I was invited to check out a preview of San Diego Restaurant Week this year and my choice of restaurant was Monello in Little Italy. Jake and I first visited Monello back in December 2013 and I remember loving their homemade pasta so I was looking forward to a revisit.
We were warmly greeted by the manager of Monello, Paul, who was delightful and really engaging. I saw him constantly interacting with all of the guests dining in the restaurant that evening, helping to create a really welcoming and warm atmosphere. Our waiter, Chris, was also awesome and gave us a few good suggestions from the menu. One of the owners, Valentina, also stopped by to stay hi and we found her to so friendly and genuine, really caring about the food and the restaurant.
Monello’s Restaurant Week menu for dinner – three courses for $35.
And Monello’s lunch menu for $20! Both include some really great deals on their delicious food. The lunch menu has more of the pastas… mmmm.
We didn’t order solely from the Restaurant Week menu, but we did try a few of the things on there.
We started off with Monello’s complimentary Lupini Beans which are nicely seasoned but Jake and I both didn’t really care for the flavor of the beans themselves. Mostly I just liked the seasoning on the outside. Hah!
[bensonhurst / $10]
Chris suggested this drink for Jake to try. It’s got cucumber lime grappa infusion, pressed lime, bitters and ginger beer in it (the menu online says cinnamon but it’s changed to cucumber lime). Jake was hesitant because he’s not really into cucumber OR lime, but he went with it and actually ended up really liking the drink. I thought it was a nice balance of flavors and I love the bit of ginger beer hinting around in the background.
[sweet vermouth on the rocks]
Paul told us all about their house made sweet vermouth that they make on site. We don’t consider ourselves vermouth fans but he gave us a little sample to try out. Hey, we’ll try just about anything!
I loved the little shot glasses by the way. Adorable.
The sweet vermouth was quite strong and was almost kind of…. spicy. But I don’t mean “hot” spicy, I mean so many flavors and spices were going on it just one sip. It was also very smooth going down so it was easy to sip on and drink. I’m not really sure if I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it either. If that makes sense. It’s awesome they make their own vermouth though. Who does that?! Apparently the folks at Monello do!
Paul also completely insisted we tried some of their Raspa Dura cheese and considering I would never say no to cheese, we quickly agreed. This thinly shaved cheese is aged for about six months and is a hard cheese. It tasted very similar to Parmesan cheese and we really loved it. We didn’t actually order any dishes that came with it (I saw it on a pizza and a pasta dish) but the flavor of this cheese is outstanding. It’s a little nutty, a little salty, and very tasty.
We kind of did things in a lazy-ish way. We picked our dishes for each course one at a time instead of ordering all together. This put a little extra time in between dishes but I think it made it easier to digest everything and we were really just enjoying our time at the restaurant. We ordered a pizza for our first dish and we got a little plate of seasonings on the side. I loved that they served it like this, instead of in a bottle that could be hanging around on a table for months…
[pizza piccante / $17]
The pizza we choose is also the one available on the Restaurant Week menu: The Pizza Piccante. It’s a nice and simple dish that comes with mozzarella, arrabbiata sauce, spicy salame. I was a little worried it would be too spicy! The salame was quite spicy on it’s own but I enjoyed it much more when I ate it as a whole. I actually preferred it without the salame in the end, though the salame was very flavorful. It was almost like a very high end pepperoni in terms of spice but not greasy at all.
The crust was actually my favorite part of the pizza with it’s slightly blistered crust. Valentina, the owner, ended up telling us that the dough for the crust takes four days to make! The result is this airy, light, crispy and chewy crust that is super thin in the middle but actually holds up really well. The middle wasn’t soggy at all and it was perfectly crisp throughout. Jake and I both really loved it! Jake thought he could probably eat one of these very single day, it was so delicious.
[caesar monello / $9]
Second course: salad! This is another dish available on the restaurant week menu. It comes with romaine, caesar dressing, herb bread croutons, and a crunchy parmesan crisp and is served “wedge” style. I totally ate this with a fork and a knife. The caesar dressing had a kick-you-in-pants flavor that I liked but my favorite part were the herb croutons! I could probably just sit and eat croutons as a snack instead of potato chips. Does that make me weird?
[caramello ai porchini e tartufo / $22]
I strayed from the restaurant week menu to order this pasta dish: the caramelle ai porcini e tartufo. It’s a handmade pasta filled with porcini and black truffle and covered in truffle cream sauce. Mmmm… think of all of the goodness…
Here’s a peek at the inside of this fluffy pillows of goodness. The inside was so creamy and smooth and I loved the overall flavor of the dish. The truffle cream sauce has the right amount of truffle to scent and flavor it without being totally overwhelming. BUT… this dish is so so so RICH. I only managed to eat three of the little pockets and I loved them but I could not eat any more of it after that. I almost wished I could just have two of them with a side of chicken or something to break up the richness of the dish.
[polenta with spicy tomato pork ribs / $13]
Jake decided to go for the polenta. On the restaurant week menu it comes with mushrooms, but he’s not into mushrooms and got it with the pork ribs instead. You get the full on baby back rib bone right on top of the polenta and the spicy tomato sauce lends a bit of extra flavor to the polenta and the pork. The pork ribs were quite tender and came clean off the bone once you tugged on it a little with your fork. Jake really loved this dish but admitted that it’s a lot to eat with all of that polenta! The polenta itself got most of it’s flavor and seasoning from the pork and I felt like the polenta needed just a little more seasoning – a touch of salt or some cheese mixed it. But it was still quite good.
[torta di mele]
Jake decided to go for the Torta di Mele. The only difference from this and the restaurant week version is that there’s no gelato. It’s a homemade apple cake with thinly sliced layers of apples and a nice soft crust on the outside. I excepted it to have a hard crust but the soft crust was actually really nice.
I didn’t take a photo of the dessert menu so I don’t know what this is really called, so I’m just calling it “Chocolate Pudding”. It had a much fancier name, I assure you. On top there’s a bit of fresh whipped cream and a swirl of raspberry sauce and sliced almonds.
Once you dig further in your rewarded with a semi-sweet chocolate pudding that’s soft but not over-the-top rich. The raspberry sauce gives it a little extra tang but the creamy chocolate is excellent on it’s own. I didn’t think Jake would enjoy it but he did actually like it because it wasn’t overly sweet. The real chocolate flavor shines through and was the perfect end to a really excellent meal.
This whole meal just makes me want to come back and try more of their items…. like on the brunch menu, and to try the gnocchi and the other pastas and pizzas and… hoo boy. Everything here is so good and the food is so well made and prepared. I can’t believe it took us this long to come back!
San Diego Restaurant Week starts this Sunday, January 18th and runs through Saturday, January 24th. View the full list of participating restaurants on their website.
Disclaimer: I was invited to dine at Monello on behalf of San Diego Restaurant Week. Our meal and drinks were complimentary and I was not further compensated for this post. All opinions here are my own.
750 West Fir Street
San Diego, CA