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We invite you to try our delicious Italian tapas and extensive wine selection at Apertivo, our newly reopened restaurant in San Diego's North Park community. Rather than serving overpriced individual large plates like so many other restaurants, here you can enjoy several tastes in one meal. We serve affordably priced appetizer-sized portions of Italian-inspired dishes made from the freshest and highest-quality ingredients available - no preservatives, no MSG, no partially hydrogenated oils. All of our food is hand-made here, and our atmosphere is relaxed and casual. We want you to feel like you're visiting our home for dinner and a glass of wine. All of our more than 20 varieties of wines, Italian and International are reasonably priced, because we believe that wine doesn't have to be pretentious or intimidating to be savored. None or our menu items have more than three to four ingredients; we think the food should speak for itself. Our produce is the freshest we can buy - seasonal, locally grown, and mostly organic. And we use only extra-virgin olive oil in our cooking to evoke the spirit of true Mediterranean cuisine -- clean, fresh, and simple. We look forward to having you over for dinner at Apertivo. Buon apetito!
News and Reviews

San Diego Magazine 2006
by Robin Kleven Dishon
IN A PROMOTION-DRIVEN WORLD filled with press releases, e-mail blasts and media parties, good old word of mouth still sells restaurants. Take the night we were chatting with a couple of strangers at 3rd Corner in Ocean Beach. Perusing the stacks of wine for sale, debating the merits of New Zealand Pinot Noir versus Châteauneuf-du-Pape to accompany dinner, we started talking local restaurants.

There's this great little place in North Park, they declared. It's noisy but fun. And cheap, with some great food. It's like a Spanish tapas bar, only with Italian food and bigger servings. And did we mention it's a wine bar too?
Thank you, fellow foodies. You were absolutely right about Apertivo. Open for dinner only, Apertivo Italian Tapas & Wine Bar is a treat for all who love to graze, sample, nibble, dabble and taste.

The lengthy menu (and Italy-centric wine list) is designed with sampling in mind. At conventional Italian eateries, you're forced to choose between the Caesar salad and the antipasto . . . the chicken marsala or the pollo piccata . . . the linguini with pesto or alfredo or marinara. Here, you simply order them all. These appetizer-size portions are just right for sharing with companions, or bringing home as leftovers for the next day's lunch.

Prices will leave holiday-weary wallets intact. Most pastas, salads and vegetables cost from $3 to $5; $7 buys a chicken creation or a hearty lamb shank. Wines by the glass are similarly priced.

It's a smart strategy devised by chef/ owner Ken Cassinelli and his wife, Janie Losli: Offer simple, straightforward home cooking with an emphasis on value and flavor. Let your guests decide how hungry they are. Encourage them to experiment with different wines at low prices. Presto! Watch lines form outside the door.

Cassinelli prides himself on coaxing maximum flavor from a minimum of ingredients. Take his Caesar salad ($4), topped with a sure-handed whisking of oil, eggs and anchovy fillets. It's subtle, yet more complex than many a version costing three times as much.

Unfussy vegetable dishes such as roasted red peppers, sherry-sautéed mushrooms or fresh haricots verts (French beans sizzled in garlic) taste roadsidestand fresh. In less experienced hands, eggplant can be bitter. Here, the rollatinis ($4) fashioned from fresh slices of the temperamental veggie, paired with tangy goat cheese and shredded Swiss chard, then baked with marinara, are sweet. Chef Ken, once a practicing vegetarian, offers a considerable variety of meat-free selections and can create vegan-friendly versions upon request.

Apertivo's chicken dishes ($7 apiece) are up to scratch as well. Prepared with bite-sized, boneless strips, the meat is consistently tender, the sauces perky and bold. We're partial to the chicken diablo flecked with chilies and the lovably boozy Marsala. Pair one or the other with a side veggie or garlic bread for a complete $10 meal.

Nightly specials are posted on the blackboard out front. One night's lamb ossobuco ($7), slow roasted with onions, oregano, red wine and garlic, was the definition of rustic charm.

Pastas (served as a mix 'n' match menu of sauces and pasta shapes, $4 to $7) can be unpredictable. Our fettucine alfredo epitomized the dual pleasures of Romano cheese and cream, and the linguini affumicato (smoked mozzarella, caramelized onion and prosciutto) was downright dreamy. But the carbonara was dry, lacking that luxurious texture this blend of eggs, Parmesan and pancetta should provide.

Desserts didn't disappoint. Made with a minimum of sugar, unlike so many American versions, Apertivo's finales appeal to grown-up palates and are wellsuited to pairing with dessert wines. Bread pudding (topped with cream and port sauce), chocolate mousse pie and pound cake drizzled with raspberries and framboise all warrant your time and the $4 price tag.

Prices on the wine list are as refreshing as a glass of Falanghina. Sample this dry, food-friendly white from Southern Italy for $5.75, or enjoy a fruity, floral Vermentino for just $4. Fritz's California fruit-bomb Chardonnay is $5.75, while an easy-drinking Italian rosé goes for $4.25. On the red side, user-friendly Italian Barbera, Shiraz and Chianti all go for under $4 a glass.

Feeling experimental? Assemble your own flights of fancy by ordering halfglasses of the wines of your choice. Or check the board behind the bar for the night's recommended tasting. Of course, wines by the bottle are offered as well.

For all its assets, Apertivo rates a few caveats. The dimly lit, shoebox-shape dining room, bare-walled save for European ad posters, can be cacaphonous. Conversations quickly drown out the background music, and the tables, although well-spaced, are anything but private. A couple of tables on the sidewalk offer a bit more peace.

The service is brisk and affable, though, and the place feels like home. Couples and singles of all ages and backgrounds; families with kids; locals and visitors drawn by the nearby theater and Ray Street galleries. All mingle, nibble and sip contentedly at Apertivo.
The owners have no current plans to open other locations. But we'd love to see an Apertivo in every zip code. We'll even do the word of mouth.

Dining
Epicurious Eating: Apertivo
Hard to resist, easy on the wallet
by Frank Sabatini Jr.
Published Thursday, 16-Dec-2004 in issue 886
“You can’t even buy a salad at Jack-in-the-Box for these prices!” exclaimed one of my dining cohorts as we gawked over the menu at the new Apertivo. It was as though we were reading a serious misprint. Italian tapas such as Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Parmesan and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms all priced in the low single digits for under $6 apiece? The portions must be microscopic, we thought. Suddenly a $3 antipasto flew by us. “That doesn’t look so small,” noted my other dining companion. “And I’m sure I saw meat and cheese in it,” he blurted.

Still skeptical, we ordered it along with two other salads also costing $3 each. Had we not been a trio, I could have gotten fat on greens. The antipasto, though served on a pie-size plate, sported plenty of mozzarella and diced salami for the price. The arugula salad with crumbled Gorgonzola and sweet onions was also satisfying. Ditto for the spinach salad with bits of hard-boiled egg. Sharing was believing.

Chef Ken Cassinelli and his wife, Janie Losli, are seemingly giving away their Italian-tapas restaurant since opening last month. But Cassinelli says, “The numbers are working out” when referring to his bottom line. He also notes that overhead is low, given the fact Losli waits on tables and there isn’t much else of a staff. Faced with such bargain prices, we ordered lawlessly. From the meat lineup, we tried the Grilled Chicken Breast ($4), a simple but delicious filet served in a puddle of olive oil with parsley and a slice of lemon. A couple of meatballs for a buck apiece proved tasty, too. In fact it’s the first turkey meatball I’ve consumed that almost fooled me into thinking I was eating beef. And an order of six Grilled Shrimp ($5) ranked among our favorites, given their succulent charred flavor.

There was little semblance to the influx of food to our table. But part of the fun with tapas is that you eat in the order they’re received. A generous serving of Roasted Red Peppers ($2), however, could have been better utilized at the beginning of our repast for pairing up with the chicken or salads. And we weren’t expecting them to be served chilled. Although a nice plate of mixed olives for the same price – some pitted, some not – kept us picking from beginning to end, as did the complimentary warm, soft breadsticks served with extra-creamy Darigold Butter.

It soon became evident that Cassinelli draws from his half-Italian decent when cooking, as the food doesn’t struggle to capture the rustic flavors of Italy. The Eggplant Parmesan ($4) steers clear of the mushy, over-cheesed version I find in other restaurants. And the marinara sauce, used also on the meatballs, tastes pure and fresh.

From the pasta category I can’t recommend enough the Puttanesca. For a measly $4 you get a quaint serving of spaghetti, capellini, linguine or penne dressed in a thin tomato sauce that mingles lovingly with capers, anchovies and olives. Top it off with a few shakes of grated Romano cheese from the table and say hello to heaven.
Pasta prices cap off at $6 if you opt for the Vongole sauce, made with clams, garlic and olive oil. It’s the most expensive item on the menu. For a couple bills less, the Pesto we ordered was of fine pedigree. Cassinelli omits the pine nuts, which allows the basil to blossom. And the Fettucini Alfredo was standard tasting, if not a tad light on the cream and cheese.
Cassinelli intends to expand the menu soon, although we found plenty of adequate choices that also included Fried Calamari, Lasagna, Roasted Potatoes, Italian Greens and several other pasta plates.

A wine bar stocked mostly with Italian labels resides along the back wall of the open dining room, which might cry for soundproofing on busy nights. The casual atmosphere is nonetheless comfy and especially enjoyable if Cassinelli comes out of the kitchen to schmooze. His enthusiasm for this first-time restaurant venture is as contagious as the food he serves.

From the dessert cache you’ll find homemade Chocolate Mousse Pie ($3) made with Ghirardelli chocolate, mini Canoli ($2), tri-colored Spumoni ice cream ($3) and a decadent Lemon Cheese Cake Mousse topped with blueberries ($3).

It’s all good, especially when you consider that nowhere in San Diego can you shovel down so many little meals for such a minor blow to the wallet.


Italian Bohemian
by Naomi Wise
Published Thursday, July 28, 2005
North Park has long been home to artists, writers, and bohemians of all sorts. Now the neighborhood is officially enjoying an "urban renaissance," as civic boosters call it, spotlighting the art galleries on Ray Street, the weekly farmer's market on North Park Way, and the renovation of the derelict North Park Theater (new home to the San Diego Men's Chorus and Lyric Opera San Diego). And wherever bohemians settle, restaurants and realtors are sure to follow. A gigantic luxury-condo project going up a few steps north of University on 30th is ironically named "La Boheme." (You have to wonder, did the developers include some unheated top-floor art studios as their affordable units? My tiny hand is frozen!)

Across the street from the future Bohemian condorama is the classic signifier of gentrification, a new wine bar -- this being North Park, it's a wine bar with enough differences to break several molds at once. Apertivo calls itself an "Italian Tapas and Wine Bar," unlike all the non-Italian wine bars springing up in Hillcrest. More distinctively, its prices are low enough that even starving artists can eat and drink here. A basic, tasty meal comes to about $10, including beverage, and a light-hearted feast is under $20 per person. Better yet, if you're curious about Italian wines, this is a perfect place to start exploring. They have a few high-end bottlings if you want to get serious, and a great many affordable ones to enjoy casually, the way Italians do.

"Italian tapas?" you may well ask. Well, not really. In the city of Venice, there is such a thing -- but Apertivo doesn't do Venetian cuisine. Nor are the plates tiny, as they are in Spanish tapas bars. Here, dishes are heaped rim-to-rim on medium plates -- the size used for salads in upscale restaurants. These are portioned for moderate eaters, about as much as you'd serve at home (unless you're devoted to Hungry Man). The plates can easily be shared among three or four grazers; for solos, a couple of veggie selections and a protein or pasta could be dinner.

The menu has a genuinely Italian spirit of ease and simplicity. It offers unfussy, homey dishes from no particular province, lightened up and cooked quickly but carefully to order. Seasonal vegetable choices are abundant, ranging from assorted olives to a plateful of grilled mixed veggies. The more substantial dishes stress shellfish, poultry, eggplant, cheese, and pasta, with the merest gesture toward mammal-meat. A modest selection of desserts always includes a special that's based on the ripest fruit of the moment.

A two-sided chalkboard beckons from the sidewalk. One face boasts about the wine list; the other lists the day's specials. Make note of these before you enter. The dining room is long and high-ceilinged, with track lights, industrial carpet, and poster-sized Deco advertising reproductions. Captain's chairs sit at four-person tables topped with black Formica. The ambient Italian music alternates between grand opera and "Funiculi, Funicula" ditties, but you may not hear them clearly. Like so many new neighborhood bistros, Apertivo's architecture creates a "wall of sound," thundering with yelled and echoed conversations. This is why you should look at the specials board before entering: You may not hear the server describing them. The owners are working on the problem (those odd rectangles nailed randomly on the ceiling are acoustical tiles), but until they get serious and install a dropped acoustical ceiling, you'll have to converse in shouts and add to the din.

The secret to eating well here is to remember that bohemians are independent spirits who like to do things their own way. Apertivo's chef-owner deliberately undersalts the dishes so that diners can season to taste, and no server carries a yard-long pepper grinder or crystal bowl of grated cheese, panting to amend your food before you've even tasted it. The condiments (salt and pepper grinders, Parmesan, etc.) are on the table, and you're meant to use them. This is the opposite of the chef-is-boss approach. Once my partner and I realized that you're not just "allowed" but expected to interact with your food, our appreciation for the food increased.

At the end of the room, two chalkboards hang behind the wine bar, the left listing special bottles, the right announcing the current wine flight (typically four half-pours for $8). One evening, I ordered the white flight, featuring four wines from different regions of Italy, each made from a different grape. Tasting them against our dishes proved entertaining. Salads, for instance, generally fight with wines. Our insalata caprese was supersized, a whole tomato sliced into five pieces, each topped with a slab of fresh mozzarella as thick as a poached egg. The top was sprinkled with chopped fresh basil and a superb extra-virgin olive oil from Italy (Piancone brand). The cheese was very mild, the basil muscular. (The tomato, alas, could have been riper, given that this is their season.) After a sip of each glass, I found that the simple, vibrant Soave best held its own against the acidity of the tomato.

Sautéed tiger shrimp were as sweet as farm-fresh corn, wrapped in thin-sliced prosciutto, skewered on toothpicks, and perched over a pool of wonderful olive oil. These flavors went swimmingly with my favorite wine of the flight, an Insolia bottled by Cusumano -- a deep-golden Sicilian Chardonnay that changed flavors from sip to swallow like a serious red, leaving a delicious aftertaste.

Our waitress said, "Good choice!" when we ordered the cremini (brown button mushrooms) sautéed with sherry. She failed to mention that the portion came sized for a family Thanksgiving. I did miss the garlic overdose found in the Spanish version of this tapa. The wine that suited the dish was a Pinot Grigio -- but not one of those dishwater potions that give the grape a bad name. The bumptious, chewy Villanova, with boozy fruit up front and an almost meaty aftertaste, proved perfect with mushrooms. (The fourth wine of the tasting, a pale wraith called Cortese, was mainly useful as an alternative to water.)

Another evening, we started with an arugula salad with pecans, sweet white onion slices, and puffs of rich gorgonzola in a light vinaigrette. My partner and I debated whether to gamble on eggplant rollatini, which can be disastrous. I won, and we loved Apertivo's version: The eggplant is cut thicker than normal, providing more succulence and less grease. Instead of a roll, the slice is folded over like a book, holding a stuffing of sautéed chopped Swiss chard and clean-tasting Montrachet goat cheese. It arrives from the oven topped with tangy melted mozzarella and a bit of marinara sauce. The pastas are point and shoot: you pick your sauce, then choose your pasta from a selection of capellini, spaghetti, linguini, fettucini, and penne. (They're not house-made but boxed by the excellent DeCecco brand.) The sauces are variations on three themes: aglio e olio (garlic and oil) or butter, a thin marinara, and cream sauce.

With the spaghetti puttanesca, the amended marinara sauce was light, the olives and capers powerful enough to lend a nip. (I'd have liked more and higher-quality anchovies than the sparse, flavorless bits in this dish -- but then, many customers would sooner skip them entirely. And one can't ask for pearls at a price of $4.) Another evening, we tried the bolognese sauce. This is a far cry from the elaborate recipe detailed in Italian cookbooks (with veal, milk, and hours of cooking). Instead, it's a simple, dairy-free meat sauce, like the one made by the chef's frugal Genoese grandmother, with sautéed ground beef and vegetables, garlic, red wine, and marinara. Its flavors didn't seem quite complete, but then we remembered the do-it-yourself style of the restaurant and applied Parmesan from the table condiments. That pulled it together.

The vegetarian three-cheese lasagna is a bit unconventional, with fewer noodles, less sauce, and much more cheese than usual. For $1 extra, they'll paint some meat sauce on top. It's worth a buck to get the contrast of chewy texture against the mass of goo.

The specials here can be fun. One evening, a thick, tender calamari steak was given the full piccata treatment, with a powerful white wine, lemon butter sauce strewn with capers. I liked this sauce even better with squid than with the customary veal scallops. Another night's offering was five ounces of beef tenderloin for $7, which I ordered very rare. Marinated in olive oil, it arrived charred on the outside, cool red velvet on the inside. (It's only Select grade, but this is the most tender large cut on any cow.)

All the desserts are made in-house from scratch, even the pound cake that appears regularly as a special, topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. I prefer my desserts ethereal and barely sweet, and a lemon cheesecake mousse brought joy to my heart and mouth. It's so fragile that it can't stand up straight -- that's why the chef calls it a mousse. Made with whole milk ricotta (not cream cheese) and lemon zest, it almost floats off the plate. Crowning this faerie queen is a handful of fresh blueberries and a pouf of unsweetened whipped cream. The cooking here is consistently likable; it makes me feel like I'm eating at the house of a friend who cooks joyfully and well, but doesn't get all neurotic over it. The food is serious but not grave, and offers tremendous value for a tiny price.

ABOUT THE CHEF
Ken Cassinelli and his wife Janie Losli are co-owners of Apertivo. Janie is usually the hostess, while Ken, the chef, is the energetic, ponytailed fellow who often trots through the restaurant, pouring water and greeting regular customers by name.

"We're from Portland, Oregon, originally, and we've worked in the restaurant business for almost 30 years," says Ken. "We've both been restaurant managers, and I've been chef and bartender, too. We moved to North Park eleven years ago, and four years ago we bought a home four blocks away.... The house is where we got the money for the restaurant. It's quadrupled in value, and we got the money from the equity."

Ken started cooking in childhood and honed his skills throwing frequent dinner parties. Whenever he went to a restaurant with an unfamiliar cuisine, rather than invest in a single entrée, he always ordered combination plates. This gave him the idea to serve "tapas" at Apertivo. "I do all the prep, every bit. I'm here from eleven to eleven, I spend the day cooking stuff," he says. "The food is pretty much what I'd be cooking at home, and the specials are mainly what I feel like eating that day. I think it's all about simplicity and about the quality of the ingredients you deal with. I buy good canned tomato products from back East; we use imported pasta. I use a cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil from Italy for sautéing and salad dressings. I don't buy organic food, but all my produce is from Specialty Produce, which carries locally grown vegetables. I don't have much refrigeration, and they deliver produce five or six days a week. It's fresh! You'll never get something here that's more than two days old -- other than the meat sauce. That, I freeze [to let the flavors blend].

"We can keep our prices low because my wife and I do everything. We're on a shoestring. We have paper napkins, Formica tables, cheap-cheap-cheap carpet on the floor. That's how we can sell the wines for $3 a glass. I buy whole pieces of meat and cut them myself, mainly because I don't like the quality of precut Cryovac-packed meat. At the beginning, I even washed the dishes myself. But when we opened up here, my wife stole a really good line cook from La Dolce Vita, where she'd been working. We also have a salad chef, a dishwasher, and extra cooks on the line on weekends, so I can come out of the kitchen for a couple of minutes now and then.

"I've been exposed to wine all my life. By the time I was highschool age, I'd been to Italy twice, and I knew lots about Italian wines. My family wasn't really sophisticated about it, but then, wine shouldn't be sophisticated or standoffish -- it should be enjoyed! My wife and I knew a wine distributor here, Marco, and now he's the head Italian wine specialist for Southern, the big Goliath -- the largest spirit wholesaler on earth. When we got our license...we called all the distributors in town, and when they heard we were in North Park, they treated us like red-headed stepchildren! But Marco sat down with us and put together a wine list, everything very inexpensive, and we had the wines within four days. Now, we have three distributors we buy from regularly. Two of them are little guys we became friends with. It's not all Italian wine. We buy locally grown wines like Orfila, we have a Tempranillo from the Guadalupe Valley, and right now we have a really nice, sort of effervescent Portuguese Vinho Verde.

"When I told people four years ago that I wanted to open a wine bar and nicer restaurant in North Park, they literally laughed in my face....When I first opened, I thought most people would just come in for a glass of wine and maybe a little garlic bread -- but people in the neighborhood are really coming in to eat. That's why we have to have specials -- they've already been through the regular menu and want something new. This last week was the busiest ever. And now we have La Boheme [the condo development] going up across the street, and the theater's opening The Mikado in October. Wine bar, theater -- c'mon! Who's laughing now?"

Epicurious Eating:
Apertivo Italian Tapas and Wine Bar
Apertivo: more breadth for the buck
by Frank Sabatini
Published Thursday, 25-Oct-2007 in issue 1035
After visiting Apertivo when it first opened about three years ago, I remember feeling pretty convinced that the unselfish portion sizes of its Italian tapas would eventually shrink and that its low price points would spike ridiculously. Anyone who knows firsthand a restaurant owner’s struggle to preserve the bottom line would have surely agreed.

Having peeked in last week with a friend, I was proven wrong. Pity those who flock to places like the Olive Garden for salty and overpriced sub-standard Italian dishes. Apertivo’s food not only carries more breadth and passion than ever before, it’s still a giveaway bargain with decent-sized plates costing a mere $8 at most.

The restaurant’s menu, wine list and wait staff have expanded, as well as the space itself. Owners Ken Cassinelli and his wife, Janie, cut into an adjoining storefront earlier this year, allowing for more tables, a bigger kitchen and an extra restroom. But in the slothful city bureaucracy that plagues so many mom-and-pop restaurateurs seeking booze permits, customers must stick to the original dining area or back-wall wine bar to drink adult beverages until a license is granted to serve them throughout the entire room. The night we visited, only the handful of tables in the “dry side” of the restaurant remained largely empty.

I had forgotten how much I loved Apertivo’s pasta puttanesca until twirling my fork again in the mound of spaghetti laced with capers, black olives, tomatoes and anchovies that are melted into an olive oil base. Also extraordinary is the Caesar salad of all things – thanks to a rich, garlicky dressing thickened by wet crumbles of Parmesan cheese. And the marinara here is bright and basic, an accurately fast-cooked sauce using basil, garlic, red wine and whole tomatoes that Cassinelli squishes by hand.

Some of Cassinelli’s recipes originate from his grandmother. Others stem from an intuitive, charged-up knack for cooking.

“I’m an addict for food and started cooking in the third grade,” he said. “I grew up watching Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet.”

Nothing we ate descended even remotely into the mediocre zone. Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp, for instance, develops a beautiful sheath of crispiness as the thinly sliced ham hits the pan of heated olive oil. It’s a superior rendition of bacon-wrapped shrimp that I’ve had in other restaurants, where the crustaceans become invariably upstaged by the bacon’s saltiness. Cassinelli has figured out that subtler prosciutto is the wiser choice, earning him a recipe mention in Deliciously Italian, a nationally released cookbook celebrating traditional family recipes.

Three splendid items we tried from the list of daily specials were braised leeks in béchamel sauce revealing a whisper of nutmeg. Rarely do I see leeks on local menus, so their earthy, scallion-like flavor was a welcome treat. Equally wowing was chunky tenderloin in a judiciously creamy ragu served over a choice of pasta. The recipe puts all other meat “sauces” to shame, and I would rally to see this dish promoted to permanent status on the regular menu before somebody steals it. Ditto for the Bosc pear poached in Marsala wine that we had for dessert, appointed in an oh-so-fitting Gorgonzola cream sauce.

“Nona Serventi’s” homemade ravioli pays tribute to grandma, who taught Cassinelli the art of making thin sheets of egg pasta for creating super lightweight casings. Inside was a modest layering of ricotta and chopped spinach. On top were plops of the cherry-red marinara that I could eat as soup.

Pliant, warm goat cheese served as the filler for baked eggplant rollotini, a more exciting choice compared to everyday eggplant Parmesan. Our manicotti tasted classic, although the tubes were rather heavily mantled by Mozzarella. And ranking among my favorite dishes was chicken diablo hiding tender pieces of breast meat in a dark-red sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and red chili flakes. Here, the sauce is cooked to just the burning point to add an indirect smoky zing.

Since these are not what I’d call pigmy tapas, we never got around to ordering lamb shank osso bucco, which I’ve been told by friends is extraordinary. Nor did we indulge in the turkey meatballs. I ate those with glee on my initial visit and was happy to see them still in the offing for only a buck a ball.

Among our lighter choices were marinated baby artichokes imported from southern Italy. They actually weren’t so petite, but rather medium-sized bulbous gems with delicate brine permeating their soft, meaty hearts. Sweet roasted red peppers struck a wholesome match to the complimentary bread sticks, or you can pair them ideally with mixed olives, oven-roasted carrots or crimini mushrooms sautéed in sherry.

Pasta choices abound with about 15 types of sauces and toppings suitable for marriage to five different cuts of noodles. Chicken, too, comes in several styles – Parmesan, piccata, marsala or plainly grilled.

The red wines we sampled (some local and others Italian) offered good complexity and discernible fruit. There are about 60 labels available by the glass, all affordably priced, along with a few Italian beers.

Much has been said about the noise level when Apertivo fills up. I wasn’t bothered by it this time around because the din was festive in a communal “eat, drink and be happy” sense. Service was speedier and smoother than what I remember. And for the first time in ages, I came away from a local Italian restaurant that replaces slapdash slop with veritable heart and soul.

Open Monday-Thursday 2pm-10pm
Friday 2pm-11pm
Saturday 11am-11pm Sunday 11am-10pm
2322 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego Ca. 92104
619-220-0959 apertivo@gmail.com
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