By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill celebrates its 10th anniversary with a special three-course dinner presented in part by two original staffers: Former executive chef Joe Magnanelli (now chef-partner with Brian Malarkey’s upcoming Animae), and former wine director-general manager Ben Kephart (currently director of operations at Ojai Valley Inn).
They will be joined by Cucina’s newest executive chef, Tim Kolanko, and beverage director Augusto Ferrarese.
The family-style dinner will be held at 6 p.m. June 24. The cost is $55 per person with optional wine pairings that can be purchased a la carte from a selection of about 10 labels specially chosen for the occasion. In addition, an after-party will be held from 8:30 to 10 p.m., featuring a mini “Cucina 10” menu. 505 Laurel St., 619-239-2222, cucinaurbana.com.
Former “Top Chef” contestant Rich Sweeney has taken on the role of area culinary directory for Los Angeles-based Tocaya Organica, a popular health-conscious eatery with locations in the Gaslamp Quarter (755 Fifth Ave.), UTC in La Jolla (4301 La Jolla Village Drive), and another opening this summer at One Paseo in Carmel Valley.
Sweeney, who is also known for the comfort fare he dished up when operating the former R Gang Eatery in Hillcrest for five years, most recently served as executive chef for North Italia in Fashion Valley Mall. Before that he helmed the kitchens at Waypoint Public in North Park and the former Florent Restaurant & Lounge in the Gaslamp.
“I’ll be doing quality control and training-development for locations in San Diego and Arizona,” Sweeney told us, adding that he is fond of Tocaya’s culinary concept.
“The entire menu starts out vegan, and then if you’re a meat eater, you can add meat and cheese to the dishes. We buy just about everything we can organic. And the environments are cool and welcoming — not hoity.” tocayaorganica.com.
A wide range of cuisine is in the offing during the return of “Food Truck Fridays” at the El Prado walkway in Balboa Park. The event, now in its fourth year, runs from 4 to 8:30 p.m. every Friday through Sept. 27. It features about a dozen different food trucks each week as well as live entertainment.
Trucks scheduled for June 21 include Eat Your Heart Out, Currywurst Frankfurt, Born in Brooklyn and the Pierogi Truck.
The series is presented by the Balboa Park Conservancy and the city of San Diego’s Parks and Recreation Department. Free round-trip shuttle service is provided until 8 p.m. from the Inspiration Point parking lot, located at the corner of Park Bouvelard and President’s Way. Plaza de Panama/El Prado, 619-331-1920, balboaparkconservancy.org.
The long-shuttered Al Reef Mediterranean Restaurant at the corner of University Avenue and Utah Street has sprung back to life as Two Blu Ducks, a breakfast-lunch spot that operates from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily. Owned by restaurateur Djani Ivanov of The Hopping Pig in the Gaslamp Quarter, the commodious 3,500-square-foot restaurant is still in its soft opening with portions of the menu still in development, we’re told. 2835 University Ave.
After about 18 months in the making, Sisters Pizza is up and running in a charming 1930s-era building in Bankers Hill. The newly opened pizzeria, which specializes in a range of other Italian-comfort food such as chicken or eggplant Parmesan, spaghetti with house-made meatballs and hearty submarine sandwiches, occupies a quiet corner at Fourth and Brookes. It greets with an expansive patio and a cozy interior with midcentury touches.
Owner Emily Green Lake is a former literacy teacher who became motivated to open the restaurant after the unexpected passing of her sister, Kate Green.
“I always wanted to run my own restaurant, and my sister and I were big pizza lovers,” she said.
Helming the kitchen is Long Island transplant Marc Damiano, who previously worked at Mr. Moto Pizza House and Surf Rider Pizza.
On any given day there are nine specialty pizzas available by the slice. The pies are also sold in 16-, 18- and 20-inch sizes, in addition to a 14-inch gluten-free option.
Sisters Pizza is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays is expected to begin in July. 3643 Fourth Ave., 619-255-4200, sisterspizzasd.com.
An all-vegan menu featuring more than 200 food and beverage items awaits at The Modern Vegan in North Park, which opened June 8 in a new mixed-use complex on 30th Street.
The restaurant marks the second location by owners Todd and Gia Schultz, who opened the original Modern Vegan last year in Las Vegas. The dual-residency couple say the menus are the same at both locations, a compendium of “all-American comfort favorites” that include loaded nachos, Louisiana fried “chicken” and “lobster” rolls.
There are also shakes, smoothies and organic juices and sodas. A full liquor license is in the pipeline. 4332 30th St., 619-310-5712, tmvrestaurants.com
— 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.