Ciccia Osteria (San Diego, CA)

The joke starts “In heaven, the chefs are Italian…” and for reasons beyond me San Diego is becoming more like that good place. Italian restaurants are popping up and down the southern most coast of California. Many, such as Ciccia Osteria, offer a thoughtful vegan menu.

Chef Francesca Penocelli hovers over the desserts, lovingly tending to a gluten-free vegan chocolate cake and chiming in as guests ponder the counter-service menus. As I order my carefully considered dishes Francesca leans in to the tell me there is also a special vegan ravioli—stuffed with greens and tofu—but the weight of the line forming behind me is too much to bare an order change.

We are assigned a table along the fence looking out on Barrio Logan. In time a bread basket arrives with a side of cheese. When we reject the cheese the waiter brings a dish of olive oil, balsamic, and tomatoes flecked with mint leaves.

The generous Mista ($8) salad arrives wet in a light lemon vinaigrette with carrots and beets ribbons tossed with supremed oranges, almonds, and briny olives. It’s a good salad that I consume too fast in fear that our pasta will arrives to no space on the table. It was an unnecessary move, the kitchen timing was perfect.

Truffle oil is essentially western MSG so it seemed wise to place my money on the Conchiglie ($13). Tender sea shell-shaped pasta under too many wild mushrooms for the price with basil and the scent of truffles. If you order this, save some bread and don’t let the flavors glistening on the bottom of the bowl go to waste.

Saffron is another hard-to-not-order seasoning. Thick curls of pasta in a saffron sauce, plump with pureed roasted pepper and its own water, fill the bowl of Sombreri ($13). Confit sundried tomato, a few pine nuts, and a dusting of parsley close out the dish.

We ended with a Chocolate Coconut Milk Panna Cotta ($5). “Something a little more common” winks Francesca. “No!” I tell her “Vegan panna cotta is rare. Thank you so much for offering it.” We smile at each other as I wander out the door.

Ciccia Osteria
2233 Logan Ave.
San Diego, CA 92113
619-674-4069
cicciaosteriasandiego.com
Instagram @cicciaosteriasd
Facebook: @cicciaosteriasd

Maccheroni Republic (Los Angeles, CA)

Hefty plates of fresh  housemade pasta fill the dining room of downtown Los Angeles’ Maccheroni Republic. Chef Antonio Tommasi and Jean-Louis de Mori, the founding team behind Italian mainstays Locanda Veneta and Ca’Brea,  dialed back the swank to create a breezy trattoria tucked away from bustling Broadway. For a traditional setting, the menu—with prices in touch with reality—is surprisingly vegan friendly. A handful of standard (or easily modified) vegan items litter the  menu, plus at least one hand written special can be found on the chalkboard. With pride, the menu boldly state that all their pastas (except squid ink) are vegan.

 

After cracking into a bottle of bottle of red, we started off with the Insalata Della Casa ($7.95). A crisp simple salad of carrots, radishes and cucumber with a light vinaigrette served on the side. I totally appreciate the dressing on the side as restaurant salads are usually overdress for me.

I’ve eaten a billion pounds of pasta pomodoro and primavera. So the Spaghetti ai Quattro Sapori ($13.95) caught my attention immediately. Rarely do I see omni restaurants offering a vegan protein in a pasta dish (yes Pasta e Fagioli is common, most restaurants muck it up with chicken broth or prosciutto). Tender strands of vegan spaghetti are slathered with garlic, roasted tomatoes, spinach and robust lentils. It’s total vegan comfort food and should be on every Italian restaurant’s menu.

The dessert menu only offers one vegan option, the Limoncello Sorbet. This delicate  and creamy soft serve compliments the generous pasta serving—with generous portions of its own. This is the small.

Steady and strong since early 2013, Maccheroni Republic offers a satiating vegan meal in a heavily omni setting. It’s the perfect downtown LA  gathering spot for blended groups of vegans and non-s to enjoy a meal together.

Maccheroni Republic
332 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
213-346-9725
maccheronirepublic.com

Instagram: @maccheronirepublic
Facebook: Maccheroni Republic