Chef and co-owner Francesca puts together meats, cheeses and fruits ($10 per person)
2233 Logan Avenue, San Diego
Aztec drums thunder out from Chicano Park. Conch shells honk. It’s eight o’clock at night. People dance barefoot. Their ankle rattles sound like sleighbells. Now a woman steps forward with a smoking incense burner. It sends clouds across the dance space. Dancers come, kneel, let her wash the smoke over them.
Maria brings my Sombreri (left), and Ubriaca pasta
I swear. Barrio Logan. Full of surprises every time. I’m back here because last week I spotted this brand-new place just opened, on Logan, near Salud and Border X. And guess what? It’s Italian. Very Italian. In an old house stylishly revived, with marble tables and rattan chairs in the garden. A jewel, honestly. They have turned the garden into a cozy, tree-filled patio with a fire pit in the middle, and a big, blue-domed ceramic pizza oven waiting to happen.
Boy. Should I? I read the menu outside, and, well it ain’t so cheap. Not totally upmarket, but I can see how a bill would add up. Mind you, it’s not your typical spaghetti-and-meatballs Italian joint, either.
So I haul on in, to a warm, smallish, bright room. A three-generational family, the Villareals, fills up a long table on the left side, and lots of sausages, hams, salamis, giant cheeses, and all the counter action takes up the right side. Mario, one of the owners, turns out, is at the cash register. They have been working on this place a year, and only opened a couple of weeks back. First thing I have to learn: here you order — and pay for your order — before you sit down. So hey, quick scan.
Mushroom flan ($10.50)
Appetizers are all $10.50. I notice a lot of items have interesting extras in them. Parma prosciutto ham with pineapple comes with bee pollen. Tuna tartare has olives, tomato, jalapeño — and celery root sauce. Mushroom flan gets a savory pecorino cheese crust. All very classy. But how filling?
They have four salads ($8 each), including barley with quinoa, a “tricolore” with kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage (but thankfully sexed up with chili, candied pecan, and mustard dressing). And this is interesting: roasted vegetable salad. The chef — she turns out to be Francesca, Mario’s laughing, cherry-cheeked wife — made her name at Bice, and then had this idea for a sort of osteria, a first-come-first-served “hostel” where they cook whatever the season brings. She chose the name, Ciccia, which means “darling.” She even designed the patio along with the contents of each dish.
They have cold cuts and cheese boards for $10 each (minimum two people). But the main deal on the menu looks to be pasta, each one $13. This group pricing certainly makes it easier to work out what you’re spending.
Roasted vegetable salad ($8)
Yet I dunno. I’m usually disappointed with pastas. Lot of gloop and flavors so subtle, all you remember is the gloop. But this is starting to look interesting. The first one, the Ubriaca, is gemelli pasta with sausage, ricotta cheese, and shallot. Oh, gemelli. Something about twins. Strands of pasta twisted into a spiral.
“Maybe start off with something else,” says Francesca. “It’s pretty strong-tasting. Other ones are easier to love.”
She says “Ubriaca” means “drunk” in Italian. “It’s called that because we cook it in red wine. The pasta becomes very dark, and gets a strong wine flavor. Also the sausage is strong, and you have shallots.”
Okay, but which one? They have eighteen of these $13 babies listed, from Mafalde Ragu dell’Aia (“farmhouse white stew/chicken/rabbit/quail/duck”) to Mezzaluna (“pear ravioli/Gorgonzola & walnut sauce”). Yes, usual suspects too, such as fettuccine with Bolognese sauce, Frutti di Mare, lasagna, and gnocchi al Pesto, but they’re scattered amongst much more interesting-sounding ones like Orzotto, risotto with lobster and shrimp, tomato lobster bisque, basil pesto, and burata cheese; and Corzetti Stampati, which is clam, fava bean, white wine, sundried tomato, and basil.
The Villareal family came here to celebrate Italian style
“Can I suggest the Sombreri?” Francesca says. I see it has sausage, saffron, a bell pepper sauce, and mascarpone cheese. It’s named “Sombreri” because the pasta’s shaped like little sombreros. “Well I’m kinda hooked on the idea of Ubriaca,” I say, “the pasta cooked in red wine idea.”
“I don’t usually do this,” says Francesca. “But I can give you half and half. Half Ubriaca, half Sombreri.”
Deal. Appreciate it. I head out to the fire in the patio. Jay, the server, suggests one of the tables under the trees. He’s Turkish-American. “Jay is short for Jayhoon, one of the four rivers of the Garden of Eden.” Who knew? I get a glass of cab, too ($6.50). Why should the noodles have all the fun?
And here’s the thing: Those Ubriaca are totally, darkly delicious. Winey, but with a tougher taste. The herbs in the sausage add punch. Man. I thought I was sick of pasta. This has changed my mind.
And even the mild Sombreri has some nice surprises. Firstly, it’s the saffron, that food of the crocus flower, sort of hay flavor, they say. And then there’s something sweet in there. Sweet pasta! It’s a nice contrast.
So no, it hasn’t been cheap (even though I avoided mains such as the thin-sliced sirloin, $17, a chicken roulade (kinda rolled chicken) $19, branzino (sea bass), $21, or breaded Milanese veal chops, $26. I mean, this ain’t gonna happen every night. But it has been one big lesson in Italian food.
Confession: I turned up next night just to try the appetizer I’d kinda craved, the mushroom flan ($10.50). Very delicate, pretty, small, surprisingly filling, but not a meal. Pay $2.50 more and get the Sombreri.
Or, hey, what’s wrong with drunken noodles again?
- The Place: Ciccia Osteria, 2233 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan, 619-674-4069
- Prices: Appetizers, $10.50 each, e.g. Parma prosciutto ham with pineapple, bee pollen; tuna tartare; mushroom flan; salads, $8, e.g. barley, roasted vegetable, “tricolore” (kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage); cold cuts and cheese boards $10 each (minimum two people); pasta, $13, includes Ubriaca, Mafalde Ragu dell’Aia (“farmhouse white stew/chicken/rabbit/quail/duck”), Mezzaluna (“pear ravioli/Gorgonzola and walnut sauce”), fettuccine with Bolognese sauce, Sombreri (sausage, saffron, mascarpone cheese); ciccio (thin-sliced sirloin), $17; Milanese veal chop, $26
- Hours: Lunch,12:30-2:30pm Friday, Saturday only; dinner, 4:30pm-9:30ish Thursday-Monday (till 10ish, Saturday); closed Tuesday, Wednesday