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Identical veggies reappeared on the entrée of “wild, line-caught Mesquite-kissed” Pacific salmon, “lightly smoked,” according to the menu. It made us ask, Does the menu have any relationship at all to the actual food? I’ll grant that the salmon might be wild. But there was no hint of mesquite in Gio’s salmon, nor of smoke, and there was no sauce to liven it. The starch served with it was lean mashed potatoes, tasting like potato-water instead of milk and butter. Why do so many restaurants skimp on the dairy in their mash? Milk’s not all that expensive, why not use some?

The unexpected bargain entrée was a $10 “grilled Margherita flatbread.” We expected an appetizer-size slab of focaccia — instead, it was a ten-inch round of thin, chewy pizzalike crust, topped with fresh tomatoes, marinara, fresh basil leaves, and mozzarella. Dave liked it so much he was tickled when I offered him my doggie-bag portion — you know, guys and cold pizza for breakfast. I did keep one slice and liked it even better nuked for dinner the next day.

We all developed a guilty attraction to grilled Mexican Gulf shrimp pasta, slightly overcooked linguini tossed in “lobster sauce” (a thick seafood cream sauce, lobster none too evident), with mushrooms and bacon. It wasn’t easy to identify the cubes of firm-tender veggies in the sauce — my guess was undercooked eggplant. The downside: the soft pasta, in a very cooked-down creamy dressing, tended to clump together. Nonetheless, the tastes were seductive, especially the fine, tender grilled shrimps. Call it belle-laide, beautiful-ugly, as the French describe certain eccentrically attractive girls. We perceived its flaws but were captivated by the flavors — even the questionable texture.

We couldn’t even contemplate dessert, especially since they were all pretty standard (chocolate lava cake, crème brûlée, etc.). The meal’s cost was righteous — wines about $50 total for seven glasses, and around $30 each (before tip and tax) for food. But the real bottom line is about food flavors. “How are you going to rate this?” Dave asked provocatively. “It’s two and a quarter stars,” I said. “But in La Mesa, with not a lot of serious restaurants, I’ll average up to two and a half.” He nodded, satisfied. “It’s a nice atmosphere,” Marty said, “but the food’s better at our local branch of Mona Lisa or the new Vietnamese place nearby.” “I wouldn’t come back,” Dave concluded. “We tend to look west for food. Kensington isn’t that long a drive.”

“I can see coming back just for tapas and wine-tasting,” said oenophile Sam. “The prices by the glass are lower than downtown, and they don’t press you to order a $20 glass of something that’s $20 by the bottle retail. And the tapas are no worse than at other wine bars.” Summing up the story, he said, “It’s not great food, but it’s good for snacks and bargain wine.”

Bargain Bite: La Mesa’s Antica Trattoria, one of San Diego’s most delectable Italian restaurants, is offering a three-course prix-fixe menu for two, including salad, appetizer, entrée, and even a bottle of house wine, for just $30 each ($59.95 for two plus tax and tip). Available daily (except holidays) during regular dinner hours. As Michelin might say, well worth a detour. 5654 Lake Murray Boulevard, 619-463-9919.

(Good to Very Good)
8384 La Mesa Boulevard (Allison Avenue), La Mesa Village, 619-462-9100; giowineanddine.com, giorestaurant.net.
HOURS: Monday–Friday 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.; weekends open 9:00 a.m. (Breakfast/brunch daily until 2:00 p.m.)
PRICES: Tapas and Italian appetizers, $7–$10; entrée salads, $9–$14; dinner entrées, $12–$33 (average about $20); desserts, $6–$8. Lunch dishes and sandwiches, $9–$14. Breakfast brunch entrées, $6–$11.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Eclectic California-Italian-Asian “something for everyone,” strong on fusion-y tapas. Fun international wine list of 35 mainly affordable bottlings, with plenty of “tastes” and glasses at easy prices.
PICK HITS: Shrimp-and-scallop ceviche, trio of sautéed mushrooms, grilled Gulf shrimp pasta, grilled Margherita flatbread.
NEED TO KNOW: Roofed patio with heat stanchions, plus vast scenic garden (bookable for parties) for fair-weather and summer-evening dining at umbrella-tables. Patio chairs hard and narrow. Three vegetarian entrées (one vegan). Website food menus flaky or unusable at this writing. (Online wine menu is functional.)

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Ponzi May 5, 2009 @ 11:03 a.m.

There are nearby places with much better food; Brigantine, Casa de Pico, Anthony's, Claim Jumper, Outback Steakhouse, Antica Trattoria, Centifonti's, Little Roma Italian Cucina, Hooleys Irish Pub & Grill, Tiramisu Trattoria and more.

Village Garden used to be a staple, especially for breakfast.


MtNebo April 29, 2009 @ 7:32 p.m.

Great read Naomi. Any observations on what it will take for La Mesa's Village to find it's long lost heart & soul? I attended a redevelopment workshop last week to ponder this question. Unfortunately, the consultant hired by the city was more into conducting a survey on hardscape questions. Not a single question surfaced on business or social factors, and the Village Merchants seem to be in need of divine guidance on refinding their soul.


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