5960 Santo Road, Tierrasanta
“The Island in the Sky,” reads the Tierrasanta sign. Great. But how come this end of the Island don’t have no buses?
Okay, a mile back, I got off a buslet, a bumpety-bump van that grew — the once-an-hour, daytime-only, weekdays-only #25. Dropped me at Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Santo. “Closest I can get, buddy,” said the driver. So now I’ve walked a country mile down into the valley and way up the other side toward Miramar air base, huffing, puffing, and hollow with hunger. Need something to keep me going. Finally, I get to the crest and a road called Portobello Drive. And across Santo, a little shopping cluster. “Tierrasanta Gateway Center.” Has to be at least a cup of coffee in there.
And, yes, in the center I see Earthblend Tea and Coffee. I go in and get a $1.64 coffee and head back outside. Notice this patio a little farther down. “Andiamo!” Huh. Like Italian for ¡Vamonos! “Let’s go!”
And I think: Why not? Call it a business lunch with myself.
Inside, it’s white tablecloths and cushiony leather chairs. And a big patio in the courtyard between Andiamo and the building next door with a dozen brown umbrellas and a Spanish fountain (not running). Here inside, we’re talking dark concrete floor, cream walls, a few pillars, everything solid and serious. Proper napkins, good linens, heavy stainless cutlery.
This gal named Sarah sets me down at a table near the window. Just behind me, two women talk intently.
“We have to lend $2 million a month to cover costs,” one says, “but my goal is $4 to $5 million.”
Man. That’s the sort of conversation going on at three or four tables around me. Everybody’s “doing lunch.” Strategizing, setting targets, working to be part of the economic recovery, sounds like. I haul out a notebook to try to make my sorry life look important.
I spread myself out in the booth. It’s got maroon, cream, and green stripes. And now I’m starting to sweat. This ain’t gonna be cheap. Do I have enough dough? Can’t look in the wallet, not while everybody’s watching. I kinda blank when Sarah the waitress rattles off the specials. Only thing that registers is they’re around $16, $20.
Finished, she asks, “Any thoughts?”
I must look like a deer in headlights because then she says, “I’ll go and get some water and bread.”
That I can handle. And here’s the funny thing: it’s the bread that tells me a lot about this place. It’s fresh-baked rosemary focaccia. Rough, tender. And the tomato-basil dip — oh, man: chunky tomato, olive oil, garlic, basil…I don’t know what all, but it tastes great. Which means that when Sarah comes back for my order, I’m still oohing and aahing over the bread.
Okay. There are choices I can just about handle, moneywise. Something like funghi ripieni: “baked, stuffed mushrooms with cream cheese and crabmeat” ($8.95). Only problem is, it’s an appetizer…might not uncrinkle all the corners of my gut. Same with gratinato: “broiled large scallops with Parmesan cheese and butter” ($9.95).
Salads are within reach. That delicious one you always seem to get at hotel eateries — pear and Gorgonzola salad with pineapple and candied walnuts — is $10.95. Not bad for a chi-chi place like this. But the grilled ahi tuna salad’s $15.95. Can’t see myself blowing a Jackson on that.
The smaller “personal” size pizzas aren’t outrageous. The Margherita’s $8.95, while the most interesting one, the prosciutto and figs, with “mozzarella and Gorgonzola over pomodoro [tomato sauce, basically], topped with arugula,” is $9.95.
A “specialty” like involtini (veal medallions rolled with ham and mozzarella and cooked with marsala wine) is $18.95. Sigh. Can’t let myself spend that.
Oh, Lord. Here comes Sarah again. “How about some soup?” I ask. They have butternut squash soup for $3.95 — $5.95 for the large bowl. I start off with the small. Then I see Theresa, the other server, carrying a beautiful baking dish bubbling with the golden top-cheeses of lasagna.
“I’ll have what she’s having,” I say.
Boy, so-o glad I did. Even though — can’t believe this — I forgot to ask how much it would be. Turns out it’s $12.95 and wickedly full of cheese and pasta and ground beef, so rich, and it makes a dream team with the golden butternut squash soup and that awesome bread. Sarah brings some more bread. She says the owner, Javier Ugarte, comes from Peru. Wow. Just read on Wikipedia that Lima has been declared the gastronomic capital of all the Americas. That’s some street cred.
“You should come Saturday nights,” Sarah says. “We have music out on the patio, with groups like High Society Jazz. It’s fun.”
I have a sudden pang. Lawdy. How long since I took Carla to something like that? Right away I order one of the appetizers, stuffed shrimp — “Gulf shrimp stuffed with crushed artichoke, crème fraîche, Parmesan cheese, and smoky amatriciana sauce, $8.95” — to take home to Carla, along with the rest of the lasagna. That about empties ye olde wallet. But, this is a business lunch. First rule in business: look after your pardners. Jes’ hope it survives the cross-country trek I’ve gotta make to get back to civilization.
The Place: Andiamo! Ristorante Italiano, 5950 Santo Road, Tierrasanta, 858-277-3501
Type of Food: Italian
Prices: Butternut squash soup, $3.99 (cup), $5.95 (bowl); funghi ripieni (baked, stuffed mushrooms with cream cheese, crabmeat), $8.95; gratinato (broiled large scallops with Parmesan cheese, butter), $9.95; pear and Gorgonzola salad (with pineapple, candied walnuts), $10.95; grilled ahi tuna salad, $15.95; Margherita small pizza, $8.95; prosciutto and fig pizza, $9.95; involtini (veal medallions rolled with ham, mozzarella), $18.95; lasagna, $12.95
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m., Monday–Friday; 5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m., Sunday–Thursday; 5:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday
Nearest Bus Stop: Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Santo Road. N.b.: This service only Monday–Friday and daylight hours; downhill/uphill walk from bus stop to restaurant almost a mile.