Some say Bice is among the best restaurants in SanDiego for Italian cuisine
By Kelley Carlson
For an authentic Italian experience in “America’s Finest City,” people can turn to Bice Ristorante, in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. From the food to the employees and the atmosphere, Bice (pronounced “Bee-chey”) strives to re-create a slice of life from the boot-shaped peninsula in southern Europe. “We want to give the experience of more than only dinner,” said Mario Cassineri, executive chef and partner.
The establishment’s roots are bona fide Italian, as the first Bice (a nickname for the original owner, Beatrice Ruggeri) opened in 1926 in Milan, and eventually made its way to the States.
Many decades later, the San Diego operation, which began its current incarnation three years ago, serves Italian cuisine steeped in tradition, yet provides a modern and sleek style of decor. Guests won’t find red-and-white checkered tablecloths; instead, white and off-white linens are layered on top of each other, with fall-themed centerpieces of mini pumpkins and candles. Gauzy, cream-colored curtains frame tall windows; sepia-toned images stand out along the white walls. Autumnal-colored candles, jack-o’-lanterns and wine bottles accent dark, square shelves.
Bice Ristorante provides several areas for seating. Patrons can celebrate the daily happy hour in the bar/lounge, where there are several tables, a dozen bar seats and two TVs. From 5 to 7 p.m., items are $5, from the well drinks, house wines and the cocktail of the month, to the gourmet bar food menu, which includes Wagyu Beef Carpaccio on a Himalayan Sea Salt Rack and Signature Bice Lobster Crispy “Pizza.”
In the other direction is the dining room, where patrons can dine intimately or in small groups.
Lounge music in the style of artists such as Thievery Corporation plays in the background.
Those who are curious about Bice’s selections of vino can see into a wall-length wine room through glass.
The dining room is also home to the seven-seat cheese bar, which additionally serves about five types of imported salami and happy hour specials.
To truly get a taste of Bice, Cassineri recommends sampling the Italian cheeses. “Our menu is big, there is a lot of choice,” he said. There are 35 from which to choose, and people who have a hard time narrowing their favorites can get advice from Chef Francesca Penoncelli, who is nearly always behind the counter.
The dinner menu contains a number of selections, too, but it’s broken down into several courses. A person may start with antipasti such as Carpaccio di Bufala con Rafano e Topinambur Croccanti — thinly sliced buffalo carpaccio with mustard leaf salad and sunchoke chips in a horseradish and Dijon dressing. For the primi piatti (first course), there are dishes such as the Orzotto all’Aragosta e Burratina, which is “risotto style” barley with Maine lobster, tomato and burrata cheese. And for the secondi piatti, entrees include Filetto di Branzino alla Mediterranea Cotto Sul Cedro ed Essenza di Tartufo, Caponata Tiepida di Verdure — Mediterranean sea bass cooked on a cedar wood plank and finished with grape tomatoes and a fresh herb truffle emulsion served with caponata.
Everything is made to order at Bice, Cassineri said, so vegetarians and those who require gluten-free diets don’t need to worry.
This week, there will be pumpkin and mushroom delights. Recently, Bice received its $3,000-a-pound truffles from Alba, Italy, and concocted entrees such as the Risotto Carnaroli “Parmigiana,” with 28-months-aged Parmesan and truffle shavings.
“We try to stay on top all the time with new products coming in, what’s new on the market,” Cassineri said.
In addition, wine dinners spotlighting various labels are held periodically at the restaurant.
For parking in the lively Gaslamp Quarter, restaurantgoers may consider nearby garages when the metered spaces around Bice aren’t available. Another option is Horton Plaza, which is several blocks away, but will provide three hours of free parking with validation at one of its kiosks.
Furthermore, Bice has partnered with on-demand limo driver Uber, and first-time users can receive up to a $30 discount. After customers download the application on their smartphone, they set their pickup location, and the nearest driver will be dispatched, usually within minutes. To receive the special Bice discount code, guests can ask an employee.
Address: 425 Island Ave., San Diego
The Vibe: Elegant, classic, sophisticated
Signature Dishes: Carpaccio di Bufala con Rafano e Topinambur Croccanti; Orzotto all’Aragosta e Burratina; Ravioli di Coniglio e Cavolo alla Ligure, Fonduta di Porri e Riduzione di Vino Rosso; Filetto di Branzino alla Mediterranea Cotto Sul Cedro ed Essenza di Tartufo, Caponata Tiepida di Verdure
Open Since: 2009
Patio Seating: No
Take Out: Yes
Happy Hour: 5-7 p.m. daily
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
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