Daily specials draw hungry crowds at Arrivederci
Not only do the great majority of guests emulate the individuals in the photographs, they sound happy, too – in such a concerto of voices that it’s a wonder the windows don’t rattle. Guests who wear hearing aids have been known to turn them off, which while putting smiles on their faces adds to the air of festivity as their raised voices join the general chorus. Even at lunch, the recorded music has a personality of its own, sometimes jazzy and smoky, and suggestive of “lights out” and midnight rendezvous. For a place with checked tablecloths overlain by pristine white squares, Arrivederci has a lot of personality.
On an exterior wall, the words “Nuova Cucina Italiana” are painted in a sort of French’s Mustard yellow under the restaurant’s name. Some of the cooking may indeed be new-style Italian, but traditional fare predominates, and on the specials list you’re much more likely to find old-style Italian comfort food like tortellini with peas and ham in cream sauce ($14.95) than, say, cutesy “nuova” creations like cocoa-flavored pasta powdered with cinnamon. (Memory recalls that a San Diego eatery tried offering chocolate pasta a few years back. The dish didn’t last. Neither did the restaurant.)
Arrivederci may offer the longest daily specials list presented by any of San Diego’s multitude of Italian establishments. It flows down a closely typed page of house specialties, novelties and the chef’s own interpretation of none-too-familiar items like strozzapreti ($12.95). This marvelously irreverent name, which translates as “priest-strangler,” describes thick, hand-shaped pasta so luscious that it supposedly tempted a long-ago priest to polish off a serving so large that, ultimately, the dinner polished him off. Most likely a myth, the tale endures, as does the pasta, which Arrivederci serves tumbled with lobster, shrimp, mushrooms and a “pink” sauce of marinara lightened with the silky white sauce known as béchamel in France and besciamella in Italy.
The restaurant’s standing menu tends to be shorter than the specials list, an anomaly normal for a market-inspired establishment. The standing list offers delights and pleasures, to be sure, such as Portobello oreganata ($7.95), or fleshy mushrooms seasoned with oregano and breadcrumbs, and calamari Caruso ($8.50), an alternative to fried squid in which the little critters are sauteed to a tender finish with tomato, white wine and spinach. For those who insist upon squid crisped in deep fat, Arrivederci delivers an attractive presentation mingled with fried zucchini and served with fresh tomato sauce ($8.95).
The day’s special antipasti, on the other hand, may be light and adventurous, like Mediterranean anchovies marinated in olive oil and fresh mint (hold the pizza), or rich and luxurious, such as creamy burrata (the heart of fresh mozzarella) with fragrant black olives, tomato and spinach. The handsome pairing of sweet melon and top-quality San Daniele prosciutto is hard to resist, even though prosciutto and melon is a familiar dish. The list hits the heights with marinated, long-stemmed artichokes fried in olive oil with roughly chopped garlic and parsley. The three piggy-fat artichokes are enough to share with another diner, although the third probably will need to be portioned into precise halves. It’s not to be missed, both for the tender, almost meaty qualities of the artichoke, and for the crisped garlic and parsley that bring such explosive flavors to the event. When the waiter places the dish on the table, he offers (or politely insists) to drizzle more olive oil over the dish. This makes it all the richer, but the memorably pungent garlic nuggets supply the real dynamic. (These appetizers all cost $8.95).
Arrivederci does not serve small portions of anything, so regulars know not to spoil their appetites with hunks of bread dipped in tangy tomato relish. Even so, it’s hard not to clean out the basket – and equally difficult to mop up drips, which may last as long as the garment.
Soup (usually $6.95) may be lentil or seafood, served steaming in a vast bowl. Italians generally don’t eat soup and pasta in the same meal (pasta-enriched broth is the obvious exception), so skip the soup if something like eggy pappardelle in full-flavored lamb ragu sounds just right for dinner ($16.95). Including ravioli and gnocchi, the specials list typically offers a baker’s dozen of pastas ($14.95 to $16.95), including simple pleasures like linguine with meatballs, and savory goat cheese ravioli with tomato, arugula and white wine sauce. Risotto choices may extend to challenging options like risotto nero, garnished with bay scallops and squid, and tinted with a squid ink sauce that will dismay less adventurous diners ($17.95).
Some entrees are listed as “Chef’s Secret” preparations, although they’re largely familiar in style, like the very pleasant pork osso buco finished with a delicious Port reduction and sided with mushroom risotto ($21.95). There is undeniable luxury to dishes like a veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and Fontina cheese ($23.95), and egg-dipped filet of sole crisped in a pan and finished with lemon-butter sauce ($19.95). For simple but strong flavors, try baby lamb chops grilled with rosemary and extra-virgin olive oil ($21.95), and generously cut veal scallops garnished with black olives, capers, tomato and a pleasant white wine sauce.
The wine bins embedded in the ceiling’s sloping walls are among the more interesting design features; stucco walls may be intended to look rustic, but it’s a challenge to feel down on the farm in the heart of Hillcrest. The wine bins symbolize that Arrivederci understands hospitality, since there are many good, affordable choices by the glass. For a red that accompanies most of the menu perfectly, look no further than the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($6 per glass).u
3845 Fourth Ave.
San Diego, CA 92103