What’s new in San Diego’s ever-expanding lineup of eateries? Authenticity. That’s what’s on the menu at a place for homemade Italian pasta, made-to-order Japanese hand rolls and flavorful artisan ice cream.
Monzù Fresh Pasta
Monzù means “monsieur” in Neapolitan dialect. But in any language, Monzù means pasta perfection.
This pint-sized southern Italian restaurant and pasta-retail shop in the East Village has been open since May 22, and if my recent dinner there is any indication, it’s going to be a neighborhood favorite for quite a while.
We started with a bountiful cheese and salumi board — highlighted by paper-thin slices of silky finocchiona salami, perfumed with fennel — that could have been a meal in itself.
Husband-and-wife team Aldo de Dominicis Rotondi and Serena Romano clearly know that when it comes to authentic Italian pasta, less is more. Made daily, it’s served correctly sauced, not swimming in it. And everything comes out precisely al dente.
There’s no holding back on the deep flavors, though. The tagliatelle Bolognese were rich and savory; the linguini with pesto, bright and herbaceous.
The simple cacio e pepe — cheese and pepper — ravioli were the spectacular stars of the night. The tender pasta purses were stuffed with the freshest, milkiest ricotta I’ve had outside of Italy. One dinner companion called them boring because of the lack of adornment. Sorry, monsieur, that’s called purity. 455 10th Avenue, East Village. (619) 802-4355. monzufreshpasta.com
j/wata Temaki Bar
From the growing empire and singular creative mind of Junya Watanabe (RakiRaki Ramen, Pokirrito) comes his latest unique dining experience on Convoy Street.
Still in the soft opening phase, j/wata specializes in one thing: temaki, or Japanese hand rolls. But like everything Watanabe does, he turns temaki on its head, or actually, its side. Normally served as a cone, j/wata makes its temaki in a spherical shape, allowing for all of the ingredients to be eaten in every bite.
But the biggest differences in Watanabe’s temaki are the ultra-pristine ingredients resting on fluffy three-vinegar rice, that’s made in small batches, all wrapped in hand-toasted nori sheets, which give the rolls a warm, satisfying crunch.
The temaki are created one at a time — you won’t get your next one, until you’re done with that one — so relax at the counter-only restaurant and focus on the nuances of your food and the vibrant, red, black and white Japanese-punk mural covering the walls.
(Watanabe, a former accomplished fashion designer, said he got the art’s inspiration from his former Comme des Garçons boss Rei Kawakubo’s monthly magazine.)
Like a meticulous, custom-fitted gown, these temaki are worth the wait. We tasted an excessive number of them (two dozen between three people!) and with each, we’d proclaim it the best so far. If I had to choose, I’d say it was a tie between the blue crab, or the spicy salmon, the ikura (salmon roe), the unagi, or the Takuan Shiso, with pickled daikon, shiso (Japanese mint), shredded cucumber, and sesame seeds.
Hmm, maybe our favorite things were the exceptionally fresh salmon and hamachi sashimi appetizers, which we dipped in premium, twice-fermented soy.
Like fashion, diners can be fickle. 4646 Convoy St., Suite 103, Kearny Mesa. (858) 251-4071. j-wata.com
An’s Dry Cleaning
San Diego is having an ice cream moment — from the Rome-worthy Bobboi Natural Gelato in La Jolla to Shake Shack’s frozen custard mixed with Betty’s Pie Hole pieces to even Watanabe’s Angels & Hearts Harajuku Crêperie (next door RakiRaki and j/wata), with its freakishly delicious taro charcoal caramel soft serve. Really.
Well, now we can toss An’s Dry Cleaning into that head-spinning cycle.
Open since June 16, this kitchy-adorable shop in North Park is serving up hyper-artisan gelato with some of the most innovative flavor profiles in town.
Coffee orange, rice milk cinnamon, banana chocolate, chocolate honey cinnamon pepper, pineapple basil, cucumber lime mint, almond sage and strawberry ginger are among its “fabrics.”
An’s four young owners are playfully keeping the wash-and-fold theme of the former laundry and dry cleaning business. But their gelato is no joke. The consistency is creamy and luscious and the flavors unfold in layers in your mouth. As in, “I don’t get ginger ... oh, wait there it is.”
An’s is located on a stretch of Adams Avenue with some of the region’s best restaurants, including Tajima and Et Voilà, for ramen and French, respectively. Last year, I called that block perhaps the most delicious one in San Diego. With the addition of An’s Dry Cleaning, it’s now indisputable. The rest can hang it up. 3017 Adams Ave, North Park. (619) 450-6166. adcgelato.com