"We closed our eyes, went into our memories and culture, and we found something ... timeless."
-Guido Nistri, owner of Monello
You haven't truly experienced the San Diego cocktail culture until you've tasted the delightful housemade sweet vermouth at Monello. Originating from the Piemonte region of northwest Italy, this classic aperitivo was traditionally considered medicinal, and was aromatized and fortified with whatever was available.
The delectable Monello version hails from owner Guido Nistri's grandmother. It is a deliciously secret blend of 27 ingredients, including some like blueberry root that are difficult to find in the United States. Red wine is cooked with its multiple botanicals and spices, an extraction is made and is later blended with white wine and a touch of brandy.
Unlike thicker and sweeter versions Americans have become accustomed to, Monello sweet vermouth is clean, balanced and can stand beautifully on its own. On tap since their opening in 2012, it has become undeniably popular for locals and tourists alike, some who come in from around the country on word-of-mouth alone.
Head to Monello for these house favorites:
Rock & Twist (housemade sweet vermouth on the rocks, orange or lemon twist): Their most popular cocktail is THE aperitivo in Little Italy. Classic and clean with beautiful aromatics of spice, botanicals and orange. Make this your afternoon, happy hour, or pre-dinner cocktail.
Sbagliato (Campari, sweet vermouth, prosecco): Ladies, this is your new girls-out cocktail. Put down that mimosa and Bellini and try this ultra-refreshing red beauty, served in a toast-worthy flute. Tailor made for brunch, Saturday afternoons and sunny San Diego weather.
Blood & Sand (scotch, fortified cherry reduction, sweet vermouth, orange juice): A truly perfect cocktail for a breezy, autumn day or a cool SoCal evening. Topped with an addictive Luxardo cherry, the scotch and vermouth combo lends darker notes to the cocktail, including dried fruits like fig and plum.
Grazie Ernesto (rye whiskey, Cynar, sweet vermouth, bitters): For those who swoon for spirit-forward cocktails, this homage to a classic Italian actor and Cynar commercials of bygone days is the real deal. PS: Ernesto Calindri's black and white advertisement and its modern counterpart for Cynar (now on YouTube) are MUST sees for cocktail fans.
Find Monello nestled beside big brother Bencotto at 750 Fir St. in Little Italy, San Diego. Brunch 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Aperitivo (happy hour) 4-7 p.m., dinner 2:30 p.m. to close.
With 18 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 850 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits. You can follow Delk on Twitter @100beers30days or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to firstname.lastname@example.org