In Milan, aperitivo is the custom pre-dinner social function. Restaurants and bars lure in patrons with cocktails and wine paired with the promise of complimentary appetizers. American happy hour is similar in intention, but offers spirits and small bites at a discounted rate which, depending on the venue, can result in a less desirable product.
The traditional Milano aperitivo is making its San Diego debut at Monello in Little Italy. Meaning ‘naughty little boy’ in Italian, Monello is a new restaurant from the owners of Bencotto, Valentina Di Pietro and Guido Nistri. Monello certainly is Bencotto’s mischievous little brother, located right next door in the Jonathan Segal-designed Q building on W Fir, boasting an innovative bar program, street food-inspired menu and a warm, inviting atmosphere.
While the ‘bevi’ spread will excite the senses, Monello preaches responsible drinking. Remember, this is no average American happy hour with $2 you-call-its. “An Italian would never drink just to black out and forget what a good time they had,” the aperitivo menu boldly states.
Mixologist Jennifer Queen was hand selected to bring the bar to life. Formerly with Snake Oil Cocktail Co., Queen now joins partners Lucian Conner and Ian Ward in the Pick & Rocks cocktail consulting firm. Queen is the woman behind Monello’s unique spirits, including a housemade vermouth (with 27 ingredients), grappa infusions (grape-based, fused with cucumber-lime or candied ginger-cinnamon), and signature cocktails, each with a tie to Italian culture. The Caesar Cardini is an Italian twist on a margarita, made with tequila blanco, agave nectar, maraschino and lime, paying homage to the Italian-American restaurateur credited with the invention of the Caesar salad.
Speaking of Caesar, a mini salad is one of the many bite-sized tastes from chef Fabrizio Cavallini given gratis with the purchase of a regularly priced cocktail during aperitivo. With each spirit, the chef will send out a selection of small bites, ranging from pasta and pizza to octopus ceviche. Cocktails are priced between $8 and $12. If you’re not drinking alcohol, you can order any refreshment and add on aperitivo small bites for $5. Aperitivo is offered seven days a week from 4 to 7pm in the bar, based on availability.
After a few rounds, your inspired appetite may leave you wanting more. The full menu features polenta dishes, homemade spaghetti, grilled meat and seafood entrees, and delicious light, thin-crust pizzas.
Monello is now open at 750 W. Fir Street in Little Italy. 619.501.0030, lovemonello.com
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