Everyday Eats: Aperitivo at Monello

Sip a cocktail during happy hour and enjoy complimentary "tastes from the cook"

Fir Street between Kettner and India just became one of the best blocks for tasty bites in Little Italy. On the Kettner corner, Underbelly slings bowls of ramen and snappy Kurobuta sausages, and at India, Influx is there for all of your caffeine and cookie needs. In the middle, there's Bencotto, the much-loved Italian spot named best in the city by SD Mag readers and Troy Johnson and Monello, Bencotto's "little brother" restaurant (Monello means "rascal" or "scamp" in Italian).

Aperitivo, Monello's version of Happy Hour, is a great introduction to the restaurant. Sit at the bar, sip a cocktail, and the chef-selected bites come complimentary. On my visit, round one included a margherita flatbread, octopus salad, beetroot gnocchi, potatoes with blue cheese crema, and lupini beans. In round two, a small plate of penne, crispy chicken tenders in marinara sauce, and razor-thin flakes of raspadura cheese were featured. Chef Fabrizio switches up the "tastes from the cook" daily, so your experience will be slightly different -- but here's hoping the gnocchi becomes a frequent guest star (if not a permanent addition to the menu).

Jen Queen's craft cocktails are stellar, particularly anything shaken with the 27-ingredient housemade sweet vermouth, like the Blood and Sand (Scotch, fortified cherry reduction, sweet vermouth, and orange juice) or the more straightforward Rock and Twist (sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist). If a couple rounds of cocktails and bites doesn't suffice, stay for a plate of spaghetti or the Bencotto pizza -- a thin-crust pie topped with mozzarella, ricotta, and the pink pancetta sauce from next door.

Monello is located at 750 W Fir Street, right next door to Bencotto in Little Italy. Happy Hour/Aperitivo runs from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday to Friday and Sunday evenings.

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