By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Among our city’s latest wave of restaurants headed by dashing entrepreneurs from Italy is Siamo Napoli, which was introduced this summer in the heart of North Park by Flavio Piromallo and his brother, Giovanni. The siblings are from Naples, and their sleekly designed restaurant immediately transports you there when stepping inside.
Behold the charming Neapolitan accents of the personable brothers as they greet customers and assist staff in running plates of ragu and seafood and fast-cooked pizzas to the tables — foods they grew up with in a city famous for its exquisite use of tomatoes and bread dough. Pasta, too, is a main staple.
Some of the employees such as chef Alfonso Pisacane are also Neapolitan. And they’re as equally endearing.
The visuals throughout the dining areas further attest to the restaurant’s name, which translates to “we are from Naples.”
A wall-size photograph of Sophia Loren shows the renowned actress in the prime of her beauty. (Loren grew up outside of Naples and later starred in films set there.) There is also a tiled wood-burning oven imported from the Motherland. It’s a 900-degree inferno designed specifically for cooking Neapolitan-style pizzas. Just beyond that is an inviting semi-enclosed dining section with yet another giant photograph. This one affords you a fabulous view of Naples from a hilltop.
And then there’s the attention-grabbing cuisine.
A basic arugula salad with shaved fennel, orange sections, dates and goat cheese, for example, carried as much depth as a salad containing twice the number of ingredients.
From the antipasti category, where you’ll find potato-risotto croquettes and lightly fried calamari with castelvetrano olives, it’s the stuffed squash blossoms that are a must.
The delicate, edible flowers are battered thinly in IPA tempura and filled with a mouthwatering blend of ricotta and Provolone cheeses. Faint bursts of spice emerge from hidden bits of salami mixed in. And everything ties together with bright-tasting marinara sauce served on the side.
As we dunked puffy cubes of house-made focaccia bread into green-tinted olive oil between courses, my sister visiting from back East refreshed her palate with a glass of Italian lager while I sipped on sangiovese from Italy’s Montepulciano region. Flavio was right when he said it’s the kind of earthy red wine that sings to everything — meat, seafood, pasta, etc.
Three more dishes would wow us, starting with the ‘salciccia e friarielli’ pizza. In true Neapolitan fashion, the pizza cooked in three minutes or less and was crowned with fresh mozzarella — in this case mozzarella that’s made in-house.
The pie was also topped with broccoli rabe and enticing house-made fennel sausage. Red sauce goes missing on this pizza, although you might want to ask for a side of it as a dip for the marvelously chewy crusts.
Ravioli con melanzana turned up as delicate pasta purses filled plumply with eggplant, which is oven roasted and then pureed. Simple and light, they took on even greater appeal in the cherry tomato and Parmesan ‘fondue” enveloping them. These are ravioli at their best.
Fitting of a Mediterranean (and San Diego) winter is the carne alla Genovese, a braised bone-in beef shank saturated in cabernet wine reduction and festooned in soft-cooked onions. The dish suggests a French influence, although the sidekick of ziti pasta cooked al dente sends it back to Italy. Like everything we tried, it was skillfully composed, simple and highly coddling to the palate.
Siamo Napoli’s allure is evident by the full houses it sees. Walk-ins are accepted, although reservations are recommended on weekend evenings.
The restaurant also offers an inviting happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. daily (and also 9 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). It’s when you can imbibe on select beers, classic cocktails and prosecco at prices ranging from $5 to $8 per drink. Several dishes are also discounted, such as calamari fritti, arancini, a few pizzas, and those incredible squash blossoms.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.