1845 India Street, Little Italy
Is Little Italy on the move or what? Latest opening is at the Piazza Basilone (named for San Diego’s Italian-American war hero). It’s in the spot that was Zia’s, on the corner of India and Fir.
This is Civico 1845. (Pronounce it “CHEE-vee-ko,” they say). Sounds historic, right? Wrong. “That’s just our street number,” says this guy Dario. “And ‘Civico’ just means ‘house’ or ‘house number’ in Italian.”
So, okay: “House number 1845.”
First off, this “house” is crowded tonight. Could be first blush, but Dario, who’s standing next to the only spare bar stool left in the place, says it’s been like this every day since they opened a couple of weeks ago.
Place is all whites, found items, such as scrappy hanging doors protecting an archway and big chunks of old timber forming mantelpieces. “I found them on a site where a house was being torn down,” says another gent, Flavio. He’s the manager. “It was free if I’d take it away.” Otherwise, he says, you can pay $600 per foot — pretty sure that’s what he says — for old timbers like these. Chipped-paint French doors guard stacks of wine bottles next to the bar where I set myself down.
I like how they’re also displaying old bits and pieces from kitchens in times past. “In the style of Lucio Fontana, the famous Italian spatial artist,” says Flavio. “Instead of painting, he was one of the first to make art out of placing found objects.”
Well, art or just spoons and pots, it looks cool.
Cooking-wise, Flavio says they pride themselves on house-made pasta and locally grown ingredients. But the thing I like best is the atmosphere. Waiters and customers jostle for spaces and places, and voices echo out from the kitchen, barking orders in Italian. Sounds like you imagine an eatery in Positano, the town they say the chef comes from.
Food? Big thing I notice on the menu: “Vegans Welcome.”
Huh. Never thought of “vegan” and “Italian” in the same breath. But here they have a separate menu with Italy’s usual suspects — ravioli, lasagna, penne alla vodka, pesto, pizza, eggplant — in vegan form. Like they say in movie credits, “No animals were harmed in the preparation of these meals.”
Of course there’s much more choice on the full lunch and dinner menus. But vegan or carnivore, most of the piatti (plates) go for around $15 to $30, so this is no cheapo diner.
Me, being a cheapo diner, entered in hopes of a happy hour. No such luck. Except for a $6 plate of olives and a couple of salads at $7, regular appetizers go from $8 to $18. I figure, may as well try vegan. So after getting a beer (Pizza Port Chronic, $7), I look at the vegan section I can afford, “antipasti.”
Choice is either piccolo calzone ($8), bruschetta (grilled bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, $8), or a soup ($7). Or mushroom calamari (breaded and fried oyster mushrooms), $11.
I go for the calzone and get a big white plate with five calzones that sure are piccolo. They’re fine, once you dip them into the tomato-ish bowl of sauce that comes with them. I mean, no real taste zing, but they are cute and good with the ragout and subtle flavors of the almond ricotta and house-made mozzarella.
But, hey, fish out of water here. I realize I’ve gotta come back armed with more loot to appreciate this place, like everyone around me seems to be doing.
“Happy hour?” says Dario, when I ask him. “Probably not till after summer. We need time to settle in.”