San Diego Union Tribune journalist Michelle Parente mentioned Semola in her latest article “San Diego’s tasty Italian invasion marches on with three new spots”.
This has been a banner year — a green, white and red banner, to be exact — for Italian food in San Diego.
Seemingly every month has been marked by the opening of another impressive Italian eatery. The mini boom started earlier in the year with Cesarina in Point Loma, Ciccia Osteria in Barrio Logan, Il Dandy in Bankers Hill, and later Il Dandy’s single-table restaurant-within-a-restaurant Arama. More recently, San Diego saw the arrivals of Siamo Napoli in North Park, RoVino The Foodery in the East Village, Blade 1936 in Oceanside, and Semola in the Little Italy Food Hall.
That’s a lot of 00 flour being imported.
The restaurants show the diversity of Italian styles and regional cuisine. They are rustic and elevated, traditional and modern, fast-casual and rooted in the slow-food movement. Their owners hail from Rome, Naples, Calabria, Sicily, Florence and Milan. And all are helping to make San Diego America’s next great destination for Italian cuisine.
When the Little Italy Food Hall opened in July, 2018, only one of its six stands served Italian fare, Ambrogio15, an offshoot of the amazing Milanese-style pizza place in Pacific Beach. Then, in March, Bobboi Natural Gelato replaced Single Fin Kitchen seafood shop.
The changes didn’t stop there. Mike DiNorscia, CEO of Grain & Grit Collective, a hospitality group that created and operates the $2.3 million food hall project, told the San Diego Union Tribune that even with the neighborhood’s many Italian restaurants, food hall customer surveys showed people it wasn’t enough.
“We’ve heard that some people want more Italian. We were looking to add variety,” he told the Union-Tribune. “I can’t say this isn’t the last Italian restaurant we’ll put in there.”
Coy? Maybe. But he was telling the truth. At the end of September, the team behind Ambrogio15 — Giacomo Pizzigoni, Luca Salvi and Andrea Burrone — opened Semola with Michele Bigiotti, a top-quality, customized, express pasta stand, in the corner where Roast Meat & Sandwich shop was located. So now, half of the food hall’s vendors are Italian.
Semola, a play off of the durum wheat semolina used to make the artisan pasta, is fast-casual of the highest order, serving delicious, exceptionally al dente bowls of pasta for under $10. Choose from among seven shapes, six sauces and various olive oil and specialty cheese finishings.
Two of us shared three bowls (we didn’t finish them, leaving room for Bobboi) and devoured them at the food hall’s bar, pairing them with a glass of vino for an oh-so-dolce-vita afternoon. Landing a patio table in the Piazza della Famiglia would have also been Italianissimo.
We both named the fettuccine Alfredo (Parmesan cream sauce), with an added spritz of truffle oil, as our top pick. The owners might be from Milan, but they get that classic Roman dish just right. Our second choice was a toss up; I gave the edge to the pillowy gnocchi in sweet tomato marinara, while my friend favored the strozzapreti with sausage and wild mushrooms. Then my friend eyed the gnocchi again and started to waver. “You know, at any other restaurant, these would be the No. 1,” she proclaimed. In other words, Semola is turning out some of the best pasta in San Diego. Just in a compostable paper bowl.
550 West Date St., Little Italy. (619) 450-6839. semolapasta.com