Cooking Shines at Civico 1845 San Diego
down India Street in San Diego's Little Italy section, you're
likely to notice a bustling neighborhood addition: Civico
1845 restaurant. This quaint, rustic-chic eatery is
a breath of fresh air relative to the plethora of Italian dining
options surrounding it. What truly sets this eatery apart is
its vehemently authentic and hand-crafted approach to Southern
Italian cuisine. "Like Mama used to make, with modern flair,"
is the guiding philosophy restaurant owners (and brothers) Dario
and Pietro Gallo literally bring to the table. Civico 1845 (pronounced
CHEE-vee-ko) serves up quintessential regional classics with
a contemporary sensibility dedicated to the use of farm fresh
seasonal and sustainable ingredients along with specialty victuals
native to (or principally used throughout) Southern Italy. As
notable, the restaurant's commitment to scratch-cooked staples
like pastas, breads and desserts will make you feel like you're
eating one of "Mama's" home cooked meals.
restaurant's Southern Italian orientation comes from Dario and
Pietro themselves, who were born and raised in Cosenza, Italy-a
city located in the southern region of Calabria. I recently
visited Civico 1845 and had the pleasure of interviewing Dario
who, in addition to being co-owner, is also the general manager.
He underscored the restaurant's unfussy au naturale approach,
noting that it "avoids using fats and artificial elements
to 'enhance' flavors. In every dish here at Civico 1845, you
can taste the natural flavors of each ingredient we use."
In addition to cooking with locally grown and seasonal ingredients,
the restaurant also only utilizes wild caught seafood and grass-fed
meats. Pietro, who additionally serves as the restaurant's kitchen
manager, also commented on the origin of the eatery's old-fashioned
approach and adherence to proper technique, stating "Our
mother used to cook tomatoes for three hours to get the taste
just right. That is the standard we desire to live up to."
the restaurant is certainly steeped in tradition, certain aspects
of the menu take a more modern turn like the availability of
gluten-free pasta substitutions as well as a completely vegan
menu dedicated to maintaining exacting vegan standards-not something
normally seen in Italian cuisine. This ancillary menu option
stems, in part, from co-owner Pietro's own veganism. He notes,
"Most people read 'marinara sauce' and think tomatoes,
which are vegan friendly. What they don't realize is that the
sauce is often made with butter, which is not vegan at all.
We're working with a number of vendors to make sure that our
vegan menu is absolutely, 100 percent vegan."
combined, the result for Civico 1845 is a focus on spot-on Southern
Italian fare that is not only made from scratch, but also boasts
top-quality natural, fresh and seasonal ingredients across-the-board.
When looking for the right chef to execute their vision, the
brothers struck culinary gold. Dario elaborated, "It was
important for us to find an experienced, Southern Italian chef.
We are lucky to have Alfonso Pisacane as our head chef. His
family has owned and operated Le Tre Sorelle, a traditional
Italian restaurant in Positano, Italy, for over three generations.
He also spent the last 10 years working as a chef in North County
San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles."
continued, commenting on some of Chef Pisacane's creations that
have become Civico 1845's signature dishes. "Our Scialatielli
Civico is one of our most popular dishes with handmade Calabrian
chili pasta, Caledonian prawns, cherry tomatoes and wild rocket
(Arugula). The Casareccie alla Norcina is also a signature dish,
one that I think really represents who we are as a restaurant-both
the pasta and the fennel sausage are homemade. We also top the
dish with ricotta dumplings, black truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano."
When asked about his own favorites on the menu, Dario indicated
his go-to appetizer is the mixed board of Prosciutto and Formaggi-guest's
choice of varied meat and cheese options like mortadella, capicollo,
gorgonzola dolce and sottocenere to name just a few of the twelve
available options that are all served with a caramelized walnuts
and fig marmalade.
dined at Civico 1845 for dinner, I have a few of my own favorites.
Paramount among these from the various starter selections I
sampled is the Burrata Heirloom Caprese-a velvety mozzarella
and cream spread served with heirloom tomatoes, cold pressed
extra virgin olive oil, wild arugula and black lava salt all
drizzled with a vibrant balsamic vinaigrette. The Calamari Fritti
was also a winner due to its delicate, flaky and well-seasoned
batter, and the fact that it was lightly fried just to crisp
up the exterior rather than overcook or outright conceal the
flavor of the seafood within. Traditional Arrabiata and garlicky
aioli sauce sides were welcome but not mandatory enhancements.
my personal pasta penchant is the Pappardelle Brasato. While
the savory slow-braised, cabernet-flavored short rib ragù
rife with aromatic herbs is an utter delight unto itself, the
large flat ribbons of Pappardelle pasta-cooked to al dente perfection-stole
the show. Obligatory shavings of hard Parmigiano-Reggiano complete
this righteous recipe.
I'm particularly partial to the Scallops with Meyer lemon-a
conceptually simple dish where the freshness and caliber of
the ingredients and culinary execution shine. Well-seasoned
and seared, and cooked to a medium rare, the oceanic essence
of the scallops is aptly accented, not hindered. The pairing
of painstakingly caramelized and doughy black garlic gnocchi
with this tender, mild protein is apropos.
dessert, you just can't go wrong with Civico 1845's Cannoli-not
just one but two large cheese-filled pastries with crunchy pistachio
tips served atop an impossibly rich dark chocolate sauce.
on the traditional treat front, this restaurant's rendition
of espresso and mascarpone cheese-laden Tiramisu will duly satisfy
your Italian sweet tooth. For his part, Dario digs the Zeppole-filled
Neapolitan doughnuts with vanilla cream and Italian Amarena
aside, any discussion of Civico 1845 would be incomplete without
a mention of both its location and the décor. When asked
why Little Italy is the ideal spot for the restaurant (besides
the obvious), Dario answered, "After getting to know the
neighborhood, we thought that it could really use a more modern
Italian concept and realized that it would be the best place
to showcase our authenticity. Tastes are changing-more people
have traveled to Italy and can appreciate and recognize an authentic
Italian restaurant." It's certainly not easy for an Italian
eatery to carve out a niche among a veritable sea of other Italian
restaurants, but this Civico 1845 has done quite successfully.
My own Wednesday night visit was proof positive. Even at nine
o'clock in the evening when most restaurants would be starting
to clear out, there was nary an open table available in the
lively and laughter-filled dining room.
of the dining room, the restaurant has a light, bright and open
concept floor plan that creates a relaxed and communal ambience.
This is further enhanced with a casual but thoughtful interior
design rife with reclaimed materials and natural, living elements-all
a perfect complement to the eatery's culinary inclinations.
really enjoy the overall vibe of our restaurant," Dario
said. "We have a young, fun staff who are great at getting
to know our guests and neighbors...everyone feels like family."
And that's apparently what it's all about for the brothers.
"We want guests to feel like they are dining in our home
in Italy, experiencing our family's traditions and home cooking."
And that homespun hospitality is certainly what I experienced
throughout my own visit: staffers making you feel more than
welcome as you break bread with others. That warmth, coupled
with the intensely aromatic, flavorful and textural revitalization
of Southern Italian classics, will undoubtedly beckon you back
1845 India Street
San Diego, CA 92101
By Merilee Kern, 'The Luxe List' Executive Editor
Luxe List" Executive Editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury
marketplace for exemplary travel experiences, extraordinary
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or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or
service(s) detailed above were provided at no cost to accommodate
this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of
Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***