Bernini’s Bistro in La Jolla serves up dishes in the European tradition
By Kelley Carlson
Bernini’s Bistro presents a European-style dining experience in the heart of the American jewel of La Jolla. Much like its overseas counterparts, the establishment offers moderately priced fare in an elegant setting that is casual enough to be family-friendly.
The brick sidewalk patio, bordered by foliage, is enticing to passers-by, especially on sunny, warm days. Seats tend to fill quickly at these tables, which feature pots of poinsettias that add a touch of pizzazz.
“It’s a great place to sit,” said Hamdi Gumustekin, who has owned Bernini’s since 1998.
When night falls and temperatures dip, there are heat lamps to regulate the comfort level, and tiki torches provide a festive touch. Gumustekin’s artistic talent is showcased throughout the eatery — from the hummingbird and flowers painted on one of the patio’s brick columns to the “Welcome to Bernini’s” sign over the entrance. Ninety percent of the paintings were created by the restaurateur, including portraits of his daughter and a local dentist (a regular customer) just inside the front door.
Upon entering the establishment, customers will find a full bar, with lights fashioned from Grey Goose Vodka bottles. High on the wall on one end is a mural of chefs preparing pizzas; on the other end, two wide-screen televisions for viewing pleasure. Gumustekin can often be found mingling with patrons in the bar in the evenings.
The main dining area is divided into a couple of sections. One offers plenty of natural lighting with large, red-framed windows sometimes open to permit a gentle sea breeze. Landscape and portrait artwork decorate the yellow walls; guests’ heels click along the warm-hued tiles. A gold-framed mirror hangs above a polished heater. In another section, the brick walls and wood floor are subtly bathed in a warm glow from overhead lights; a wine rack houses Old and New World vintages. There are colorful paintings of such scenes as a farmers market and the village of Positano, Italy.
Nearly everything is homemade in the bistro, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. One breakfast item that gets rave reviews is the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with butter and syrup. Another popular choice: Eggs Diavola, which consists of grilled polenta rounds (handmade corncakes) that are topped with poached eggs, Pasilla tomato sauce and cheddar cheese. There is also French Toast, served with whipped cream.
The steaks and meats on the lunch and dinner menu are all-natural, with no preservatives or hormones, according to Gumustekin. He favors the 10-ounce Filet Mignon, which is flame-broiled and served with a baked potato and seasonal vegetables.
Seafood dishes to try, include the Salmon Alla Griglia, which is grilled salmon on butternut squash risotto; and Salmon Giudea, featuring salmon sauteéd with sweet red onions, red grapes, parsley and sauterne wine, with sides of rice pilaf and vegetables.
For dessert, there’s a delectable, homemade Tiramisu. Gumustekin is so confident in the sweet treat — layers of sponge cake soaked in coffee and liqueur with chocolate and mascarpone cheese — there’s a money-back guarantee if customers don’t love it. “It’s perfect,” he said.
To enhance the experience, check out the entertainment from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Styles range from jazz piano to guitar performing flamenco, rock and pop.
Address: 7550 Fay Ave., La Jolla
Phone: (858) 454-5013
The Vibe: European, relaxed, casual
Signature Dishes: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Eggs Diavola, French Toast, Filet Mignon, Salmon Alla Griglia, Salmon Giudea, Tiramisu
Open Since: 1989
Patio Seating: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Happy Hour: No
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
On The Menu Recipe
Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story.
This week: Bernini’s Lentil Soup
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