Many quality choices at Bernini’s

Bernini’s Bistro has long been a favorite breakfast and lunch destination for La Jollans, and it’s still a great choice. These days, there’s another side to the bistro, and it is attracting the dinner crowd.

Bernini’s adds tablecloths, cloth napkins, candles and wine goblets to the table settings starting at 5 every night. The outside patio area is lit up with tiki torches that invite folks in for a cozy meal.

The menu is a cut above the typical bistro lunch offerings at Bernini’s. Although you can still order pizzas, burgers, salads and a wide variety of pasta preparations for dinner, the new menu goes well beyond lunch.

The appetizer menu includes mozzarella caprese ($9.95), a stack of fresh mozzarella cheese, roma tomatoes, basil, avocado and pine nuts. Salmon cakes served on a bed of spinach with lemon pesto aioli sauce ($7.95), crab cakes with mixed greens ($11.95) and a sauteed eggplant dish in marinara sauce with mushroom, mozzarella cheese and hard-boiled egg ($9.95) are also on the menu.

Our favorite beginning to a dinner at Bernini’s Bistro is the Mediterranean platter ($10.95). This healthy mix of roasted red peppers, pasilla chiles, kalamata olives, roasted zucchini, red onions, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese makes a great start to any meal, and there’s enough food on this colorful platter to share with your dining partner.

Another strong starter at Bernini’s is the calamari ($10.95). Fried calamari dish is served with three shrimp and lemon pesto aioli, and it’s bound to please any calamari fancier.

Bernini’s features several salads, such as sweet walnut with field greens ($6.95), spinach with gorgonzola cheese and apple pecan dressing ($8.95) and arugula salad with flame-broiled chicken breast ($12.95). You can add salmon, shrimp, steak or chicken to a Caesar or baby field green salad for a wonderful main dish salad. These extras can beef up any salad on the menu. They start at $3.95.

You’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of the entrees Bernini’s serves for dinner. The meat section includes New York steak, a 12-ounce angus, flame broiled and prepared with gorgonzola sauce and port wine reduction. That classic American favorite, served with mashed potatoes and a pile of fresh seasonal vegetables, will cost you $22.95.

We tried the filet mignon with caramelized onions and rosemary butter ($24.95). The meat literally melts in your mouth, and the portion size means you’ll probably need a doggie bag.

Other selections under the “by land” category include stuffed chicken breast with spinach, ricotta cheese and toasted almonds ($15.95). This dish, served with butternut squash, seasonal vegetables and a bed of bechamel sauce, is one of three chicken breast preparations.

Seafood lovers will have no trouble picking a winner at Bernini’s Bistro. The selections include grilled salmon on butternut squash risotto ($16.95), blackened mahi-mahi ($22.95), macademia nut-crusted halibut with coconut spinach risotto ($26.95), boullabaise ($22.95), trout almondine with rice pilaf ($13.95) and prawns sauteed with garlic, cilantro, crayfish and tomatoes ($18.95). The prawns are topped off with lobster cream sauce.

This family-run business has a pleasant front patio and is a great place for people watching. Bernini’s is at 7550 Fay Ave. Call (858) 454-5013.