IN GOOD TASTE:
Cesarina Restaurant, an Italian trattoria just two-months-old on Voltaire Street, is pulling out all the stops when it comes to authentic Italian food, like your nonna might have made for you growing up, if you grew up in Italy. It’s owned by three Italian expats — two are cousins with the same first name.
Niccolo Angius, 28, and cousins Giuseppe Scognamiglio, 33, and Giuseppe Capasso, 38, hail from the Old Country. Niccolo is from Rome and the cousins are from Naples. They met through friends and all shared a common vision: to create a little piece of Italian love in Point Loma.
The business started with Niccolo’s wife, Cesarina, whom the restaurant is named after. She used to sell pasta and Italian dishes in San Diego farmers markets. “And then at a certain point,” Niccolo continues, “we just decided we wanted to go for a brick and mortar. Guiseppe and Guiseppe joined us and together we designed this.”
Before they bought it, the three men had their eyes on a location in Kensington, and weren’t at all impressed with the Voltaire Street space from the outside, which housed the To The Point Café at the time. “But when we came in,” Niccolo continues, “we saw how big it is and how big the kitchen is, and the huge potential it had, and we basically closed the deal in two days.”
The men ran the café for two months and then hastily got to work to renovate the space for Cesarina, which took only three weeks. Already, business in the new restaurant has been beyond their expectations.
Cesarina strives to bring the Italian culture of “food is love” to this quiet strip of Voltaire. “I was lucky enough to have a great-grandmother, grandmother and a mother who all showed me the best of love through food,” Niccolo recalls. “The best part of my childhood was going to have lunch with all my family at my great- grandmother’s house, and it was just a feast. Just food enough for an army and it was only six or seven of us. That feeling that you have at that moment that you get fed, it’s not about the food. It’s about the care that is in that food, it’s about the love in that food, that’s what I want the people to feel in the restaurant, that’s what we’re trying to bring here.”
Some of that love is created in the pastaficio, or pasta factory, which is a glassed-in enclosure in the restaurant where the pasta is made by hand with some help from machines. “We wanted to make fresh pasta in front of people, because it’s a way to bring our guests closer to what they’re eating. You can see we only use flour and water. We make it how our grandmas used to make it in the old days.” Other ingredients are added after that to specific pastas, such as turmeric, activated charcoal, spinach and cocoa.
Along with nine different types of pasta (and eight types of sauce), the Lasagna alla Bolognese is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, served with handmade pasta sheets, grass-fed beef ragout, bechamel, Parmigiano, mozzarella and fresh basil. If you have a sweet tooth, the Tiramisu is not to be missed. Prepared at the table, it features homemade ladyfingers dipped in espresso, crema al mascarpone and powdered cocoa.
When asked, Niccolo points out three things that set Cesarina apart from other restaurants. First, “The love. The love that we put in every day.” Second, the fact that all three owners are always inside the restaurant. And third, “Everything is made in house. We literally don’t buy anything that’s processed. I think that’s something you don’t find anywhere else.”
— Cesarina, 4161 Voltaire St., San Diego serves breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon, Wednesday through Sunday; lunch daily from noon to 3 pm, and dinner daily from 4:30-9:30 p.m. (619) 226-6222. cesarinarestaurant.com