Cake first please, then dinner
We have our sights set on the new LAVO for a number of reasons – but the first being for its 20-layer chocolate cake.
The 235-seat restaurant recently landed in the Gaslamp District, taking over the massive space left behind by Searsucker. With a menu leaning heavily toward modern and old-style Italian dishes, the venture rolls in with a lavish bang that is to be expected from its parent company, Tao Group Hospitality.
Tao operates dozens of restaurants, nightclubs and swanky lounges around the world, spanning from New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, to London, Dubai, and Singapore. Its presence greets San Diego with plush Hollywood-style banquettes, antique mirrors, soft pendant lighting, and a commodious cocktail bar. The vibe is both lively and laid back, depending where you sit.
Chief culinary officer, Ralph Scamardella, presents a menu featuring one-pound meatballs, chopped salads, brick-oven pizzas, crispy chicken, grilled seafood, and pasta dishes such as pappardelle bolognese and truffle ricotta cavatelli.
From the dessert menu is the dramatic chocolate cake, rising up with 20 alternating layers of devil’s food crumb and peanut butter mascarpone. We’re told it’s shareable, but who in their right mind wants to give any of it up? 611 Fifth Ave., 619-762-5286, taogroup.com/venues.
A ‘little thief” is sneaking into North Park
A focused selection of “natural” and organic wines from around the globe will take center stage at the upcoming Little Thief wine bar in North Park. The project is being launched by Brian Jensen, who runs Bottlecraft beer shops and tasting rooms in North Park, Little Italy, Liberty Station and other regional locations.
Jensen is also underway with opening a Euro-style pub in South Park called Bock, in a space which formerly housed Hamilton’s Tavern.
Little Thief will take residence where Florence Ristorante Pizza had operated for many years. An interior redo is still in progress with the goal of opening sometime in August. The design will feature granite counter tops, leafy print wallpaper and Art Deco-style light fixtures. 3017 University Ave.
‘Taste of Happy Hour’ Returns
Did you know that San Diego has a long-ruling “King of Happy Hour?” His name is Robert Esparza. He has reigned over the happy hour scene ever since launching a comprehensive web site in 2004, kingofhappyhour.com. The site allows users to search for the latest and greatest happy hour deals throughout San Diego County and its many neighborhoods—as well as in Phoenix, should you find yourself visiting the desert city with a parched palate.
After a temporary hiatus, the ‘king’ is bringing back the event, “Taste of Happy Hour,” which will spotlight the happy hours of several Downtown establishments. Scheduled from noon to 4 p.m., July 16, participants include Taste & Thirst (the registration site), Dobson’s Bar & Restaurant, Havana 1920, The Patricios Restaurant, and others.
Tickets are $25 and include free food samples and exclusive drink specials at all locations. Passes can be purchased in-person or online. 715 Fourth Avenue (Taste & Thirst), tasteofhappyhour.com.
Behind the counter at Cori
Acclaimed chef and restaurateur Accursio Lota recently imported into his restaurant, Cori Pastificio Trattoria, a prized batch of family-milled ancient grains from the Mache region of Italy. Unlike many modern wheat products, these particular grains haven’t been genetically modified or “bred.” They are instead unrefined and nutritionally richer. As flour, they bring to dishes a distinct nutty flavor.
Lota is a native of Sicily and seized the world championship in the 2017 Academia Barilla Contest. A master of texture when it comes to making and cooking pasta, he is especially excited to be using the ancient-grain flour for his house-made “bigoli,” which is a thick cut of spaghetti. The pasta is tossed in cacio e pepe sauce and finished with fresh caviar.
He also uses the bigoli in a vegan presentation featuring fresh sauteed fava beans, peas, and artichokes in a lemon-infused olive oil. 2977 Upas St., 619-573-6159, coripasta.com.
Brunch and tequila
The tequila-centric Tahona bar and restaurant in Old Town has resurrected its weekend brunch with Oaxaca-inspired cuisine that includes leek-chorizo frittatas; Green Goddess tacos with grilled nopal; smoked adobada turkey burritos, and more.
Mezcal and tequila naturally show up in the brunch libations. Those range from prickly pear mimosas and bloody Marys to signature cocktails using fresh juices and organic agave.
Brunch service is available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. 2414 San Diego Ave., 619-255-2090, tahonabar.com.