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A lemon mousse tart, on a thin crumb-crust, was a pouf of airy lemon essence. Not too sweet, not too tart. It's capped with whipped cream and stands in a moat of orange sauce, which in this case isn't just decoration but essential to the flavor. Finally, rising from another color wheel of sauces is the stunning torta alla Nonna ("Grandma's Cake"), a wedge of shortcake filled with lemon curd, ground almonds, and pine nuts. On top is a crackly sugared crust, scattered with slivered almonds. As you bring the fork to your mouth, there's the faint, alluring scent of rosewater.

We were delighted with the food, and with the consistently high quality that brought the four of us together again. The service also stood out -- it was kindly, knowledgeable, and friendly throughout the meal. That makes Osteria del Pescatore one of those increasingly rare restaurants where life, for a few hours, seems as sweet as Grandma's Cake.

ABOUT THE CHEF-OWNER

Oddly enough, the chef-owner of Osteria de Pescatore isn't an Italian -- he's just married to one. The wife of Mexican-born George Ramirez comes from Naples, but, says Ramirez, she exerts only a small influence on the menu: She's the taster for new dishes. More responsible is the enviable array of local restaurants and resorts where the chef worked before founding Osteria del Pescatore six years ago.

"My mother was a wonderful cook," he says. "I became interested in cooking professionally and started in the business at the bottom and worked my way up. I liked the food industry, so I stayed in the restaurant business. I worked at Sally's in the Hyatt downtown, I worked in Rancho Valencia for four years, and I was a chef at a place called Tapenade -- same name as the place in La Jolla, but this one was in Rancho Valencia. At the same time I was working at Rancho Valencia Resort, I worked at Delicias," he says. At these restaurants, he learned his craft from several famed émigré French chefs. He also evidently learned how to run the "front of the house" to create a pampering, resortworthy atmosphere.

He grew interested in Italian cooking during an earlier stint at Scalini, a posh Italian restaurant in Del Mar. Pursuing this line of interest, in 1992 he worked for six months in Salerno, south of Naples, in order to better learn the cuisine.

In time, he got together the wherewithal to open Osteria del Pescatore. "A lot of famous people come to the restaurant," he said. Luckily, the night I ate there, there were no celebs present to distract me from the food.

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