If you frequently dine in the Little Italy district of San Diego, chances are you’ve tried Bencotto Italian Kitchen, voted “Best Italian” by San Diego Magazine since 2010. But just about seven weeks ago, Little Italy welcomed Monello, Bencotto’s "younger brother," to the neighborhood. Also located in the “Q” building, right next door to Bencotto’s, Monello is an endearing phrase that means “naughty little boy.” This past Sunday morning, my cousin and I ventured into Little Italy to enjoy a bit of Italian-style brunch and taste for ourselves the passionate project owners Valentina DiPietro and husband Guido Nistri have begun.
After a week of “winter” weather in San Diego, the weekend sunshine was welcome window of summer in the middle of January. My cousin and I chose to dine al fresco, and sat at an intimate table alongside Monello’s outside terrace, which features a quiet, neighborhood feel alongside one of Little Italy’s side streets. After beginning the meal with two, dainty cups of espresso and sparkling water, we relaxed while watching as Little Italy sleepily started its day. A familiar sight for a Sunday morning in this neighborhood, a man with dark, square framed glasses walked past on a morning Starbucks run while a younger father pushed a stroller containing a pink, converse-wearing toddler.
We considered the menu intently, weighing both our cravings and the helpful insight from Monello’s obliging waitstaff. The menu at Monello features food that is meant to mirror Milanese street food. But street food in the elegant, fashion forward city of Milan is not like the hot dog stands in New York. “Street chic” is the idea behind the plates at Monello, combining cuisine that is both sweet and savory. From Panini Al Latte (stuffed mini Italian sandwiches) and brunch pizza (cheese sauce, bacon, spinach, and eggs) to Bomboloni (Italian-style filled doughnuts) and Cornetti (stuffed croissants), there is a bite of something to fulfill most everyone’s morning appetite. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, in addition to the regular breakfast menu, Monello also offers a Farmer’s Market Brunch, featuring ingredients and produce from Little Italy’s farmer’s market.
Ever reminded of just how related we are, my cousin and I both opted for something on the sweeter side of breakfast. I chose the ricotta pancakes while Lindy ordered the panettone French toast. The three, golden cakes I selected arrived ornately decorated with fresh blackberries, a drizzle of sweet berry sauce, and maple syrup; the ricotta made them airier than traditional pancakes. Lindy’s French toast came crowned with toasted almonds and accompanied by a cup of freshly made whipped cream.
Owner Guido Nistri graciously introduced himself and after noting our preference for sweet, had us sample a savory duo of mini Italian sandwiches—sopressata salami and fontina cheese folded between bites of semi sweet bread; and mortadella and provolone inside two rounds of a more traditional sandwich bread. We ended this brunch love affair with a sugared cloud of a doughnut filled with vanilla egg custard; and after such an indulgent breakfast, we left the modern, clean lines of the restaurant feeling a bit naughty ourselves.
For information about lunch plates, aperitivos and Monello’s secret, 27-ingredient recipe for homemade vermouth, plan a visit to this little piece of Milan that has found its way into the heart of San Diego's Little Itay.