Whenever I am in San Diego, it is always difficult to choose where to dine. So many restaurants new and old, and so little time to try them all. On this evening, we dine at Catania, and arrive just as the sun is setting. It is beautiful and romantic, providing a wonderful backdrop for the night ahead. Usually, I am frantic because I’m losing natural light for photos, but tonight, I just sit back and enjoy the sunset for a little while longer.
Cocktails are in order and we decide on Api e Radice ($12) vodka, honey, carrot and lemon; Dragoncello ($12) dark rum, tarragon, lime and orange blossom to start.
Our server tells us that the end of citrus season is near and Citrus Salad ($11.75) won’t be around for much longer. Of course we are eager to try. Oro blanco, satsuma, blood orange and regular oranges grace the plate with olives, pistachios, shallot, simply dressed with red wine vinegar and an aromatic olive oil. Refreshing and palate-teasing, it tickles the taste buds and prepares you for a wonderful night ahead.
I am a huge fan of spot prawns and Charred Local Spot Prawns ($42) catches my eye. There are no words to describe how mind-blowingly delicious these plump crustaceans are, Coated with fennel, chile, garlic and oregano, we find ourselves licking our fingers while peeling the shell not wanting to lose any of the umami-filled juices dripping onto our fingers. A must-order!!
Another unique dish is Mackerel alla Beccafico ($12.75). Mackerel is de-boned and butterflied before they are stuffed with nduja sausage and rolled up. The finished package resembles beccafico (songbird), a delicacy eaten in Italy. Remove the bay leaf enveloping the fish before you eat. The breadcrumbs add textural contrast, while golden raisins gives a hint of sweetness. This is a good representation of Sardinian food typically eaten in Sicily, which is on point with the restaurant’s coastal Italian cuisine.
Wood Grilled Quail ($18.50) is right up my alley. I love all kinds of fowl and especially the smaller, more flavor-intense ones at that. Although the presentation isn’t all that attractive, know that it tastes oh so good. The addition of prosciutto adds saltiness, and sage is the perfect herb for any sort of poultry. The charred Treviso (radicchio) is phenomenal. I don’t understand why these vegetables usually used in a salad are not cooked more often. It lends a completely different flavor once you apply some heat to it — generally for the better.
Of course we aren’t able to leave without trying some of their house-made pastas. Duck Sugo Orecchiette ($22) is the first thing which attracts me. I love duck! Here, duck liver, duck skin, duck meat, reduced duck broth all come together to create this item. What’s not to like? It is rich, hearty and so comforting. Porcini mushrooms, parmesan. and red wine add to its decadence.
However, it didn’t take much to sell me the Squid Ink and Octopus Spaghetti ($23) either. These strands of house-made squid ink spaghetti have grooves and capture the sauce perfectly. Tossed with red wine braised octopus, house-made sweet fennel sausage, chile oil, bread crumbs and rapini. There are no words to describe the flavors and textures of this dish. If they do not bring the housemade chile oil to the table, ask for it. I am dousing it everywhere — on the orecchiette too!
As I mention before, I love cooked vegetables and therefore, Charred Escarole ($6) has to be eaten. It is a tad salty from the anchovies and, capers, but it does not stop me from devouring! I don’t know what it is about roasting vegetables which just gets me so excited about it.
I am only able to eat a bite of Torta de Pistacchio ($9), a dessert of polenta cake with fresh strawberries topped with a lemon sorbet. My dining companion is in love with it and that makes me ever so happy.
I am utterly satiated by this incredible meal and can not wait until my next visit here. I am dreaming of those spot prawns even as I write this!
Catania Coastal Italian
7683 Girard Avenue
La Jolla, CA 92037