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New Island Discovered in Little Italy!

New discovery! Isola Pizza Bar (1526 India Street, Little Italy, 619-255-4230).

Was walking down India Street with my friend Matt when we passed what had been a tanning salon with a website biz behind.

Suddenly, it's a restaurant...

None

...crammed with a BP (Beautiful People) crowd.

None

Inside's all black and white décor, kinda Italian Moderne.

And, woo-hoo! Turns out it's still happy hour, just. Closes at six.

I abandon Matt and head inside.

Whitney the welcomer says we still have five minutes.

Bar's full, so I sit down at a white-cushioned bench. Waiter named Alex brings me the happy hour menu real quick so I can get the order in at HH prices. Says the "salame misto" ($4) is great, and the Pizza Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella, and basil ($5) is the fillingest item on the happy hour list.

So, no time to fool around, I take them both, plus a glass of red wine. Merlot and Barbera grapes, mixed. Italian and Californian wines. The glass is $5.

Doesn't take long for the wine and the salami to arrive.

None

Yes, just half a glass and razor-thin slices of salami, but the wine's delicious and the small sausage specially has a great sweet tang to it.

Place is abuzz, with women lining the bar and couples at the tables. And out of the crowd comes this guy in white chef's gear, checking on the customers.

None

Turns out he's Massimo Tenino, the owner-chef. From San Remo, Liguria, northern Italy. "I named this after my grandma, Isolina. She taught me everything she knew about cooking. How is the wine? Would you like some bread with the salami?"

I say yes, and he himself goes and brings me basically a small pizza with no toppings and cut up. Delish.

The wine? Actually it's warm and good. "The Merlot's Rosso Piemonte, from the vineyard of my brother, Paolo, in Piedmont," says Massimo. "He was a dentist. Gave it all up for wine."

Massimo says he also has an eatery in Tucson. "But I wanted to keep this simple. Pizzas. No slices, no chicken, no lasagna. The brick oven is from Naples. We use oak. It burns dense and slow and hot. We haven't done any marketing but so far we're doing pretty well."

This is when Ulises the waiter brings me the Margherita pizza.

None

None

It's about a 10-inch and tasty, deal for five bucks.

None

But actually the best thing about all the food is the pickled veggies that come with the salami. They are sweetish and delicious. And tang everything up.

I come out fifteen buckeroos poorer. Not bad for what I had and where I am. No way can I do this every night, but good to spend a moment mixing with the BP crowd on a Friday HH.

And, next week, Little Italy being Little Italy, I'm betting there'll be a couple more new places opening up to go to.

They'd better be good, because I reckon Massimo's setting the bar pretty high.

So, where's the new island?

Right here. "Isola" means "island."

None

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Pegah’s Kitchen: a blast from the past in Escondido

“People have shown us what they want, and they’re the ones who count.”

New discovery! Isola Pizza Bar (1526 India Street, Little Italy, 619-255-4230).

Was walking down India Street with my friend Matt when we passed what had been a tanning salon with a website biz behind.

Suddenly, it's a restaurant...

None

...crammed with a BP (Beautiful People) crowd.

None

Inside's all black and white décor, kinda Italian Moderne.

And, woo-hoo! Turns out it's still happy hour, just. Closes at six.

I abandon Matt and head inside.

Whitney the welcomer says we still have five minutes.

Bar's full, so I sit down at a white-cushioned bench. Waiter named Alex brings me the happy hour menu real quick so I can get the order in at HH prices. Says the "salame misto" ($4) is great, and the Pizza Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella, and basil ($5) is the fillingest item on the happy hour list.

So, no time to fool around, I take them both, plus a glass of red wine. Merlot and Barbera grapes, mixed. Italian and Californian wines. The glass is $5.

Doesn't take long for the wine and the salami to arrive.

None

Yes, just half a glass and razor-thin slices of salami, but the wine's delicious and the small sausage specially has a great sweet tang to it.

Place is abuzz, with women lining the bar and couples at the tables. And out of the crowd comes this guy in white chef's gear, checking on the customers.

None

Turns out he's Massimo Tenino, the owner-chef. From San Remo, Liguria, northern Italy. "I named this after my grandma, Isolina. She taught me everything she knew about cooking. How is the wine? Would you like some bread with the salami?"

I say yes, and he himself goes and brings me basically a small pizza with no toppings and cut up. Delish.

The wine? Actually it's warm and good. "The Merlot's Rosso Piemonte, from the vineyard of my brother, Paolo, in Piedmont," says Massimo. "He was a dentist. Gave it all up for wine."

Massimo says he also has an eatery in Tucson. "But I wanted to keep this simple. Pizzas. No slices, no chicken, no lasagna. The brick oven is from Naples. We use oak. It burns dense and slow and hot. We haven't done any marketing but so far we're doing pretty well."

This is when Ulises the waiter brings me the Margherita pizza.

None

None

It's about a 10-inch and tasty, deal for five bucks.

None

But actually the best thing about all the food is the pickled veggies that come with the salami. They are sweetish and delicious. And tang everything up.

I come out fifteen buckeroos poorer. Not bad for what I had and where I am. No way can I do this every night, but good to spend a moment mixing with the BP crowd on a Friday HH.

And, next week, Little Italy being Little Italy, I'm betting there'll be a couple more new places opening up to go to.

They'd better be good, because I reckon Massimo's setting the bar pretty high.

So, where's the new island?

Right here. "Isola" means "island."

None

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Comments
2

What a great story. Your description of the food made my mouth water. I'll definitely have to try this place. What I found more intriguing though, was the story of the owner and his family. His mama taught him to cook; he came from Italy and opened his first restaurant in Tucson. He gets his wine from his brother who quit dentistry to run a vineyard, and I'm sure there are other family members involved. It's the classic immigrant success story. And we are the ones who are truly richer for it. Mama mia! What a great country, no? Pass the wine! Tear the bread! Can I get some more olive oil? Itsa sucha beautiful dinga.

May 26, 2012

Thanks JJ: yes, Massimo's an inspiration. I mean, he came to the US 17 years ago. That's 1995. What da heck have I done in that 17 years?? But you're right. Guys like him keep places like this fresh and new. Don't pass the wine till I get there! -Ed

May 26, 2012

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