Edit ModuleShow Tags

Bice Ristorante


Published:

WITH LOCATIONS in cities from Abu Dhabi to Tokyo, Bice Ristorante is a globe-trotting concept that opened—and closed—once before in San Diego. Those with long memories (and luxury tastes) will recall downtown’s Pa­ladion building, where a former incarnation of Bice rubbed monied elbows with the likes of Cartier, Versace and Ferragamo in the early 1990s before closing its doors. The entire Pa­ladion eventually followed suit.

Now, Bice’s back—in a triumphant second coming that’s filling tables in the handsome dining room every night of the week. Nothing about San Diego’s new Bice says “chain,” save for its black-and-red corporate logo. This stylish newcomer at the corner of Fourth and Island is as distinctive as a Missoni print; as individual as three of the personalities driving its success.

Northern Italy’s refined cuisine is smartly interpreted by head chef Mario Cassineri, a native of Milan who blends tradition and creativity with a maestro’s ease. He’s joined in the kitchen by Francesca Penoncelli, a Pie­mon­tese pastry chef better known as the smiling woman behind the inviting cheese bar. Overseeing the staff and the striking space—which he helped design—is managing partner Rinaldo Colantoni, a veteran of San Diego’s original Bice. With support from general partner Trevor Sacco and a private investor who helped the new restaurant open late in 2009 after a year’s worth of setbacks, this talented trio is the soul of Bice.

Already, chef Cassineri has delivered two early candidates for appetizer of the year. One is a plated mosaic of parchment-thin, pink-rimmed octopus slices topped with slivered fennel, a drizzle of lemon olive oil and a sprinkle of dill ($10); the other, a marriage of Umbria’s Castelluccio lentils (known as the tiniest, tastiest and costliest on the planet), goat cheese and Chino’s beets ($9). Chino also supplies the jewel-like cherry tomatoes adorning a generous scoop of mozzarella in Bice’s take on classic caprese ($9).

Freshly made pastas dominate the primi ­piatti, from one night’s woodsy wild-mushroom tagliatelle ($19) to ravioli wrappers of long-simmered beef and veal ($18) or spin­ach, ricotta and fresh sage ($14). Lobster orzotto (risotto fashioned from barley, $18) was notably short on lobster. A splendid texture, plenty of tomato-herb brio and a sinful cloud of burrata on top saved the dish.

Crisp-skinned black cod paired with a classic Ligurian garnish of green beans, diced potatoes and pesto ($18) is well worth ordering again. So is the sautéed veal tenderloin one could slice with a spoon, accompanied by fabulous fingerling potatoes ($24). Want more of those roasted fingerlings? You can order a side, as well as other vegetable dishes like sautéed rapini or caponata, for $5.

And don’t miss what may be the menu’s best value: pork tenderloin pan-seared to a blush of pink, plated with mashed potatoes and sauced with whole pink peppercorns that burst on the palate every few bites ($18).

Pastry chef Penoncelli makes lovely des­serts, including chocolate lava cake and tira­mi­su that sell for $8. She also bakes the fabulous herbed flat­bread served to each table. But it’s as the cheese expert, presiding over an eight-seat bar displaying doz­ens of Italian-made formaggi, that Penoncelli has gained a devoted following.

Like a good sommelier, she’ll ask about your tastes. Then she’ll uncork a creative assemblage of tangy-sweet plin di capra goat cheese, perhaps, teamed with semi-soft Taleggio and nutty Toma from Piemonte. You’ll learn the correct order for tasting them, and discover how her hand-crafted jams—including apricot, onion and a sweet, fragrant tomato—and fresh grapes drizzled with wildflower honey enhance each selection. (Prices vary; expect to pay $7 or $8 for a three-cheese sampler.)

Colantoni gets the credit for a novella-length wine list. He used the delay in Bice’s opening to travel the length of his native Italy—“from Trentino to Sardinia,” as he puts it—meeting vintners and tasting their wares to build a bravura assemblage celebrating the best of each viticultural area. (He also designed the floor-to-ceiling, glass-walled storage area that spans one side of the dining room.) Treasures in every price range appear on this list, which details the primary grapes used in each region and offers countless choices beyond Chianti Clas­sico and Pinot Grigio.

Close to 20 super-Tuscans alone are here, and not just the $250-plus bottles from Ornellaia and Sassicaia favored by well-heeled connoisseurs. The $38 Mazzei Serrata di Belguardo (from a winery with roots in the 1400s) is absolutely divine. So are scores of other wines for that price or less. You’ll find a sampling of California labels as well, and the full bar featuring $12 martinis has plenty of takers.

Both the bar and the open dining room—sporting dark woods, eggshell-tone walls and clean, classic lines—feature only tables, no booths, for better see-and-be-seen opportunities. Sheer white curtains and enormous, sepia-tone architectural photos provide an understated background for a dressier crowd. Think well-coiffed women shod by Louis, Jimmy and Christian, and men in neat button-downs and the occasional sport coat. Bravo!

Conversation levels can escalate, but the well-spaced tables and low music level keep decibels at an acceptable buzz. Primo tables for people-watching are along the windows; the banquette seating for twosomes means someone’s back will be to the room. For large parties, the separate Milano Room can be reserved for up to 40 diners.

Service is genial and generally capable, though occasionally inattentive. One night, entrées arrived before the antipasti had been cleared. Confusion ensued until they were returned to the kitchen. Under the astute tutelage of Signore Colantoni, however, we expect such slip-ups will be a thing of the past.

Bice Ristorante serves dinner nightly at 425 Island Avenue, downtown; 619-239-2423; ­bicesandiego.com. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

Restaurants Are Dying; Here’s the Solution

It’s simple math, but the state of California refuses to allow it

Why Tacos Are The Best Food on the Planet

Tacos are rule-breaking, explosive, democratic, hand-held things of righteousness

San Diego St. Patrick’s Day Guide 2019

Where to eat, drink, and party like the Irish
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Vote Now for San Diego's Best Restaurants 2019
    From pho to fries, you can choose San Diego's best eats and drinks in 99 categories
  2. Puesto's Next Top Taco
    Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize
  3. Best Restaurants in San Diego: 2018
    San Diego's top restaurant owners, chefs, and bartenders name their favorite San Diego restaurants of 2018.
  4. The Best Soup Dumplings in San Diego
    My hunt for the best xiao long bao in the city unearthed two surprising winners
  5. Behind the Brands 2019
  6. 21 Ultimate Road Trip Itineraries from San Diego
    These getaways will take you through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Mexico
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Puesto's Next Top Taco

Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Whale Watching Report from Hornblower for March 6–12

Whale watchers get their fill of gray whales, dolphins, and more

Shaping San Diego 2019

San Diego is a premier catalyst for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurialism
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags