Two local Italian restaurant groups unveil new projects
Pacific Beach’s Ambrogio15 team partners in three new projects in La Jolla and Del Mar
Two of San Diego’s best-known Italian restaurateur trios have unveiled new culinary projects this week.
The three Romans behind 2-year-old Cesarina Ristorante in Point Loma announced plans for Angelo, a multifaceted project that’s a pizzeria, mozzarella factory, cake bakery and catering business that will open early next year. And the Milanese trio who launched Ambrogio15 pizzeria in Pacific Beach in 2016 have three new projects this spring: Ciao Ciao Piadina, an aperitivo/sandwich wine bar they’re opening today with two partners, as well as a reinvention of their Semola pasta bar concept in La Jolla and a more upscale Ambrogio15 location in Del Mar.
Over the past 20 years, San Diego has become home to a growing number of Italian expatriates from Milan, Rome, Pisa, Rimini, Naples and more who came here to open their own ristorantes, trattorias, osterias, pizzerias and espresso bars. Many say San Diego is more business-friendly to young entrepreneurs and there’s less competition than they’d face in Italy. And the weather here’s not bad, either.
Here’s a look at the two trios’ latest projects.
Fans of Cesarina Ristorante in Point Loma won’t have to go far to see what’s next for its owners, the husband-and-wife duo of Niccolò Angius and chef Cesarina Mezzoni and their business partner Giuseppe Capasso. They’ve leased a 3,000-square-foot former furniture repair shop directly across the street at 4160 Voltaire for their next collaboration: Angelo.
Modeled closely on the concept that has made Cesarina a success, Angelo will replicate the intimate experience where diners can see their food being made before their eyes. At Cesarina, that’s pasta being made from scratch in a glass-walled booth near the bar. At Angelo, diners will be able to sit around the glass-walled “caseificio,” a cheese factory where mozzarella and burrata cheese will be made for the restaurant’s signature item: Neapolitan-style pizza with a highly digestible and crunchy crust.
Angelo is named after Angius’s father, whose restaurant in Rome was Angius’s training ground. Six years ago, Angius and Mezzoni moved to San Diego, where his first job was working for Capasso at Il Fornaio restaurant in Coronado. Angius said Cesarina’s menu is dedicated to the maternal side of Italian cuisine. Angelo will showcase the paternal side.
“Just as Cesarina represents the love of a wife, grandmother or mother, this one is for our fathers. I was raised in my father’s restaurant, so this is a dream come true,” he said. “I think it’s my lucky charm to name restaurants after the people I love.”
Angelo’s menu will also feature fire-grilled proteins and traditional appetizers, such as fried stuffed zucchini blossoms and it will have a full-service bar and cocktail program. Angelo will seat about 95 to 100 guests, including at several tables on a front patio. The design by Italian architect Elena Piulats and San Diego’s Arch 5 Design, will have a 1970s Amalfi Coast villa look. It’s slated to open in early 2022.
Angelo will be far more than a restaurant, though. About half of its space will be dedicated to a commissary kitchen that will serve as home to a new full-service catering operation, as well as the home of Cesarina’s Cake Factory, a custom-order business serving the 25-year-old Mezzoni’s twists on classic Italian cakes and tarts. There are also future plans for Mezzoni to host a custom dining experience with small numbers of guests.
The Cesarina trio have had Angelo in their plans for nearly two years, but the pandemic pushed back their plans. Because they’d heard about the severity of the shutdowns from family in Italy before it arrived in San Diego, the trio built a back patio and an extended dining deck out front quicker than most local restaurant owners. During the first shutdown last spring, they transitioned to a takeout operation and raised $10,000 they donated to their workers. During the winter shutdown, Mezzoni also baked and sold 100 large boxes of her Italian pastries and raised another $15,000 for workers. Through fundraisers and PPP loans the were able to keep all of their 55-member staff, although at reduced hours, throughout the pandemic.
Ciao Ciao Piadina
Ciao Ciao Piadina is billed as a “social club,” where diners can enjoy a new take on the traditional Italian aperitivo service — pre-dinner drinks and unlimited appetizers — as well as piadina, which are the famous toasted flatbread sandwiches from the Italian coastal city of Rimini.
The restaurant, which opens to the public at 11 a.m. today at 510 Pearl St. in La Jolla, is a collaboration between Rimini native Francesco Burnazzi, special events planner Lauren Turton and the co-founders of Ambrogio15: Giacomo Pizzigoni, Andrea Burrone and Luca Salvi. Turton, who worked in the restaurant industry for a decade, said she sought out the Ambrogio15 team as partners because she admired their business acumen.
The indoor/outdoor cafe and bar offers an all-day menu of piadina sandwiches, salads, light appetizers and desserts, including several vegan and gluten-free items. From 4 to 9 p.m. each night, they offer aperitivo. For $29, diners get an Italian-inspired spritz cocktail or glass of wine and a tiered tray filled with a refillable assortment of Italian finger foods, including cured Italian meats, cheeses, olives, bruschetta and taralli snacks. In Italy, aperitivo snacks are usually free and can range from a small basket of potato chips to a mini-buffet. Aperitivo is meant to curb after-work hunger pangs until dinner, since Italians often dine later in the evening than Americans.
The restaurant, which was designed and decorated by Burnazzi in homage to Rimini’s landmarks and history, has a biodynamic, or natural, wine program, with its signature offering a Rosé di Cannonau from Sardinia. There are also seven Italian-inspired spritz drinks, made with Prosecco or sparkling water and wines. In a few months, they plan to add a breakfast service beginning at 7 a.m. featuring Italian coffee drinks and pastries and, eventually, a weekend brunch service, Turton said.
Semola, the Ambrogio 15 Pasta Bar
In mid-to-late April, the Ambrogio15 trio will open the new Semola, an elevated Milanese-style sit-down restaurant in the former PrepKitchen space at 7556 Fay Ave. in La Jolla. The partners originally launched Semola in 2019 as a quick-service pasta booth at the Little Italy Food Hall. But Pizzigoni said the experience convinced them that they’re not fast-food purveyors, so they closed the booth last fall.
The new restaurant, which will seat about 30 to 35 patio diners initially, will have a menu developed by Michelin-starred Italian chef Silvio Salmoiraghiand Italian gastronome Paolo Tucci. Head chef will be Daniela Martinez, formerly of Il Dandy and Ironside. Pizzigoni said the menu will feature modern Italian pasta dishes and entrees like veal Milanese that incorporate seasonal local ingredients at affordable prices.
Ambrogio15 Del Mar
On May 27, a new incarnation of Ambrogio15 pizzeria will open at the Sky Deck, a 20,000-square-foot upscale food hall a the Del Mar Highlands Town Center at 12925 El Camino Real in Carmel Valley. The 55-seat, indoor/outdoor restaurant, designed to resemble Milan’s Piazza del Duomo, will offer pizzas that Pizzigoni hopes will revolutionize pizza-making in California, if not the U.S. Semola’s menu developer, Salmoiraghi, has also created the recipes for the new Ambrogio15, that will combine unique doughs with gourmet, seasonal toppings. The restaurant will have its own sommelier.