It’s often hard to choose a restaurant on 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp. There are many enticing hostesses with even more enticing menus on display out front, but with so many options, it can still be a difficult choice to make. Luckily, there’s one restaurant on 5th that emits a radiant glow of friendly service, quality food, and reasonable prices. Chianti has been a 5th Avenue mainstay for nearly a decade for many reasons, including the knowledgeable staff and fresh, delicious, authentic Italian food. The décor is elegant and relaxing, with paintings of the Italian countryside adorning the walls and elegant chandeliers gracing the ceilings. Stop by soon to see what the glow is about!Read More ...
In the hustle and bustle of 5th Avenue Downtown, there are many restaurants to choose from with similar looking exteriors and similarly beautiful hostesses standing out front. However, there is one Italian eatery that sticks out from the rest, because - for one reason or another - it glows. That restaurant is Chianti, located near the corner of 5th and G Street and nestled between Greystone the Steakhouse and the Ocean Room. It’s a short walk from the trolley station and Horton Plaza, and a slightly longer walk from the convention center, Grand Manchester Hyatt, and Hilton.
I’m greeted at the entrance by the lovely Karina, and given the option to sit inside or out. The outside is already sufficiently occupied by families and couples, so I heed the call of the intimate dining room. Upon first entering, I discover the first cause of Chianti’s glow: The interior is painted a soft antique gold with many chandeliers that combine to throw a diffused radiance throughout the restaurant, and even a ways out the door. The interior is also characterized by many oil paintings depicting picturesque Italian landscapes and wrought iron designs hanging on the walls. The most beautiful decoration – in my opinion - is the traditional (and functional) brick oven with a copper hood that is located near the bar. The bar itself is quite magnificent and generously proportioned, boasting a large variety of liquor and wine set against a mirrored back.
Karina sits my guest and me towards the front of the restaurant where we can enjoy the remaining sunlight. The table setting is standard, save for a petite vase with small wildflowers that stands out beautifully against the grandiose décor of the restaurant. At 5:30pm, the restaurant is scantly occupied by casually dressed couples, families, and business people just getting off of work, but my instincts tell me that the restaurant will slowly fill as the evening presses on. As I browse the menu I notice a plethora of seafood, meat, pasta, vegetarian, and veal dishes alongside daily specials, and am suddenly overwhelmed with selection. Although presented with a basket of fresh, warm breads, I am advised by the General Manager, Abdu, against filling up on bread as I have quite the culinary adventure ahead of me.
There is a small doorway concealed by a curtain that leads from the kitchen to dining room. As modern Italian vocals play over speakers and the waiter emerges from the kitchen with a plate of Fritto Misto, I realize that this slender opening would be the entryway to deliciousness for the rest of the night. The Fritto Misto consists of lightly breaded and seasoned shrimp, scallops, and calamari served alongside lemon wedges and marinara. Each type of seafood has its own unique breading: The calamari has a medium density, crunchy breading; the shrimp has a light, crispy breading; and the scallops have a coarser bread-crumb breading with visible herb seasoning. The calamari is very tender and the coating has just the right consistency: not at all limp and not a challenge to bite through either. The calamari coating has slightly less flavor than the other coatings, but this allows for the marinara to interact nicely with the calamari. The shrimp’s coating is extremely thin and lends a mild crisp before reaching the tender yet plump meat inside. The scallops are most likely the most tender I’ve ever had, with the taste and consistency of butter. The coating on the outside gives the scallop a wonderful herby taste that complements the mollusk’s naturally salty flavor. The marinara is wonderful as well, not being too thick and letting the fresh tomatoes shine over the herbs. It’s a delicious dish, and I would definitely recommend it with a glass of white wine and conversation.
The next delicacy to appear from behind the curtain is a serving of Focaccia, baked in the brick oven using handmade pizza dough and topped with arugula, prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, and truffle oil. Pizza is only featured on the lunch menu and makes a great mid-day addition to a salad, so it was a privilege to sample this bread in the evening. The Focaccia is baked crispy and round like a pizza, and one can notice the flour dusting on the bottom, denoting oven baking. From first bite to last, there is not one ingredient that doesn’t work well with another. The bread alone is bursting with natural flavor; a rare characteristic of bread. Prosciutto and basil is a great combination that creates a salty herb taste that complements the flavor of the bread. While it has become common to throw truffle oil or shavings in just about anything, here the oil is expertly used and is what really brings this dish together. It does exactly what truffle oil is supposed to do in small amounts, which is enhance the natural flavors of everything it touches. The result is Focaccia bread unlike any I’ve ever tasted, and better than most pizzas I’ve tasted. This item is a daily special, so don’t expect to find it every day, or for very long!
Just as I consider another slice of Focaccia, a plate of Capellini ai tre Crostacei arrives. This is a pasta dish with Dungeness crab meat, shrimp, and fresh Maine lobster that’s sautéed in the tomato and red wine reduction sauce and served over capellini pasta. The presentation is amazing: not only with the red sauce against the background of a square white plate, but also the way the pasta forms a small mountain with the seafood resting on the summit. The sauce is light and allows the natural tastes of the seafood to shine through. In the same way the tomato and wine of the sauce complements the seafood, the seafood provides a nice, salty taste to the sauce. The seafood is deftly and quickly cooked and creates a soft texture similar to the tenderness of the pasta. Combining the bits of seafood, sauce, and noodles creates a harmony of simple elegance that pleases the palate without overpowering it. I find that my 2008 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir goes well with the dish, but would also recommend a slightly lighter red wine.
Alongside the Capellini ai tre Crostacei comes a special treat: A sampling of Chef Enzo’s house-made Gnocchi. On the menu it’s known as Gnocchi di Patate Gratinate and is simply stuffed with cheese, but I have the pleasure of experiencing the gnocchi with mozzarella and Portobello mushrooms; a simple addition that makes a world of difference. To start, the potato “dough” is handmade by Chef Enzo daily, and retains a soft, supple texture while remaining thick, as fresh potato gnocchi should be. There is no struggle involved as I cut into the perfect circle that is topped with marinara and a touch of Parmesan. The sauce floods the exposed Gnocchi interior and mingles with the fresh mushrooms and mozzarella. My taste buds – expecting the simple flavor of cheese and potato – are stimulated by the addition of mushrooms, which provide a slightly salty, rich flavor that is instantly noticeable. The modest tang from the marinara combines with the robust yet delicate flavor of the mushrooms to create a balanced salty taste that complements the cheese and potato. The time and effort spent preparing this dish is evident and appreciated, making it one of the many treasures on Chianti’s menu.
With marinara still on my lips, Abdu passes by and mentions the next dish name, but I’m so enthralled I don’t quite hear him. I don’t realize what’s in store for me until I see it: A plump Filet Mignon smothered in mushrooms and sauce, simply dubbed Portobello Filet Mignon. Chianti could call the dish anything they want; one look at the dish and your taste buds know what’s in store. The Filet is served alongside a fresh and steaming vegetable medley and mashed potatoes. In order to build the anticipation, I first sample the vegetables: Steamed until tender but still retaining a slight crisp, the mix of green beans, zucchini, and peppers is cooked in olive oil and a combination of secret spices, making the addition of salt and pepper unnecessary. The mashed potatoes also surprise me with a peppery kick that I was not expecting. The potatoes appear plain and uniform, but with one bite they dissolve on my tongue and leave a delicious, buttery, peppery taste that is unlike any other mashed potato. For years I’ve retained the belief that there is no such thing as too much pepper (except for eating raw pepper), and while it is not overwhelming, the spicy flavor still surprises me. Now, with the anticipation adequately built, I gently slide my fork and steak knife into the slightly textured, browned exterior. The Filet is so tender that a butter knife would work just as well as it glides through to a yielding pink interior, soaked with natural juice. Coated in creamy sauce, the first bite goes down easy, with minimal chewing required; this tender morsel is made so that the focus is on the pleasure of tasting, not the act of eating. The mushrooms are just as tender as the steak itself, and the sauce provides a subtle zest that excites the natural taste of the meat rather than overwhelming it. However, that doesn’t stop me from sopping up every last drop, leaving me satisfied and full.
Though full of red meat, my eyes light up when Abdu mentions dessert. At a fine Italian restaurant like this, I can expect to be served one thing and one thing only: My favorite dessert, Tiramisu. Glancing at the curtained flavor portal that leads to the kitchen, I look in amazement as a gargantuan tray of dessert samples emerges; the tray is so large and the doorway so narrow that they have to carry it through lengthwise just so it will fit. On the tray sits delicious delights including sorbets, gelatos, crème brulées, cannolis, and zabagliones. Then I see it: one of the tastiest looking Tiramisus I’ve ever seen, thick and spongy and dusted with cocoa. I claim it as my own and am as pleased as punch, until my guest selects her dessert: Yogurt Tiramisu. It is explained that it is made without alcohol or heavy syrups and sits as the pure white, virginal version of my own dark tiramisu. Just like that, I’m hit with buyer’s remorse. Luckily – like ying and yang, chocolate and vanilla, ebony and ivory – my guest and I were able to sample each treat side-by-side. Since my feelings on traditional tiramisu should be evident by now, I’ll comment on the Yogurt Tiramisu…It was delicious! While no extra sugar or syrup is added, the yogurt provides enough sweetness for the entire dish; its creamy texture combining with spongy cake to create a smooth, rich dessert that’s unique to Chianti. The dessert is also nicely accompanied by fresh berries that add a sweet little tang to the otherwise uniform taste of the yogurt.
With the meal over, I find myself doubly satisfied: I’ve had an incredibly fine meal and my assumptions about the restaurant filling up have been correct. I maneuver through the dining room, weaving through tables and avoiding other preoccupied guests. As I prepare to leave this bright place and plunge back into the sidewalk traffic of 5th Avenue, I thank Abdu and comment on how crowded the place is getting. To this, he responds: “We’re just getting started.”
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Great service, great food, Perfect!
Had the swordfish special- PHENOMENAL! Service was great and everyone enjoyed their meal. Really great place to take clients!
Food & service were outstanding. Best Italian food outside of Firenze !
Excellent food, atmosphere, service etc. Very pleased we selected this restaurant on our short visit to the San Diego area.
Best experience on our recent trip to San Diego. Warm reception at the bar and great food. Still thinking about that cheese, eggplant starter - a real winner. Our best meal during our visit.
I love the food, sauces and wine! I enjoy sitting on your patio however the inside is just beautiful, too! The staff has always been professional. I have eaten here five times, every time I am in town and have never had anything but fabulous food and service! Keep up your good work!
Good Italian. Service was excellent as was the ambience. It was good to get something other than California wine. Outdoor seating is a good addition on nice warm nights. Would recommend to others and will go again.
NIce menu. I would definitely go back again.
The food was great and had a very large selection of appetizers, entres, and deserts. The service was spectacular. Loved the aambiance of the dining hall. This was our first time and we will definitely return in the near future.
nice place went after cubs v padres game would return maybe next year the motto for both teams
Wonderful atmosphere, accompanied by a very friendly wait staff, and topped with food that is simply to die for. You can't ask for a more wonderful experience than Chianti.
My wife and I took the kids to Chainti while on on vacation, we are from NY. We typically don't go out for Italian because no restaurants can meet our expectations. We are both Italian and cook good foods. We were pleasantly surprised to find this jem of a place. The food was as good as my mother's and motherin laws home made Italian. I would recommend this place to anyone. Bravo to the chef. If you take kids have them try the pizza. I tried a piece of my daughters and it was fabulous. This is not fast food dough or sauce.
Service was good considering that the restaurant was full, the table was not the best one. The food was great we had the tartar for starters, my wife had the crab ravioli and I had the seafood risotto it was delicious. There was no valet parking and I had to park at Horton Plaza and walk a couple of blocks, but that is ok. I do recommend the restaurant. Great overall experience!
Had a great meal here. The staff was friendly and attentive. We were treated to a nice desert to celebrate. I would definitely come back.
ok to use what i wrote on earlier form (why required a second time?)
Very good place to eat dinner, service could have been a little more efficient, but was still ok, not sure if the waiter was new or not, but overall a great experience and I would definitely return.
GREAT food, selection, and service. Looks fancy in the pictures. I expected everyone to be dressed very nicely. I was disappointed that they weren't. Overall, it was a great night and I would recommend this place to friends.
We had reservations for 4 early on a Saturday evening. Overall it was a pleasant evening, but we were quite disappointed in our waiter and bus boy care, attention, and difficulty getting someone's attention (which often ended up being a man who appeared to be the manager). The food was very good and some items on the extensive menu had interesting twists - particularly the daily special list. I would recommend the place to a friend but would warn them about our waiter (or don't make plans for after dinner)
He food was good at the restaurant, but the leftovers were better. The Veal I had was too saturated in sauce; the meat was very tender (how else would veal be); he service was amazing. Beacause of the location, the price was appropriate. However, if it wasn't in DTSD, it definitely wouldn't have been worth the $150+ I spent. ($90 would have been more appropriate.)