Mozzarella di tonno, cut open to reveal tuna tartar within the burrata
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Fans of animated cinema will remember the pivotal moment in Ratatouille, when the impossible to please food critic Anton Ego is bowled over by a single bite of the titular dish, ratatouille. As we see via flashback to his childhood, the uppish critic immediately adores the simple vegetable stew because it resembles the dish made by his mother. Yours truly recently experienced a similar flash of nostalgia at buzzy new Bankers Hill restaurant Il Dandy.

Il Dandy

2550 Fifth Avenue STE 120, Bankers Hill

The dish in question: cavatelli di grano arso, a rabbit ragu served over burnt wheat pasta, topped with crushed hazelnuts and shaved truffle ($32). And lest you imagine Mama Anderson toiled in our home kitchen, cooking with rabbit meat and conspicuously gourmet nuts and fungi, I assure you that was not the case. The dish conjured in my memory by Il Dandy’s cavatelli was a humble tuna casserole, made from some old back of the box recipe involving egg noodles, canned tuna, and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.

Mozzarella di tonno: burrata stretched around tuna tartar, bathed in tomato water

Mozzarella di tonno: burrata stretched around tuna tartar, bathed in tomato water

Let’s get something straight: the cavatelli is far more refined and better tasting than the middle-class casserole I grew up eating, and not just due to the high brow inclusion of truffles. The point is that the restaurant here has produced an upscale Italian dish that resonates with my American middle-class upbringing, while satisfying my latter-day desire for elevated fare.

Rustichella pizza, with broccoli rapini, burrata, and sausage toppings

Rustichella pizza, with broccoli rapini, burrata, and sausage toppings

For that matter, I’m no Anton Ego, and my words won’t make or break Il Dandy, nor the reputation of co-founding chefs Antonio and Luca Abbruzzino. The father and son duo share a Michelin star, after all, for a restaurant they operate in their native Calabria, Italy. The very attention they pay San Diego by cooking here feels like a compliment to the palates of our trainspotting foodie community.

Cavatelli di grano arso: rabbit ragu with shaved truffles and crushed hazelnuts

Cavatelli di grano arso: rabbit ragu with shaved truffles and crushed hazelnuts

Indeed, their handiwork addresses this community’s contemporary aspirations, with evolving offerings including chamomile smoked lamb and a dedicated vegan menu. There’s the conversation starting mozzarella di tonno, a tartar of raw tuna bundled in a thin layer of burrata, topped by citrus zest and basil leaves ($22). This appetizer is bathed in tomato water so briny, it eats as though each spoonful of tuna and elastic cheese have been fished directly from the ocean itself. I highly recommend it, along with any recommended Italian wine pairing — something Calabrian seems apropos.

The dining room of Il Dandy in Bankers Hill

The dining room of Il Dandy in Bankers Hill

The restaurant depicts a more modern sense of Italian cuisine than our city’s many quality, homegrown Italian eateries. A stylish interior and wide dining patio present as swank, though the servers' circus striped shirts come off too precious. And should you show up expecting Michelin star level fuss, there’s an exclusive, high-end dining room in back, called Arama, where prix fixe seating starts at $180 per person.

I’ll leave that one to the Egos of the world. While entrée prices run upscale, I appreciate that there’s room here for lower budget guests to enjoy the Il Dandy experience. Pizza options range from $16 to $24, each pie made with a light, crispy crust, large enough to share as a light meal or happy hour snack. The $24 buongustaia features more truffle and hazelnut along with pumpkin and cured pork, while I can personally attest to enjoying the toppings of the rustichella: burrata, rapini, and house-made sausage. Share at the bar, along with one of its outstanding cocktails, and you can take part in one of the city’s hot new dining spots, while catering to your inner child.

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