Italian Cooking at Monello
Created by a husband-and-wife team from Northern Italy, Guido Nistri and Valentina Di Pietro, with the support of Chef Fabrizio Cavallini, Monello offers a unique approach to Italian cooking.
Get Your Risotto Prepared Tableside In A Giant Cheese Wheel At Monello
Parmesan wheel of deliciousness!September 30, 2015
Monello in Little Italy is spicing up their Wednesdays with more than just great wine. In addition to recently announcing they would only be serving 100% organic pasta, the “naughty little brother” to Bencotto Italian Kitchen has also recently introduced Wednesday on Wheel, offering tableside preparations of their favorite risotto recipes.
Every Wednesday from 5pm to close, Monello offers a dining experience unlike any other. Guests can order a risotto special to be cooked tableside out of a Raspadura parmesan cheese wheel. While the chef stirs your dish to a creamy perfection he will tell you about the preparation as you watch in excitement. Monello is the only restaurant in San Diego to cook and present risotto in this unique fashion. The dish, which changes every week, is about $25 and is large enough to share. Some recent specials were risotto with black truffle and Risotto alla Aragosta (lobster risotto - see below).
Monello is located at 750 West Fir Street in Little Italy. For more information, visit lovemonello.com or call (619) 501-0030.
Monello / little italy – san diego, ca
December 26th, 2013
Last month my old friend, Sarah, was in town for a short visit. Sarah is one of my oldest friends, who I’ve known since the ripe old age of 10. She was staying overnight in Little Italy and so I chose a spot nearby, a place I’ve been wanting to try forever: Monello! This was originally supposed to be our last stop on the Cheese Crawl, but we were all too full to go to another restaurant.
Jake was a little grumpy with me that I had picked a spot in Little Italy for dinner, since Little Italy is such a pain in the ass for parking. It was a Sunday evening and we managed to find parking about three blocks away on the north side of Little Italy, were it’s a little less developed.
Sarah was already there snacking on the complimentary lupini beans. They had a bit of seasoning and spice on the outside. You’re supposed to pop these out of the shells before eating them, reminding me a bit of edamame. I thought these were just okay.
[panzerotti / lightly fried mini calzones - $8]
These little fried calzones had caught my eye from looking at the menu and I just had to have them. The skin almost looks crispy like a wonton wrapper, gettin’ all bubbly.
Here’s the melted, gooey inside. It sort of looks like a creamy tomato sauce in there with a bit of herbs. The outside was puffy and a bit chewy. There was a very slight crisp edge to the outside though it wasn’t particularly crunchy. The crust stayed chewy, sort of the way a pizza is. I liked these, they were yummy though I wished they had more cheese inside of them.
[formaggi pizza / mozzarella parmigiano, fontina and gorgonzola - $16]
T ordered a pizza for his meal. I had a little bit and the blend of cheese was very good.
The crust was very nice, you can see a few browned spots on the underside. The middle was a little too soft, but the outer edges of the crust was quite nice.
[piadine porchetta (rolled bites) / herb roasted pork, fontina, arugula - $13]
Sarah ordered this porchetta rolled bite as her meal, but she was nice enough to share a little bit with us. The porchetta was super flavoful. I don’t remember what the “rolled” wrapping is, it sort of looks like a tortilla but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t it, haha. I think it was some kind of flatbread. The touch of herbs made this taste very bright and fresh. I’m generally not a fan of arugula but there was a minimal amount here so it didn’t annoy me.
[carbonara / bacon, pecorino, eggs, black pepper - $16]
I can’t decide if Jake’s dish or mine was my favorite of the evening. I know Jake liked his carbonara the best, and I have to admit that it was pretty damn delicious. All of the pasta is made in house here, and you can really tell the difference. It has a particular bite to it that sets it apart and elevates it. The mixture of the crispy, yummy bacon was really nice here and the carbonara “sauce” brought it all together.
[cacio e pepe / extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, pecorino, parmigiano - $14]
Myself, I decided to try the cheese pasta. This is very cheesy and kind of on the dry side since there isn’t really a sauce. But if you’re a fan of cheese, like I am, then you’ll definitely be into this dish. I did kind of wish for a little something to make it a little less dry, but I still really liked it. They also make maccheroni (which is like macaroni) and gnocchi. I almost got the gnocchi, but I had recently been disappointed by some gnocchi and didn’t want to risk it again. But I’d love to come back and try it now that I know the other things here are totally delicious!
After this feast and having an appetizer, I couldn’t justify getting a dessert. Though you know I wanted to. It just means we’ll have to come back to try dessert and I’ll have to get my paws on that gnocchi…
750 W Fir St.
San Diego, CA 92101
Little Italy's Monello | An Authentic Farmers' Market-Inspired Brunch
February 1, 2013
Some of my fondest memories derive from a summer spent traveling throughout Italy. Italia is a remarkable country where the people embrace the beauty of simplicity, understand the comforts of leisure and take pride in even the smallest of tasks. So it goes at Monello in the 'Q' Building of Little Italy, where we recently enjoyed a stellar Italian-inspired weekend brunch on a most beautiful San Diego day. As the warm sun shined in my face, I sipped on my Bellini, enjoyed a simple salad of rocket and fresh mozzarella, ordered my brunch, and was instantly swept back to Parma. But wait, does 'brunch' as we know it even exist in Italy?
Main dining area
"Milan is a very fashionable city and is currently going through a change, as it embraces more American trends," explained co-owner Guido Nistri. "Brunch is popping up more and more; and although we Italians are used to more of a relaxed, nibble approach to our morning meals, we are starting to embrace larger breakfasts and specifically brunch." So there you have it - Italian brunch it is!
Monello is the little sister of neighboring Bencotto, both owned and operated by Milanese husband and wife Guido and Valentina, as well as Executive Chef Fabrizio Cavallini. Translating to "naughty little boy" in English, Monello is inspired by Italian culinary traditions and the upscale street food found in Milan - simple dishes prepared with high quality ingredients. At Monello, take comfort in the fact that if it is not sourced from Italy, it comes from local markets, with most ingredients prepared in house - from the mozzarella to the bread and pasta to the sweet vermouth.
Monello is located on a quiet street in Little Italy with a European style, dog-friendly patio, featuring glimpses of the San Diego Bay and harbor. Described as "trattoria chic," the ultra modern interior boasts stamped concrete walls, a bakery display for prepared piattini and a sit down bar stocked with wines and spirits. On a saunter to the restrooms, be sure to take notice of the refrigerator display cases where cured meats and cheeses are described and marked with their location of origin.
To get into the mood, we ordered one of each of the brunch cocktails: an Italian version of the Parisian Mimosa, the Bellini combines peach puree with Prosecco, while the Rossini combines strawberry basil puree with the Italian sparkling white wine ($10). Both were refreshing and definitely featured the delicate wine rather than their fruity additions, making a not-so-sweet compliment to a savory meal.
Of the panini al latte (stuffed mini bite sandwiches), we enjoyed a soppressata salami and fontina cheese, as well as a caprese with mozzarella, tomato and basil ($4 each). Each of the handheld delights were perfectly composed with fresh, flavorful ingredients, and surely a light, yet satisfying treat we'd stop in for on any venture to Little Italy. We also indulged in an arugula salad with housemade mozzarella, fresh tomato and a drizzling of robust olive oil, an ideal combination demonstrating how simple ingredients can make for a delicious and inspired dish. We also received warm house made bread - truly the best bread we've had in San Diego, maybe beyond. This soft, airy bread was perfectly chewy, with amazing viscosity and elasticity, the product of a 4 day, labor-of-love: the dough ferments for four days, enhancing the flavor and character of the bread (same as the pizza dough).
From the breakfast menu, we chose the Monello eggs benedict ($10), two stacks layered with thick cut proscuiutto, atop thin slices of crisp bread, with poached eggs, and fontina cheese, covered in pesto hollandaise and accompanied by a refreshing side salad.
We also opted for the brunch pizza, which was more than enough to fill two hungry brunch goers ($14 and only served on Sat. & Sun.). This bad boy is Monello's fantastic crust topped with ingredients sourced from Saturday's Little Italy Farmers' Market - cheese sauce, crisp bacon, sauteed spinach, and two sunny side up eggs. A great rendition of a rising trend, this pizza would be fun to share amongst a group and definitely comes recommended.
Monello's brunch pizza
To end our beautiful Saturday mid-day meal, we ordered two caffè - a macchiato and a marocchino (each $4) - and lulled our bellies into a food coma with a famed bomboloni ($5) - fried sweet dough filled with vanilla egg custard, dusted generously with cinnamon sugar.
Monello is an undeniably authentic and welcomed addition to the vibrant and bustling neighborhood of Little Italy. As a recent recipient of the coveted 'Quality' rating from the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West (one of the first San Diego recipients of this world-renowned designation), the Bencotto family of restaurants stays true to its roots, while embracing local trends and products to provide a quality dining experience.
Monello is located at 750 West Fir Street, Little Italy and is open offering lunch Tuesday - Sunday beginning at 11:30 AM; aperitivo from 4-7 PM; and dinner from 5 - 10PM; as well as farmer's market brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10AM - 3:30PM.
Follow Monello on Facebook and Twitter.
750 West Fir Street, Little Italy
Birthday Dinner at Monello in Little Italy
I’m just about ready to post my yearly edition of free birthday food but first – a recap of my birthday dinner at Monello. I picked Monello because I love pasta and they make their pasta daily. Fresh pasta makes such a difference!
We got there on a Sunday afternoon and pretty much had the place to ourselves. That was nice since we could all hear each other! Our waiter gave us all samples of their housemade sweet vermouth. I liked it, but not enough to want more. This little sample was actually enough to give me a slight buzz… what can I say, I’m a lightweight!
Here’s the menu for Monello.
They also have pizza!
Someone ordered the Panzerotti [$11] and while I didn’t take a photo of the full plate, I did photo one half that I took to munch on. The cheese is oozing out!
A few of us shared this Misto [$16] dish which I thought of as a “sampler platter”. It’s got fried shrimp, fried zucchini, and calamari all in one dish. Yum!
I had a really hard time choosing what I wanted to get. Everything sounded so delicious but I ended up choosing the Monello with Spaghetti [$19]. They have six different sauces to choose from if you want “Pasta Your Way” and the Monello sounded like the best of the bunch. It had marinara, cream, and applewood smoked bacon. It almost looks like just a regular old meat sauce but once you have a bite of the pasta you’re hit with the smokiness of that bacon! The sauce was incredibly delicious and I loved the flavor and smoke. The pasta was perfectly cooked as well. I was only able to eat about 1/3 of the pasta since I had appetizers first. That wasn’t a bad thing though since I enjoyed the pasta for lunch the next day. Hells yeah!
Alyssa chose to get the Spaghetti Nero Con Polipo [$22] aka “squid ink pasta with octopus”. It almost looks like a Halloween dish!
Laura got the Spaghetti di Zafferano Con Gamberi [$25] which is saffron spaghetti, shrimp, lemon zest, and prosecco cream sauce. She gave me a little bite and it tasted similar to the dish I got at Bencotto a few weeks ago. I like that they put in whole shrimp plus cut up bits of shrimp to maximize the shrimpiness of the dish!
Jake and David both got the Lasagna Monello [$20] which I ALMOST ordered because I love the lasagna over at Bencotto. But spaghetti won for me that day. Jake gave me a bite of his lasagna and man it was good. Delicious layers of meat sauce + besciamella sauce and SO MUCH CHEESE. Oh. It’s cheesy pasta heaven!
Allison got the Carbonara with Spaghetti [$19] which is a mighty fine choice. I’ve had this before and it does not disappoint!
Maile chose to get the awesomely rich Caramelle [$22] pasta which is a mushroom and truffle lovers dream. It’s so darn rich and full of creamy goodness.
I could have sworn I took a photo of Stacey’s pasta but meh… I can’t find it! Frank got the same thing as me so he was the only one who didn’t have their food taken away from them before they could eat it. Ha.
A few of my friends ordered this Pannacotta al Cioccolato [$8] which is a chocolate custard dessert with a bunch of whipped cream on top. It tasted like a really luscious chocolate pudding. Totally better than that Jello in a cup stuff.
I ordered the Torta di Mele [$8] which is a like a fancy apple pie. There’s no crust on top, just pretty apples and powdered sugar, and there’s custard in the pie as well. The crust was soft and there were tons of thinly sliced apples inside!
If I had known they would bring out a scoop of gelato for me I might not have gotten that apple pie! I felt like a hobbit having second dessert.
Thanks to my wonderful super duper awesome friends for coming out to have dinner with me for my birthday! And thanks to Monello for having incredibly delicious food!
restaurant week preview at monello in little italy
I was invited to check out a preview of San Diego Restaurant Week this year and my choice of restaurant was Monello in Little Italy. Jake and I first visited Monello back in December 2013 and I remember loving their homemade pasta so I was looking forward to a revisit.
We were warmly greeted by the manager of Monello, Paul, who was delightful and really engaging. I saw him constantly interacting with all of the guests dining in the restaurant that evening, helping to create a really welcoming and warm atmosphere. Our waiter, Chris, was also awesome and gave us a few good suggestions from the menu. One of the owners, Valentina, also stopped by to stay hi and we found her to so friendly and genuine, really caring about the food and the restaurant.
Monello’s Restaurant Week menu for dinner – three courses for $35.
And Monello’s lunch menu for $20! Both include some really great deals on their delicious food. The lunch menu has more of the pastas… mmmm.
We didn’t order solely from the Restaurant Week menu, but we did try a few of the things on there.
We started off with Monello’s complimentary Lupini Beans which are nicely seasoned but Jake and I both didn’t really care for the flavor of the beans themselves. Mostly I just liked the seasoning on the outside. Hah!
[bensonhurst / $10]
Chris suggested this drink for Jake to try. It’s got cucumber lime grappa infusion, pressed lime, bitters and ginger beer in it (the menu online says cinnamon but it’s changed to cucumber lime). Jake was hesitant because he’s not really into cucumber OR lime, but he went with it and actually ended up really liking the drink. I thought it was a nice balance of flavors and I love the bit of ginger beer hinting around in the background.
[sweet vermouth on the rocks]
Paul told us all about their house made sweet vermouth that they make on site. We don’t consider ourselves vermouth fans but he gave us a little sample to try out. Hey, we’ll try just about anything!
I loved the little shot glasses by the way. Adorable.
The sweet vermouth was quite strong and was almost kind of…. spicy. But I don’t mean “hot” spicy, I mean so many flavors and spices were going on it just one sip. It was also very smooth going down so it was easy to sip on and drink. I’m not really sure if I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it either. If that makes sense. It’s awesome they make their own vermouth though. Who does that?! Apparently the folks at Monello do!
Paul also completely insisted we tried some of their Raspa Dura cheese and considering I would never say no to cheese, we quickly agreed. This thinly shaved cheese is aged for about six months and is a hard cheese. It tasted very similar to Parmesan cheese and we really loved it. We didn’t actually order any dishes that came with it (I saw it on a pizza and a pasta dish) but the flavor of this cheese is outstanding. It’s a little nutty, a little salty, and very tasty.
We kind of did things in a lazy-ish way. We picked our dishes for each course one at a time instead of ordering all together. This put a little extra time in between dishes but I think it made it easier to digest everything and we were really just enjoying our time at the restaurant. We ordered a pizza for our first dish and we got a little plate of seasonings on the side. I loved that they served it like this, instead of in a bottle that could be hanging around on a table for months…
[pizza piccante / $17]
The pizza we choose is also the one available on the Restaurant Week menu: The Pizza Piccante. It’s a nice and simple dish that comes with mozzarella, arrabbiata sauce, spicy salame. I was a little worried it would be too spicy! The salame was quite spicy on it’s own but I enjoyed it much more when I ate it as a whole. I actually preferred it without the salame in the end, though the salame was very flavorful. It was almost like a very high end pepperoni in terms of spice but not greasy at all.
The crust was actually my favorite part of the pizza with it’s slightly blistered crust. Valentina, the owner, ended up telling us that the dough for the crust takes four days to make! The result is this airy, light, crispy and chewy crust that is super thin in the middle but actually holds up really well. The middle wasn’t soggy at all and it was perfectly crisp throughout. Jake and I both really loved it! Jake thought he could probably eat one of these very single day, it was so delicious.
[caesar monello / $9]
Second course: salad! This is another dish available on the restaurant week menu. It comes with romaine, caesar dressing, herb bread croutons, and a crunchy parmesan crisp and is served “wedge” style. I totally ate this with a fork and a knife. The caesar dressing had a kick-you-in-pants flavor that I liked but my favorite part were the herb croutons! I could probably just sit and eat croutons as a snack instead of potato chips. Does that make me weird?
[caramello ai porchini e tartufo / $22]
I strayed from the restaurant week menu to order this pasta dish: the caramelle ai porcini e tartufo. It’s a handmade pasta filled with porcini and black truffle and covered in truffle cream sauce. Mmmm… think of all of the goodness…
Here’s a peek at the inside of this fluffy pillows of goodness. The inside was so creamy and smooth and I loved the overall flavor of the dish. The truffle cream sauce has the right amount of truffle to scent and flavor it without being totally overwhelming. BUT… this dish is so so so RICH. I only managed to eat three of the little pockets and I loved them but I could not eat any more of it after that. I almost wished I could just have two of them with a side of chicken or something to break up the richness of the dish.
[polenta with spicy tomato pork ribs / $13]
Jake decided to go for the polenta. On the restaurant week menu it comes with mushrooms, but he’s not into mushrooms and got it with the pork ribs instead. You get the full on baby back rib bone right on top of the polenta and the spicy tomato sauce lends a bit of extra flavor to the polenta and the pork. The pork ribs were quite tender and came clean off the bone once you tugged on it a little with your fork. Jake really loved this dish but admitted that it’s a lot to eat with all of that polenta! The polenta itself got most of it’s flavor and seasoning from the pork and I felt like the polenta needed just a little more seasoning – a touch of salt or some cheese mixed it. But it was still quite good.
[torta di mele]
Jake decided to go for the Torta di Mele. The only difference from this and the restaurant week version is that there’s no gelato. It’s a homemade apple cake with thinly sliced layers of apples and a nice soft crust on the outside. I excepted it to have a hard crust but the soft crust was actually really nice.
I didn’t take a photo of the dessert menu so I don’t know what this is really called, so I’m just calling it “Chocolate Pudding”. It had a much fancier name, I assure you. On top there’s a bit of fresh whipped cream and a swirl of raspberry sauce and sliced almonds.
Once you dig further in your rewarded with a semi-sweet chocolate pudding that’s soft but not over-the-top rich. The raspberry sauce gives it a little extra tang but the creamy chocolate is excellent on it’s own. I didn’t think Jake would enjoy it but he did actually like it because it wasn’t overly sweet. The real chocolate flavor shines through and was the perfect end to a really excellent meal.
This whole meal just makes me want to come back and try more of their items…. like on the brunch menu, and to try the gnocchi and the other pastas and pizzas and… hoo boy. Everything here is so good and the food is so well made and prepared. I can’t believe it took us this long to come back!
San Diego Restaurant Week starts this Sunday, January 18th and runs through Saturday, January 24th. View the full list of participating restaurants on their website.