April 5, 2014

Monello means “brat” in Italian. Not a very nice name, but there’s a back story. Monello is the younger, less fancy sibling of Bencotto. Thus, brat fits. Both are top-drawer Little Italy food emporiums. (San Diego’s Little Italy, that is.) And I’m here to report on dinner at Monello.


Monello focuses on food with a seriousness of purpose not found in many places. None I can think of, anyway. The sweet vermouth is homemade in the restaurant, and combines an extraordinary mix of herbs and other additions. You won’t want the bottled stuff, ever again! Cured meats are outstanding. (Prior visit.) Pastas are made in-house, and are cooked perfectly. (See below.) The mozzarella cheese last night was made fresh. Etc. (I follow Monello on Facebook, and have watched reports about specials—and seen lots of photos—for many months. Major food porn!)

Service was great, and has been on my other visits. (Once to eat, and once at the bar.) Staff members are well-trained, knowledgeable, and proud. There’s nothing like being cared for by people who are proud of their employer, especially when that pride is justified.

Our meal started with Lupini beans, complimentary, crisp, and well seasoned. Soon after, we received—also gratis—shots of the house-made sweet vermouth, icy and served with an orange twist. No martini for me after the shot, but a very refreshing start for dinner.


Ms. J missed this trip, but I was joined by an old college friend. She had spaghetti with a bolognese sauce. Hot, al dente pasta with a meaty, delicious sauce. Gone too soon!

I can’t skip pulpo aka octopus when I find it on a menu. Grilled per the menu, I think it was actually sautéed in what seemed like a very light egg batter. Regardless, it was delicious, light and mellow. Maybe a bit too soft, and lacking the bitter that comes from the grill. That said, I’m a desert guy, and for me even 8.5 octopus makes for a great day!


We also enjoyed a very nice cabernet and some rosemary focaccio bread. All in all, a delightful meal. A regular spot in San Diego, for sure.

Two more things. First, Monello hits on all cylinders in ways not yet mentioned. Design is clearly on the restaurant’s agenda. The menus are attractive and hip, matching the vibe. Business cards are about one-half inch in height, again sending the “we’ve thought about this” message. Plates, flatware, the shot glasses; everything sends the message that the restaurant cares about getting things right. Selling food is a tough business, no doubt, and some situations provide more opportunities to focus on the details. For me, though, the effort to attend to the things that might not matter tells me the restaurant will, for sure, be minding the big things.

Second, I’m still working on the restaurant thing, and photography definitely challenges me. I think the pictures are getting better. Next step? Remember to take photos before bites are taken and utensils appear on the plates.

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