Although Italians originally invented pasta as a fastener to keep Sicily from floating away, they abandoned it for less delicious moorings after locals on both sides kept snacking their way toward separation. Tether your taste buds to today's Groupon: for $29, you get $65 worth of contemporary Italian fare at Bice, located in the Gaslamp Quarter.
Bice delivers classic Italian fare with modern, experimental twists, like a sweatshirt depicting Michelangelo's David wearing a Mickey Mouse hat. Dairy diehards can start with a selection from Bice's cheese bar, where piquant bra tenero, semi-soft trugole, and 25 other types of cheese make appearances (pick three for $12). Peruse Bice's ever-changing menu for an appetizing antipasto course; previous offerings have included Tuscan fava bean salad mixed with pecorino, pear, and a lemon dressing ($13). The potato gnocchi ($16) is stuffed with asiago cheese and topped with basil pesto, while the fresh Mediterranean sea bass ($27) arrives on the cedar plank it was cooked on and features live narration from the grizzled sailor who caught it. Bice's novel-length wine menu features pages of Italian white and red varieties, such as the 2007 Schiopetto pinot grigio ($54 for a bottle), while bottles of Ommegang Abbey Ale and Stone IPA are available for those in the mood for a cold brewsky.
Descended from the original Bice, which opened in Milan in 1926, San Diego's Bice evokes a taste of modern Italy with warm floral arrangements, photographs of Italian street scenes, and elegant minimalist décor. With soft background music and friendly service, Bice is an intimate option for dinner between two lovers or six warring falconers.
Reservations are required.
OpenTable reviewers give Bice an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars, and named it a Diners’ Choice Winner for Italian food and Notable Wine List. CBS 8 featured the restaurant, and numerous publications such as San Diego magazine, Riviera, and the San Diego Union-Tribune praised it. Seventy-six percent of 17 Urbanspooners recommend the restaurant, while Yelpers give it an average of four stars:
- Bice’s back – in a triumphant second coming that’s filling tables in the handsome dining room every night of the week…This stylish newcomer at the corner of Fourth and Island is as distinctive as a Missoni print; as individual as three of the personalities driving its success. – Robin Kleven Dishon, San Diego
- Bice sets the standard by what it does — executive chef Mario Cassineri respects his ingredients, and they amply repay his regard — and what it does not do. The décor is blessedly free of the kitsch that makes so many local trattorie look like failed auditioners for Epcot’s Italian Pavilion. Food and furnishings are fresh, unfussy and tasteful. – Peter Rowe, San Diego Union-Tribune
It's hard to imagine a better working relationship between an executive chef and a sous chef than that of Bice's Mario Cassineri and Francesca Penoncelli. Both grew up in northern Italy, taking their first kitchen jobs as teenagers, before both attended culinary school and joined the Milan-based Bice Restaurant Group. Together, they opened several restaurants, then settled in to Bice San Diego. It was there that their culinary chemistry sparked the interest of the James Beard Foundation, who invited them to be guest chefs in their legendary kitchen in New York.
It's no wonder their talents are so revered. Not only does Mario and Francesca's menu mix things up with seasonal ingredients, but its presentations are engaging. The seafood spaghetti, for instance, is baked in a parchment bag and opened at your table, and even the rigatoni is unexpectedly colorful, painted with bright-yellow saffron sauce and sprinkled with green chives and rosy bits of quick-smoked sausage.
That said, rushing to a dinner table isn't the only way to enjoy Bice. The award-winning cheese bar displays Italian imports that change almost daily, any of which can be paired with honey, Francesca's homemade jams, or a fairly messy high-five. These inventive supplements make it clear that, even after decades spent working together, Mario and Francesca are hardly stuck in a culinary rut. It's also easy to share Bice via a business event, rehearsal dinner, birthday party, or other special private event.