Taste of Little Italy via media passes. With all of our 'Taste of' experiences, it's a wonder how we've missed it! Technically, we attended Taste of Downtown 2007 (when downtown and Little Italy were in a single event). Since then, Little Italy has grown WAY too prominent as its own community to share the spotlight! In fact, they now split Little Italy into two routes, north or south ($30 each), or a combined route ($45) for the ambitious! And ambitious San Diegans must be as the combined route tickets sold out first! Or perhaps... it was too difficult to choose just one route!
In case you missed out on all of the fun, or even just a few stops of your map, we're here to give you the scoop on all the samples from this year's event!
But before you can sample, you must pick up your event tickets! We found will-call separated by huge signs indicating your purchased route. With ticket in hand, we were ready!
We decided to check out the South Route first.
One of the coolest stops was at Monello. The food was heated in a large skillet then poured into a large cheese wheel crater where the chef scooped the sample from!
What we got was a risotto cheese flavor with a mild balsamic and a fig. I would have shared the fig but it was bite sized!
There were two items to sample at Isola Pizza, a pizza with mozzarella spots and a slightly overtoasted brushcetta.
Civico 1845 just opened 10 days before the event and the restaurant itself was already packed from diners. They sampled their zucchini pasta which was a little flat for us. Maybe more fresh parm or basil flavor would have helped. At Napizza, we picked up a promising potato pizza with smoked prosciutto and crispy crust as well as margarita pizza, of which we unfortunately got mostly crust. To round it out, they offered a tiramisu-like pudding!
Another multi sampler was from Fabrisons! They were sampling three crepes so the lines got a little longer here. The lemon/sugar and butter/sugar combos were too subtle (soaked into crepe) but the nutella version on top came through! That would have been my pick anyway.
The MOST impressive "sampler" was at Pan Bon! The whole restaurant was full of foodie eye-candy! This was just one of the tables out on display and we looked on in awe!
They had prosciutto wrapped around a breadstick which was not too salty or strong. I really enjoyed the baked parmigiana with eggplant. The mozzarella caprese slider was a little bready, and would have fared better as open faced. There was also an Italian bigne' pastry (ie delicious cream puff). The beef was boiled tender with veronese sauce. I'm not familiar with that regional dish but wanted more salt for my tastes.
Prep Kitchen had a savory house made pork and beef meatball over a garlic crostini. Not far off was Petrinis with firmer mini meatballs and sausage.
We got some bar food at Craft and Commerce - mini corndogs with spicy cheese fondue and cheddar hidden inside the bratwurst! The stoneground mustard was a great compliment to it.
The Queenstown Public House sampler wasn't pretty, but seasoning and carmelized onions made for a decent lamb sliders, despite prepackaging.
Glass Door at Porto Vista Hotel served an artichoke dip that was somewhat salty. The dipping bread ended up the best part, like pita with a toasty crust but soft on the inside and a good sprinkle of salt on it.
As a sidenote, Dennis went on a little adventure just to get this sample! Not only was it found on the fourth floor, but the elevator only fit 4-7 people and the UP button to get on was broken! A lot of people ended up taking the stairs!
Ironside Fish and Oyster provided freshly shucked oyster, as in right there in front of you! I enjoyed my oyster! Indigo Grill had their own seafood contribution, a shrimp and bay scallop ceviche. Dennis thought it was too sour but I liked that it wasn't too lime-y or salty!
I loved the shirts they were wearing so took a snapshot of the servers and the chef from Underbelly! Chef Rueben (middle) came out for a bit while guy on the left was already calling over the next samplers! Guy on the right was maybe making sure the tent didn't blow away? (sorry, wish I had gotten their names)
We thought the tonkatsu ramen with chasu was so much better than the meatless sample from Taste of North Park because the broth was richer with more variety of ingredients. Chef said they go all out here.
Bracero Cocina won't be opening until July 7th but still participated in the event. Their unique bracero taco had spaghetti noodles with avocado! The pasta taste was interesting but needed lime or salsa to balance out the flavor. The process of making it was really cool though because they grilled it, smoked it, then served with toppings! The watermelon drink on the right was so refreshing that day. It was not overly sweet and had a nice pulpiness.
Yogurtland sampled a few of their seasonal flavors such as the salted caramel pecan.
Caffee Italia had a choice of a house coffee or cappacino. Dennis had never tried cappacino so he gave it a shot. It wasn't sweet much at all but that's what cream and sugar is for! At Juice Crafters, there was a strawberry smoothie, thick, light strawberry taste and not too sugary!
Enoteca Style had two wines to choose from. I chose the white which seemed similar to a chardonnay with its buttery yet not sweet notes.
What lies on the other side? It's time to explore the North Route!
I was excited to see Kettner Exchange on this list. We sampled their Vietnamese Chicken. The meat was very moist with a good fried batter, a hint of the orange sauce underneath added some spice while a drizzle of hoisin sauce on top added some sweet and salty.
The slider from Waterfront Bar and Grill was made to order so it was fresh and flavorful, especially with sauted onions. The Cheese Store of San Diego had a hot pan holding the oozy raclette cheese before it was spread on the bread. It's an oilier type of cheese, really rich against the contrast of the sour pickle! Obviously you better eat this fresh out the pan!
Ballast Point served pretzel balls. The outsides had a sourdough flavor with a nice sprinkling of sea salt on it, great with the mustard dip!
Davanti Enoteca had roasted corn which was tasty but I would have loved a little more char to them. Po Pazzo served a really great orecchiette pasta with the sausage flavor immersed throughout! They are now on my food 'to-do'!
Mimmo's Italian Village had two pastas and I waited 5-7 minutes so I could try both. The gnocchi turned out to be a bust; it was too doughy and stuck to my teeth! It also had a strong bell pepper flavor. On the other hand, the cavalari pasta was the savior! The pasta was al dente with a pink vodka type sauce plus morsels of meatballs came together well.
At Fillipi's Pizza, be ready for a thicker slice of goodness topped by pepperoni or whatever topping you choose!
Buon Appetito had two choices, ravioli or meatball but we only had one ticket... server suggested the ravioli. I couldn't really taste the flavor inside so actually have no idea what I ate! The sauce around it was pretty good though. Bencotto Italian was making ravioli fresh so there was a slight wait here. Inside, the crab seemed to be a little fishy and the sauce salty.
Mona Lisa Italian Foods had a really ricotta cheesy lasagna which was a bit heavy for our full bellies near the end of the night. Also the garlic bread was a bit stale at this point! Fresh is always better?
I enjoyed meeting the pleasant Chef Gregorio Sarafini Pozzi from Cookbook Tavola Calda. The chef apologized for the wait and let me (and others) sample wine or italian beer (seems light like cider). At last the simple pasta with fresh mozza and tomatoes came out but it was too al dente for me. I thought the softer textured biscotti with super yummy chocolate was divine though. YUM!
Another restaurant popped out at me from the list - Juniper and Ivy. Talk about decadence when we found their duck fat butter over a medium firm scone! This was super rich and would have tasted even better had our stomachs been up for it! 98 Bottles had a really creamy brownie cake with a whipped topping and thin layer of caramel.
Cafe Zucciero had tiramisu which was soft, airy, yummy, and a small amount of cappuchino flavor.
Puerto La Boca had skirt steak, sausage and chimichurri as their sample. The steak skirt was thin and tender and still tasty, almost as good as our visit earlier this year. I also liked the sausage more on this visit. And the chimichurri we just really love and could put on anything! In addition, we sampled their Malbec wine which was full bodied, quite rich with taste and a drier finish.
Bird Rock Coffee let us try their tea since we aren't coffee drinkers. This was a cherry brewed tea with a couple of other mixed fruit accents. It was refreshing after all the walking and a nice break from salty or heavy foods. M Winehouse served a sangria mix using fruit and pineapple. I heard some people mumble how they were 'diluting' it with juice though!
James Coffee Co served coffe samples in logo'ed cups with owls! Picture only, no coffee for us. We missed out on the cookies though because they were out! =(
There were also several music spots pointed out on the map for both routes. This happens to be outside of Bird Rock Coffee. It'd be lovely if other "Taste of" events did similar!
We did really well at this taste and only missed ONE place... there was a sandwich shop that was three blocks south from everything and unbeknown to us, closed an hour early! We got there 30 minutes too late... so not our fault. As far as I'm concerned, we FINISHED the event!
So that's Taste of Little Italy... tons of food plus a few drink samples. Just one route is enough to fill you for the evening... Which path would YOU have chosen?
Disclaimer: we were provided tickets for this event but the opinions are strictly our own