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de’ Medici Cucina San Diego– Turning 21

| October 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Life is full of change, especially in the restaurant business. Sometimes, restaurants close their doors and go out of business before I even have an opportunity to visit. Even in the Gaslamp.
For example, Ingrid Croce, wife of the famous singer Jim Croce, who helped start the development of the Gaslamp by building a highly successful restaurant that venerated the memory of her late husband, eventually had to close and move to Hillcrest. Then, despite a history of offering wonderful food and entertainment for years, she eventually went out of business.

But, right across the street from Croce’s former location on 5th Avenue, de’ Medici Cucina continues to serve Italian cuisine featuring recipes from both Northern and Southern Italy. Its owner, Sal Vitale came by my table to say, “Be sure to tell people that we are celebrating our 21st anniversary here.”

For that many years, Vitale’s restaurant has offered more than a generation of locals and visitors great cuisine mixed with personal hospitality. Always beautifully dressed in well tailored suits, Vitale loves to flit between tables to greet and chat with new and familiar faces.

De’ Medici’s location allows it to draw business from local hotels and the convention center. To attract the business, Vitale built a glass enclosed meeting room that is equipped with audiovisual and other presentation capability, as well as with drapes to provide privacy.

That was part of a large renovation that really transformed the interior of the restaurant. For years, the interior was decorated with Michelangelo-like figures that gave it a Sistine Chapel like feel. After the renovation, the walls are mirrored and the booths are new.

Framed pictures of Vitale and others are set on booths’ arm rests. The wall to the meeting room is clear glass. The mirrors and clear glass make the dining room look much larger, until the drapes drop.
At least the open kitchen and the voice of Sinatra in the background remain unchanged.

There is also a large patio in front of the restaurant, for outdoor dining that feels more casual and lets diners enjoy the street parade.
Vitale has the ability to retain staff for years. Our server, for example, had worked there for over seven years, the general manager even longer. Even the chef had been there for ages.

Before ordering, the server brought garlic bread tightly wrapped in a napkin – two partially split rolls somewhat toasted and lightly covered with garlic flavor. The presentation and small portion surprised me but I munched on a roll while reviewing the menu.

The restaurant features pasta, seafood and steaks, accompanied by a range of antipasti, soups and salads. Calamari fritti, fried baby calamari with a marinara sauce, is a good way to begin. The crisp clean texture of the calamari is exciting. Melanzane alla parmagiana, grilled eggplant covered with cheese, also with marinara sauce, is a good alternative.

The lobster bisque has some seafood taste but was sadly lacking in lobster meat and had an overwhelming tomato taste. On the other hand, the Ceasar salad is prepared tableside and the show is worthwhile.

There is an impressive list of seafood offered. The restaurant’s signature dish is fresh filet of sole stuffed with lobster, crab & shrimp then oven baked to a golden brown and topped with a parsley butter glaze. It is light and very tasty. Sea bass maremonte, fresh sea bass sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and white wine, with mushrooms and marinara sauce on a bed of rice also is excellent.

Scallopini alla Marsala, sliced veal sautéed in Marsala wine and mushroom sauce was disappointing. The portion was small, the meat squishy and its flavor was overwhelmed by an unidentifiable spice. Perhaps the chef had an off night. On the other hand, the rib eye steak, prime quality aged for 21 days, was perfectly prepared. Both dishes were served with a few strips of asparagus and baby carrots that were overly sweet.

Different pasta shapes – spaghetti, linguini, fettucinni, gnocchi – combine with different ingredients to create appealing flavors. Gnocchi Ponte Vecchio, named after that wonderful old bridge in Venice, features fresh potato dumplings in a delightful gorgonzola and pesto sauce.

There is a lengthy wine list with international labels. One or more wines in each category is available by the glass. Prices by the glass are moderate. By the bottle, prices are moderate to high. Menu prices are moderate to expensive. Perhaps high prices are needed to pay the high Gaslamp rents. Even parking is expensive. On Saturday night, it cost $15 to leave my car at the curb.

Happy 21st anniversary, de’ Medici. Since 1995, you’ve fed and entertained hordes of happy diners. May your success continue.
De’ Medici is located at 815 Fifth Avenue, in the Gaslamp. Call (619) 702-7228 for reservations and information. The restaurant is open nightly for dinner.

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