An Italian restaurant called Cucina Basilico opened within the last couple of months in the Serra Mesa area. I had been eyeing it as a dine-in alternative to our favorite take-out deli, Mangia Mangia and grabbed two coworkers for a trial lunch run.
The restaurant is cozy in size and provides booths, tables and bar seating. The left side was darker than the right side due to a single large window next to the entrance. I didn't realize this until uploading pictures but the right wall looks unfinished! Or that's some kind of wacky decorating style.
Our waiter promptly provided us menus and explained the restaurant concept: for pasta dishes, you pick one of their three homemade pastas (selection changes daily) and you choose the sauce, which is where the prices varied. For example, that day we had a choice between gnocchi, fettuccine and one other I couldn't quite catch.
After placing our orders, the waiter brought out some complimentary appetizer bread accompanied by vinegar and oil to dip it in. This bread was fluffy and simple in taste and the sweeter basalmic was great with it.
For my entree, I ordered the Gnocchi with Pesto Sauce ($8.55). Since it didn't come with meat, I added an organic chicken breast for an extra $3. When it came out, I was a little disappointed on the size, approximately a quarter of a chicken breast and not pre-cut! Also, it turned out to be a little on the dry side. The homemade gnocchi was great but I got tired of them rather quick. The pesto flavor was a bit on the weaker side so didn't give the gnocchi enough oomph to keep me going.
My coworker ordered the Fetticini with Ragu' alla Bolognese ($8.95), which was the other sauce option I had considered. This one already came with some meat sauce so ended up being cheaper than my dish. It was rich in flavor and quite nice. I wish I had ordered this instead.
My other coworker ordered the Fetticini with Vodka Sauce ($9.95). It too was a pretty flavorful sauce and was topped with smoked salmon. I'd say this would be my second choice of the three.
Since there were a few of us, we decided to share a dessert, the Tiramisu. This one was creamy and cool to the palate. The powder on top was a bit heavy for me but still delicious overall.
Sometimes I notice the silliest things but the salt shaker on the table was neat! You could see that there were extra herbs and seasoning in it. I should have tried it but didn't really need salt on any of my items. Plus it probably didn't taste any different.
Anyway, the coworkers were more or less happy with their food choices but I wasn't wow'ed by anything. We decided we'd come back to try some other items. I had seen paninis on the menu so on the next visit, I was quite eager to try one.
After careful deliberation, my coworker finally settled with the Pollo ($8.55). Picured above is my half of it. Now I was very surprised at this entree... first off, it was NOT grilled per say. Is it just me or do you also think of grilled bread when you hear "Panini"? Anyway, it came on flatbread which was probably warmed on a grill. The flatbread was puffy, a little doughy and lacked taste. Then, on the inside, there was some chicken, veggies, bacon but I could hardly taste the gruyere cheese. The dryness of the sandwich left me disappointed. I grudgingly finished my half.
All sandwiches were served with a small salad. The oil dressing was a bit too lemony. I ate it anyway but didn't enjoy it much.
I decided to satisfy my craving for Eggplant Parmiaggian ($9.95). I guess I'm wrong on a lot of things but I always thought this dish would be an eggplant version of a chicken parmigiana... meaning fried eggplant with cheese and sauce. Instead it looked like the above... not fried? I re-read the menu description - eggplant layers with tomato sauce, mozzarella & parmigiano cheese. *sigh*
But no worries, this one tasted much better than the sandwich. The layering of tasty sauce, cheesy insides, and bits of eggplant was decent, just not what was in my head. I seriously have to go find a fried eggplant soon or I'll go crazy! Suggestions?
Two visits in and I'm still feeling mixed about Cucina Basilico. This Italian restaurant uses natural ingredients and sources environmentally so I think that's wonderful. I love the fresh pasta specials concept but was not in love with any of the sauces. Obviously that one sandwich didn't impress me but they did recommend the Ossobuco (pulled baked pork shank) as a customer favorite. That already sounds like a juicier sandwich... though not sure if I'd be back to find out.
3755 Murphy Canyon Rd
San Diego CA 92123
The bread looks like fluffy little cheese clouds! Gnocchi can quickly become tiresome eating them alone if they're not done right (or if the sauce isn't spectacular). They look good but it doesn't look like there's quite enough sauce for the dish. Bummer about that dry chicken.
Haha, "panini" does usually suggest grilled bread to me. Maybe they put the flatbread on the grill instead... but yeah, maybe they should have said flatbread sandwich. It kind of looks more like a pita pocket. Bummer the bread wasn't that great, it looked really nice.
I think cheese clouds sounds like a good appetizer title! I googled panini and in Italy, it means sandwich using something other than sliced bread so technically it was done right! But in the USA, panini usually has grill marks, as we are used to! The panini pics actually turned out better than I expected. They sure do look tasty looking back... if there were some kind of sauce and more filling, I think it would have helped.
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