BiCE! How do you pronounce it? “Beez”? “Beys”? “Bike”? Surprise! The name of this outstanding restaurant is pronounced “bee-chay.”
The restaurant is named after its founder, Beatrice Ruggeri, who was nicknamed affectionately “Bice.” She was born on a farm in Italy, the eldest of ten children. As such, she had to work hard to help her family. She married and moved with her husband, Dino, to Milan. She opened a “trattoria” named “Trattoris Da Dino e Bice.” Later, it became known simply as BiCE. She opened her restaurant over 90 years ago.
She cooked in the kitchen, while her husband and family served in the dining room. The food was excellent, emphasizing farm to table recipes and a family setting. The concept was so successful that, over the years, restaurants were opened all around the world. There are locations in the US, primarily in Florida as well as in such exotic locales as Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and more.
The restaurant group expanded to San Diego but, unfortunately, things did not work out. The restaurant closed after a short run. The economic downturn at the time just killed their business.
Several years later, the restaurant group tried again and opened in a new location in the Gaslamp. This time, the restaurant caught on and has been operating ever since.
Chef Mario Cassineri and his sous chef Francesca Penoncelli prepare excellent Northern Italian cuisine featuring local and seasonal items. Cassineri has over 25 years of culinary experience. Trained in Milan, he is passionate about his art. He opened his own restaurant at a young age , then worked with numerous well known chefs in Italy and around the world. His dishes look both to the culinary heritage of Italy as well as to modern culinary ideas.
Both Cassineri and Penoncelli have been honored to cook at the James Beard house, like the Academy Award of their industry. They have also received awards from the California Restaurant Association.
The interior of the restaurant is elegant, with high ceilings and subdued lighting. Tables are set in gleaming dishes and glassware on white tablecloths. Large windows permit diners to watch passersby in the Gaslamp.
BiCE is one of the few restaurants that feature a cheese bar. When seated, a cheesemonger will approach to help diners select from the varied offerings on the cheese menu. The gradient is “lighter, stronger, serious and intense” and the cheesemonger will explain the distinctions carefully.
An example of a lighter cheese is the Mielito, a semi soft cheese made from cow milk. A small amount of honey is added to milk during production and it is aged 30 days. Then it is covered with beeswax and aged another 30 days. The cheese has subtle flavors of butter and hay, a real “country” fresh taste.
Among the “serious” items, lovers of provolone cheese will delight with Provolone Stra Vecchio, made from cow’s milk and aged 18 months in a slow, lengthy climate controlled process. The result is a very sharp but distinct and pleasant flavor.
Wine may be paired beautifully with both cheese as well as the entrees to create memorable dining experiences. BiCE’s wine list is quite extensive, filled mostly with imports from Italy. The origin of each wine is identified. For Italian wines, the region of the country is identified. Some wines are available by the glass. Prices can be eye opening. One listed selection comes in at just under $900. For that truly memorable dinner.
The menu, on the other hand, is not extensive. Appetizers are typically Italian, such as Prosciutto di Parma con Burrata. The prosciutto is aged 18 months. One may also select Selezioni di Salami Artigianali, artisanal sulami from the cheese board.
The roasted vegetable salad mixes fine, fresh seasonal offerings which, one evening I attended, included squash, asparagus and snap peas.
Entrees are typically Italian. For example, pappardelle al ragu d’agnello features wonderfully prepared wide noodle pasta blended with a very meaty and tasty lamb ragu. The costoletta di vitello alla Milanese, prepared in the style of Milan, was a tender dish.
Everything is a la carte. Pasta dishes on the side include soft spinach gnocchi in a pesto sauce and penne in a tomato sauce.
Finally, desserts are typically Italian and include such sweet endings as scrigno di cioccolato, a golden chocolate cake with a gold dusted chocolate shell that is also gluten free. Or, try a dish of gelati e sorbetti that is served with mixed berries.
BiCE offers a daily happy hour, featuring $5 food items and a broad choice of specialty cocktails.
Private dining is available in a number of attractively appointed rooms. The restaurant is within walking distance of the Convention Center.
There are no surprises on the current menu. It is distinctively northern Italian. The food preparation is outstanding. The service is attentive and excellent. The setting is elegant. And, going along with all that, prices are moderate to high. But quality costs. Well worth it for that special evening or anytime.
BiCE is open daily for dinner. It is located at 425 Island Ave in the Gaslamp. Call (619) 239-2423 for information and reservations.