Located in the newly renovated Paseo de Mission Hills is Olivetto Ristorante & Wine Bar. Specializing in modern Italian fare and utilizing only the freshest seasonal ingredients, guests can revel in Olivetto’s cozy ambiance of exposed brick, dark wood, and rustic toned décor. Serving both lunch and dinner seven days a week, patrons can experience a complete Italian meal day and night, or just stop in to enjoy a glass of wine after a long day. The inviting atmosphere is the perfect setting to enjoy a meal, whether as a night out on the town with friends, or a romantic evening with a significant other.Read More ...
In San Diego’s current dining scene, Italian cuisine reigns supreme. Pasta lovers have a multitude of dining establishments available to curb their cravings. While each offers its own take on the fare, often times it takes a restaurant willing to pay just a little more attention to detail to pull ahead. Such a place exists, hidden in plain sight in Mission Hills. Olivetto Ristorante & Wine Bar dishes out an authentic taste of Tuscany with four star service, home-style cuisine, and a masterfully cultivated wine list.
When I first began looking into Olivetto, I expected a typical Italian restaurant serving the usual selection of pastas, pizzas, and gelato. However, first glance at the online menu quickly corrects any presumptions I held. With a broad selection of modern but authentically inspired dishes, Olivetto separates itself from competitors through a simplistic, but flavorful approach to the cuisine. Menu choices include traditional Tuscan style Antipasti, Insalate, Pasta, and Secondi Piatti options. As I peruse my choices, favorites like Beef Carpaccio, Calamari Fritti and the Olivetto Salad with mangos catch my eye.
The more I read, the hungrier I become. The heartier segment of the menu highlights pasta and meat dishes found in Italy today. A dish I know I must try is the Lasagna Della Casa, which is made in house and consists of a rich meat sauce with béchamel for a French influence. The main entrees are in the form of chicken, veal, fish, and beef. One dish, the Filetto Al Pepe Verde, appeals to my carnivorous appetite. Served as a grilled filet mignon with a whole green pepper sauce, this entrée sounds particularly spicy. Excited, I prepare myself for a night of indulgence.
Originally opened in the summer of 2008, in a location that once homed the Mission Hills Café, Olivetto has remained a neighborhood secret for several years. In June 2012, ownership was passed over to Angelo Fiore, a native of Bologna, Italy, who had a new vision for this Italian boutique. After implementing a set order of operations, Angelo focused on reinventing the restaurant to provide guests with quality food while never compromising value.
Located on West Washington Avenue in the Mission Hills neighborhood, Olivetto can be easy to miss, so keep a sharp eye out for the illuminated window with “Olivetto Café and Wine Bar” etched in white, under the glowing Mission Hills sign. The restaurant is within walking distance of an array of shops and bars, and parking is typical for Mission Hills, with meters on Washington Avenue, a paid parking lot just a few blocks to the west, and free two hour parking on various side streets nearby.
Arriving promptly for our reservations, my dining companion and I enter through the glass door, ready to feast on Italian treats. From the exterior, Olivetto appears somewhat small, but once inside, the space expands exponentially. Effortlessly decorated, the single room interior indicates a level of sophistication, from the exposed red brick walls with paintings representing the four Italian cities of Pisa, Rome, Venice, and Milan, to the delicately set wooden tables. The deep red brick, darkened tables, and pale yellow walls cohesively blend together to reflect the colorful fields of Tuscany in fall.
Although the space is relatively small, the effective arrangement of tables allows room to move around the restaurant, and offers privacy from neighboring tables. The detailed settings at each table contrast the minimalist décor, complete with a neatly folded tan napkin, stemmed wine glasses, appetizer plates, and two forks. Such attention to detail continues to the chairs, where guests can sit comfortably on the cushioned seats; half booths are also available for even more comfort.
Approaching the bar, my dining companion and I introduce ourselves to the owner, Angelo Fiore, who directs us to our corner table by the window. While we take our seats, one of the team of servers who will be assisting us, removes the excess table settings as Angelo sits down to join us. I choose a seat where I can see the entire restaurant to watch the night’s activities unfold.
Angelo’s keen eye has already been proven through the décor, and the more I chat with him, the more his dedication to Olivetto is evident. He can be found at Olivetto almost daily, working towards improving the restaurant for the optimal guest experience. His motive to serve authentic Italian dishes with fresh, high quality ingredients remains consistent throughout the menu. Each dish is simplistic and delicious, as if an Italian mother created the menu herself. Since nothing can compare to mom’s cooking, Angelo calls, and even visits mama overseas for culinary advice.
To begin the meal, Angelo offers us a choice of wine. Always eager to expand my wine palate, I glance at Olivetto’s enormous bookcase that houses its collection of wine. I suggest we try a wine that my companion and I will both enjoy. Angelo chooses the Rosso Toscano, from Bivio Toscano. The wine arrives to the table in individual carafes, which the server expertly pours into our glasses. The first sip proves Angelo’s expertise at selecting versatile wines; hints of fruit create a crisp, smooth taste, while maintaining a full bodied flavor. This Tuscan blend is refreshing, and pleasing to both of us.
As the sign indicates, Olivetto is indeed a wine bar, offering over 50 wines at a reasonable cost. Most major wine regions, both domestic and international, are represented on the wine list. Priding itself in offering a broad spectrum of wine, varietals from California, South America, New Zealand, France, and Italy can be found at under $10 a glass, and during Olivetto’s daily Happy Hour from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. all 20 wines by the glass are priced at just $5. For non-wine drinkers, a contrite selection of beer by the bottle is available, including the Italian import, Birra Moretti.
The first dish of our meal is the Antipasto Italiano. This appetizer sample piles a selection of Italian meats, cheese, artichoke hearts, olives, tomatoes and bruschetta on an oval plate. Overjoyed at what sits in front of me, I dish a forkful of prosciutto, artichokes, and olives onto my plate.
The prosciutto slices taste fresh, similar to those I have sampled from meat markets around Italy. It is thinly sliced, in a heaping mass on the platter. The marinated olives and artichokes have enough marinade to complement the flavors of the prosciutto without overpowering the original taste. Reaching for more, I sample the mortadella, a flavored Italian sausage. This cold cut is an import from Bologna and pairs well with the provolone cheese and fresh bread at our table. The salame, possesses a spicy zest that is perfectly countered by the fleshy texture of the artichoke hearts.
Lastly, the bruschetta, piled high with a mountain of tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and balsamic reduction, offers plenty to share, so my companion and I each take half to sample. The crispiness of the bread with the sweet combination of toppings delights my taste buds. Everything on the platter is fresh, as if plucked from the farm and brought straight to my table. This portion of the meal curbs my hunger but perks my interest in what lies ahead.
Before we finish the sampler, our next dish appears. The Caprese antipasti dish with slices of red tomatoes and stark white mozzarella cheese patterned on top of a bed of bright green lettuce looks delectable. After drizzling a bit of olive oil for added flavor, I dive into this Italian salad. The tomatoes taste just as sweet as those on the bruschetta, but the real showstopper is the mozzarella cheese.
This particular version of the multipurpose cheese is burrata, a type of mozzarella filled with fresh cream that oozes when opened. The juxtaposition of the crisp tomatoes and the creamy cheese make this Caprese salad better than any that I have crafted myself. After finishing my plate, I use a piece of bread to mop the runoff of cheese, tomato, and olive oil.
Satisfied with the starter plates, I lean back in my chair, surveying the dinner crowd filling the surrounding tables. An assortment of hungry patrons ranging from families, couples, and groups of friends settle into the seats around me. Olivetto’s versatile, urbane atmosphere makes it romantic enough for a date and classy enough for a business meeting.
Also, contrary to some restaurants in the area, Olivetto’s menu isn’t dependant on the latest food trend, so any old-school Italian food lover’s appetite can be appeased. For a quick bite, the lunch menu includes Antipasta, Insalate, and a condensed selection of its Pasta and Secondi Piatti options. Olivetto also offers paninis during lunch, with vegetarian, chicken, and pork selections.
Our next course arrives in the form of Spaghetti allo Scoglio. Loaded into the pasta bowl is a mound of Italian imported spaghetti noodles with clams, mussels, shrimp, and tomatoes in a white wine sauce. The jumbo shrimp snaps in my mouth with flavors of salt and garlic pouring out. The seafood is obviously fresh, with little fishy aftertaste, and the meaty mussels and clams taste sweet and zesty once saturated in the sauce.
After removing the shells, I swirl the pasta around my fork. Cooked to a semi firm consistency, the noodles possess a buttery, salty flavor after being buried under the seafood. The combination of savory flavors from the sauce and the salty accents of seafood solidify the pasta dish’s success. Even my seafood wary dining companion fancies it. For a comprehensive taste of the Secondi Piatti portion of the menu, one of our diligent servers brings both the Pollo alla Firentina and the Salmone alla Livornese. Each entree is served with of a side of potatoes and vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, and squash. The vegetables are sautéed to enhance flavor and remain crisp to the bite. Beside the vegetables sit potato wedges, well browned and topped with herb sprinkles.
The Pollo alla Firentina consists of white meat chicken stuffed with spinach, mozzarella, and prosciutto, then coated in bread crumbs and baked. The meat is covered with a mushroom cream sauce, and the tender meat cuts easily, while the thin layer of breadcrumbs provides a crispy exterior. The generous portion of sauce is rich with mushrooms, enhancing the tender white meat and crunchy shell of breadcrumbs. This dish certainly reflects a hearty, home cooked meal.
While the Pollo alla Firentina satisfies the poultry lover in me, my favorite part of the entrée section has to be the Salmone alla Livornese. Named for the port city of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy where diets are heavily fish based, this dish had me envious of Italian natives who enjoy this cuisine every day. Featuring fresh salmon sautéed with olives, capers, and roasted tomato, the Salmone alla Livornese is definitely a top contender for best part of the meal thus far.
The freshness of the fish cannot be argued. The hefty piece tenderly flakes apart when split by my fork. Piling bits of salmon, tomatoes, and olives on my utensil, I take my first bite. The sweetness of the tomatoes and the contrasting tanginess of the olives atop the salmon create a flavorful mixture that engulfs my taste buds. With just enough sauce poured on top, the salmon retains its flavor. Scraping the plate to get every last bite, this entrée undoubtedly satisfies my appetite for fish. Even Angelo finishes his plate, and he eats at Olivetto every day!
Nearly full, I have yet to taste Olivetto’s specialty desserts. With options like Tiramisu and Crème Brulee, it is difficult choose which to indulge in, so Angelo kindly provides both. The tiramisu arrives as a liberal slice of ladyfingers and cream aside a swirl of strawberry sauce and whipped cream.
With my dessert fork, I delve into this sinful creation. The fluffy layers expand, further emphasizing the freshness of this treat. The cocoa powder complements the buttery flavor of the ladyfingers and cream nicely. This dish packs just enough sweetness to finish a meal properly without overwhelming the palate.
Situated in a ramekin awaits our final caramelized sugar and custard delight, the Crème Brulee. The torched top crunches under the weight of my fork as I scoop a large mouthful. Again, contrasting textures combine with the sweet flavor to please the taste buds. Each bite contains just enough sugar to allow the other flavors to speak for themselves. These desserts provide the ideal way to end a meal.
The friendly, attentive service combined with the diverse, well crafted menu is pleasing in every aspect. Throughout the night, a team of servers expertly attends to our table without hesitation. Quality ingredients are presented in authentic dishes at an affordable price, emphasizing the experience that owner Angelo Fiore strives for. Ultimately, Olivetto Ristorante & Wine Bar provides a place for anybody to relax, chat with friends, and enjoy a glass of wine while lavishly dining on authentic Italian cuisine.
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