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Italian like mama used

Cafe Milano, a family-owned restaurant in the heart of La Jolla, has fine-tuned that formula and created a neighborhood Italian eatery that keeps diners coming back for modest-priced meals that satisfy the eye and the palate.

Chef and owner Pasquale Cianni and his family use Old World recipes and the very freshest ingredients. Everything is made in-house, including the wonderful bread and the mozzarella cheese that makes the restaurant’s mozzarella caprese ($8.95) such a popular first course.

Cafe Milano offers a taste of Milan that most tourists never get. As Pasquale said, “These are my mother’s recipes.”

You just can’t beat mama’s cooking, can you?

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Unlike southern Italian cookery, the cuisine at Cafe Milano is light and delicate, and the homemade pasta is exceptional.

The informal restaurant serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and begins serving dinner at 4 p.m. every day. You can dine until 10 p.m. either in the attractive Tuscan-style interior or on the cozy and very pleasant outdoor patio facing Pearl Street. The vine-covered sidewalk patio offers some privacy and is the perfect spot to enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner.

There are several exciting appetizers on the cold antipasti menu, including bruschetta ($5.95), carpaccio arugula ($10.95), which features razor-thin filet mignon crowned with shaved parmigiano cheese, fresh arugula and capers. Our favorite is the mozzarella caprese, served with tomato and basil and topped off with artichoke hearts and extra-virgin olive oil.

You may have a hard time narrowing down your choice of hot appetizers, although the melanze ($8.95) is our hands-down favorite. This dish features eggplant stuffed with ricotta cheese and buried under a blanket of rich tomato sauce.

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The portobello alla griglia ($8.95) is another good choice. It consists of marinated mushroom cap grilled with virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The balsamic is so good - and so popular with local diners - it is available by the bottle to take home.

The entree selection runs the gamut of chicken, veal, seafood and pasta. Look at the section of the menu titled “Specialita dello chef” to see some of the chef’s signature dishes.

We love the cuscinetti di vitello ($18.95), a veal delicacy stuffed with fontina cheese, prosciutto and fresh basil. It is served with wild mushrooms and finished off with a heavenly brandy cream sauce.

Another signature dish of Cafe Milano is the fettuccini Milano ($16.95). This seafood extravaganza piles shrimp, sea scallops and mushrooms atop the fettuccini, then covers them with a creamy pesto sauce.

With about a dozen pasta preparations to choose from, you won’t have any trouble finding one to suit your fancy. Try linguini with meatball or sausage ($12.95), or capellini primavera ($12.95), which features a medley of fresh vegetables in a cream tomato sauce.

The lunch menu includes panini sandwiches, pastas and a few entrees. A good selection for a light but satisfying lunch might be the clams and mussels in a light tomato sauce, served over linguini ($10.95), or the chicken breast sauteed with garlic and topped with sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and portobello mushrooms in a marsala sauce.

All the desserts are homemade and delicious. The cheesecake is especially good, and the pineapple sorbet is fantastic.

Excellent service, a delightful ambiance, and memorable culinary offerings add up to a fine dining experience you can enjoy with the whole family.

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Cafe Milano is at 711 Pearl St. Call (858) 454-3806.