3 to Try: Mexican doughnut magic and two new high-profile Italian eateries
Cardellino, from chef Brad Wise, opens in Mission Hills’ former Brooklyn Girl. Solare’s Accursio Lota debuts Cori in North Park. And Barrio Donas creates cross-border deliciousness in Clairemont
One of the most highly anticipated dining concepts of the new year debuted in Mission Hills on Jan. 30 to capacity crowds.
Cardellino — from the talented team behind Trust, Fort Oak and Rare Society — is an all-day Italian-American eatery, cafe bakery and wine shop, or enoteca. The restaurant serves pastas, pizzas, a variety of appetizers and desserts from executive pastry chef Jeremy Harville.
The 4,800-square-foot Cardellino, which means goldfinch in Italian, replaces Brooklyn Girl, the neighborhood restaurant that shut its doors suddenly last spring. The Trust group’s Brad Wise and Steve Schwob took over the lease, which includes a coveted retail license to sell wine.
Here are 5 things you need to know about Cardellino.
- The bakery: It’s an instant classic. Harville’s baking prowess has always been evident in the breads and desserts at the Trust restaurants but his expanded space has obviously inspired some of his best work. A bunch of us tried nine pastries and baked goods and singled out the soft, tender glazed doughnut as the top bite. Other standouts were the crunchy peanut butter cookie and the marvelously moist banana cream cheese muffin. There was also lots of love for the intensely chocolaty brownie, the nicely crumbed lemon poppy scone and the flaky ham and cheese croissant.
- The food: Cardellino’s kitchen is still working out some kinks. But there are already some dishes that can be highly recommended. The crazy flavorful hamachi crudo, with local citrus, crispy sunchokes, basil aguachile, pickled Fresno chilies and fish roe is the least Italian dish you can imagine, but it brims with Wise’s signature culinary essence. The earthy, yet decadent, mezzi rigatoni, with mushroom cream, roasted mushrooms, truffles and pecorino, was the best of the six pastas we tried. The moist meatballs, with salted ricotta and Harville’s transporting grilled focaccia, are easily among San Diego’s best. For dessert, don’t miss the Earl Grey budino and smooth ricotta cheesecake.
- The drinks: The enoteca offers a nice selection of Italian wines, with a few California gems thrown in, like Santa Barbara’s Longoria Blues Cuvée. The prices on the wine list are for the wines retail; just add $10 for corkage to drink at the table. At $40, Tuscany’s 2016 Querciabella Mongrana sangiovese/cab/merlot blend is a relative steal. From the bar, try the playful limoncello adult slushy — that’s going to go down a little too easy on a hot night! — and either of the two cocktails on tap, the sexy Neon Tiger, with mezcal ginger and soda, and the refreshing Rhythm 77, made with vodka, cucumber elderflower and soda.
- Mister Trustee: Coming soon to Cardellino will be a walk-up window offering soft serve. I got a sneak peek of the Cap’n Crunch, with yes, real Cap’n Crunch, and immediately felt 10 again. Better than Botox.
- The experience: Cardellino was bustling on both of my two early visits, with the dining room filled with families, friends, couples and singles at the bar. It feels fun, in that yay-a-new-restaurant kind of way. The volume can get pretty loud, which was an issue at Trust until they fixed it with noise-softening elements. More of a priority for me would be to soften those rock-hard holdover Brooklyn Girl chairs. Either that, or bring on another limoncello slushy.
4033 Goldfinch St., Mission Hills. (619) 600-5311. cardellinosd.com
Accursio Lota, the popular former chef of Solare in Liberty Station, has opened his first solo trattoria in North Park and word has clearly gotten around. The line was out the door the night I visited and judging by all double cheek-kissing, most people were there to support Lota.
Cori — Sicilian dialect for cuore, or heart — has a limited menu of appetizers, fresh pastas, two entrées and two desserts. The fast-casual concept requires you to order at the counter, take a number and find a seat. I’d study the menu online first, so as not to feel pressure from the people waiting behind you.
The well-priced wine list is made up of all Sicilian wines (whites, reds, sparkling and dessert), which is an impressive testament to the evolution and diversity of the island’s wine culture.
2977 Upas St., North Park. (619) 573-6159. coripasta.com
Churros are often called Mexican doughnuts. But what do you call doughnuts with a Mexican flavor profile?
Less than a year ago, Jonathan Garcia, 27, and his wife Janet Garcia, 28, took over Jonathan’s father’s old-school Mexican bakery cafe in Clairemont and transformed it into a modern, hip doughnut shop, Barrio Donas.
Bright colors, bold graphics and stylish displays greet customers, while some of the most uniquely delicious doughnuts in all of San Diego will certainly keep them coming back for more.
Barrio Donas’ cross-border doughnuts come in flavors that include mazapán (marzipan), guava, dulce de leche, concha doughnut, horchata, jamaica (hibiscus), flan, arroz con leche (rice pudding), bionico (fruit), bigote (croissant-like), barrita (bisquit-like) and more.
A colleague recently brought two boxes of assorted doughnuts into the newsroom and a dozen of us marveled over their soft, buttery texture and unique, subtle flavors. Starting with the spectacularly moist plain, glazed doughnut and working my way through the box to the jamaica, Abuelita Mexican chocolate, arroz con leche, horchata, bacon piggy, and beyond, I was taken aback by the exceptional skill that goes into these simple, fried dough creations.
You can taste the care that goes into every one, as well as the young owners’ pride in their heritage.
“My wife and I opened nine months ago and are loving every minute. We try to incorporate Mexican flavors and treats we grew up eating into every donut,” Jonathan Garcia wrote in an email.
And on the multi-lingual “About Us” page on the shop’s website, he talks about his inspiration: “Barrio Donas represents the multi-layered cultural experience that comes with living in San Diego while emphasizing the radiante beauty of Mexican-American culture — in the form of a donut. ... Taking everything his father taught him about pastries since he was a chavalito, (kid) he decided to create a hybrid donut shop that highlights the muchos sabores of both Mexican and American cultures using family recipes and the highest quality ingredients.”
Garcia’s original idea was to open the Mexican-inspired shop in Barrio Logan, but he got priced out of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. We’d bet our last doughnut that Barrio Donas will be so successful that the Garcias could one day open a second location in Barrio Logan. And maybe a third in Carlsbad. And a fourth in TJ, and one in Vegas, and ...
4714 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Clairemont. (858) 732-0010. barriodonas.com