It’s the afternoon on a Tuesday. I’m passing lounges on 5th Avenue in Downtown San Diego that would normally be packed to the brim with joyous twenty and thirty-something-year-olds, twirling their limbs to a syncopated beat, most likely made by a one of those famous DJs. Tonight, they’re empty, no attendees. The sidewalk, however, is filled with hominoid bipeds, walking in small packs avec sports attire, heading towards Petco Park. Usually the folks that scour these parts when I’m here are dolled up chicly, adorning whatever they bought at Horton Plaza or maybe from the Urban Outfitters down the street. As the groups head west with their eyes towards the horizon, I have my nose to the sky, scanning the radiant downtown buildings, featuring new and old architectural styles, for any telltale signs of tonight’s destination.
Cremolose...Cremolose…I’ve heard that this casual Italian restaurant/European cafe/specialty cocktail establishment/baked goods destination/gelato haven/dessert mecca/late night joint is where the city’s oldest family-owned business once occupied. Finally, my eyes catch a red and gold, embossed and glossy sign. “Here we are, the San Diego Hardware Company,” I state. Although still sporting the original label and curved windows since the late 1900’s, Cremolose embodies an historical vessel that not only serves traditional Italian fare, but also offers a plethora of other culinary amenities that most of these other downtown establishments just, well, don’t.
Cremolose opened its doors on January 25, 2012, providing traditional Italian cuisine and refreshing, zestful treats by the cup to foodies. So what is cremolose, Matthew? Well, thanks for asking, let me tell you. In all actuality, cremolose (yes, it’s a real thing, but don’t check your dictionary, it won’t be there) is the cat’s meow in Europe. Conceived by a Sicilian artisan gelato maker, this life altering creation has both the refreshing satisfactions like sorbet and creamy goodness like gelato and ice cream. To break it down even further, cremolose consists of 60% fresh fruit, 10% Italian sorbet, and 30% gelato. Indulgers can get a healthy snack from the fruit, a stimulating clean finish from the sorbet, and a light buttery after taste from the gelato, which all in all, is 100% fantastic.
“You won’t find a place like this in downtown,” says Jamie Lynn Alber, the Marketing Manager of Cremolose. Sitting right next to me is Victoria Rossi, General Manager, nodding with agreement. I can’t agree with her more. While sitting on the second level-dining room that sits in the back of the restaurant, I overlook the front of the restaurant where Cremolose showcases their frozen treats and sugar-filled baked goods, blasted in front of bright lights, and enticing the foot traffic to take a gander. Ultimately, it’s working. A constant flow of people funnel in, eyes glazed over while bouncing from display case to display case like a pinball. Adjacent to the dessert area, the fully equipped bar displays a massive selection of liquor: over 50 hand-selected whiskeys, 20 domestic and micro-brewed beers, and magnum-size Grey Goose bottles. The bar is surrounded by flat screen televisions, some constantly pumping images of the cooks creating their specialty Italian dishes that are nonetheless comforting, and others showing the highlights of tonight’s NBA and NHL games. To the right of the bar, a grandiose wine tower stands tall, tucked in the corner, almost touching the ceiling. It’s filled with sparkling bubbly, crisp whites, and robust reds, mostly imported from Italy and Napa Valley, waiting its turn to be paired with a delicious entree. Next to the pastry display, the brick-fire oven rages on, baking fresh pizza topped with classic Italian ingredients like buffalo mozzarella. Even at the wee hours of the night, hungry downtown patrons can stop by Cremolose to pick a slice a pizza or maybe one of the hot plate pastries like arancini, a deep fried goodie filled with saffron rice, mozzarella and ham.
I am the luckiest guy in San Diego right now. Not only am I at a table with a group of women (please someone, anyone, take a picture) that emit a glowing radiance, but I’m also dining at a restaurant that has a menu that exhibits traditional, stomach pleasing Italian entrees for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition, they offer that and much, much more. As my mind tries to calculate the awesomeness Cremolose encompasses, Jamie says, “Are you ready?” She is taking the reigns for our epicurean journey at Cremolose. I quickly nod with affirmation, while my mind depicts a slow fist pump, like when a child is told they are receiving a gift. Our eyes glitter just like the patrons’ downstairs.
Let the smorgasbord begin.
Our server for the night, Thaddeus Drahuschak (a mouthful isn’t it?), arrives at our table with our request of bottled Rocchetta Italian still water and asks, “What else are we having to drink for tonight?” Given that Thaddeus’ credibility (he’s the one who drops some knowledge on me about cremolose) is well above par, I ask him if there is anything I should try. He smirks. Suddenly, he goes in-depth about their specialty cocktails where they utilize cremolose. What? They use cremolose in an alcoholic beverage? This place must be a utopia where dreams come true and pigs levitate. The Frozen Cocktail List offers an arrangement of alcoholic aperitifs, all with different flavor combinations. Thaddeus announces favorites like the “5” Dollar Shake and the Wild Berry, both utilizing cremolose and top shelf spirits. After giving Thaddeus information on my subjective tastes, he states, “I’ve got the rest,” and struts away like a man on a mission.
During the duration Thaddeus is away, my eyes wander from section to section, taking notes of the dining room’s exquisite appearance. My eyes follow the clean lines the table linen creates towards the light mocha walls, the same color of a cup of freshly brewed espresso. The walls are adorned with 1950’s Fernet Branca poster ads, an amaro digestif that’s distilled in Milan, Italy, adding a sense of Italian style to the room. Above us, the ceiling is decorated with embossed tin decals that, from what I’ve heard, are a homage to the original 20th century dancehall era. I hear the clacking from Jamie’s and Victoria’s high heels on the natural maple floors; they’re diligently observing the second level that is now filled with a large group of young adults. Below me, I can hear two middle-aged women speaking their Italian, adding to the medium-noise level from the incoming foot traffic and are still filing inside. The mood is lively. Everyone is talking, laughing, and having fun.
The two appetizer course starts to flow in: assorted cold and hot antipasto. With a handful of selections, Cremolose’s appetizer selection covers the classic Italian starters like Steak Carpaccio, Burrata, and Bruschetta with Prosciutto and Mozzarella. In addition, for those guests that want to start off the meal with something light, salad creations like a Fruit or Artichoke Salad are available as well.
From all the selections, it might be hard to find a consensus between just one or two appetizers. However, the Hot or Cold Antipasto plates cover most of the appetizers, solving the big debacle without a scene. The Cold Assorted Antipasto features salami, prosciutto, mortadella, lightly toasted bread, mixed grilled vegetables, and olives, all drizzled with pesto. On the Hot Assorted Antipasto plate, we have mushroom caps stuffed with crab meat, crisp bruschetta served on a toast, eggplant stuffed with ricotta and spinach topped with cheese and marinara sauce, fried Dungeness crab cakes dressed with Tabasco aioli and mango salsa, and lightly fried calamari with marinara sauce. Let me say this, these two plates give a great interpretation of Italian cuisine and allows creative flavor combinations. On the cold assorted plate, I mix and match between the different factors. I try the thinly sliced prosciutto with the lightly toasted bread and olive marinated in light oils and vinegar. Each part has its own texture, creating a playful jumble in my mouth. The robust flavor from the olive, mixed with the salty prosciutto, and the healthy crunch from the toasted bread creates a pleasing effect in my mouth.
The straightforward Hot Assorted Antipasto, on the other hand, gives my guest and me an appetizer that we didn’t find the least bit dull. We move from the calamari, to the bruschetta, and to the crab cakes, all with ease, surprising our palates with every twist and turn they have to offer.
While my guest and I scarf down the appetizer, Thaddeus comes back with my handcrafted concoction: the Frozen Lemonade. Served in a highball glass, this cremolose creation consists of Grey Goose citron vodka, blended with limoncello and lemon cremolose. The frozen lemonade is thoroughly invigorating. The mixture of limoncello and lemon cremolose masks any remnants of any ethanol taste the citron vodka might leave behind, making it an easy drink to take down. Clean and exhilarating, each sip had a consistent flow of crushed ice and lemonade zest. I imagine myself sipping a couple of these bad boys on a warm San Diego day, relaxing on Cremolose’s open patio.
We enter the second round: Pasta Paccheri. Thick tubed-shaped pasta soaked with creamy pistachio pesto, mixed with sliced speck, and topped with parmigiano shaves. My guest gleefully states, “I love speck.” Unknowing of what speck is, she explains to me that it’s “fatty” goodness, comparable to prosciutto. I dig in. The result is a medley of textures and taste. The pasta tubes were boiled to that ideal consistency, giving a slightly firm bounce to each bite. The speck, with its distinctive juniper flavor and the creamy pistachio pesto pair lovely together, comforting my appetite, like a bear hug. Within each bite, the pistachio crumbs add a soft crunch to an overall sprightly medley. I’m drawn to the dish and become a new fan of this cured meat. Consciously, I place my fork down; knowing I’m only half way down my food journey at Cremolose. I plea, “This needs to get away from me, it’s too good.” Thaddeus comes to my aid, and I politely ask if I could box the rest of my Paccheri – I don’t want this dish to go to waste. Soon after, Jamie comes back to our table with the creator of Cremolose and many other restaurants in Downtown San Diego.
“Here is the big boss,” says Jamie. It’s Vincenzo Loverso, owner and Executive Chef at Cremolose. I proudly stand and shake his hand. A living rags-to-riches story, Loverso left his hometown of Sicily, Italy, and moved to New Jersey to obtain the American Dream. Although his vision didn’t happen over night, Loverso struggled to achieve his goals, even at one point sleeping on his friend’s floor. Yet now, through hard work and elbow grease, he’s created multiple fine dining establishments like Greystone the Steakhouse and Osteria Panevino in Downtown San Diego. We chat for a bit, discussing that Cremolose is his “dream restaurant,” a destination that combines only the best attributes from all his other restaurants. Loverso works endlessly, from morning to night, creating Cremolose the way he dreamt it would be. As quickly as he came, he disappears to oversee tonight’s flow of customers, maybe even lend a hand wherever it be needed. “The best food that you’ll eat is made by Vincenzo himself,” states Jamie. Is there anything Loverso can’t do? He makes me (and everyone else in the world) look lazy.
After the Pasta Paccheri was boxed and placed safely on the seat next to me, our next entrée arrives, the Veal Ossobuco. The dish features a slow braised, bone-in veal shank and diced vegetables marinating in a red wine sauce, paired with a bed of saffron risotto. Tender and moist, the veal falls off the bone with ease, succumbs with one soft cut from my fork. Garnished with a stem of rosemary, the red wine sauce creates a heavy and comforting gusto. The rosemary softly creeps into the sauce, giving a taste of its essence that oftentimes can be overbearing when exaggerated.
Other than the Veal Ossobuco, the seafood and meat section on the menu features choices like the Southern California favorite Ahi Tuna and the ever-so-popular Grilled Salmon. In addition, carnivores can rejoice over Cremolose’s 10 oz. Filet Mignon and Veal Parmigiana. With so many great dishes on the seafood and meat section, I’m glad that Jamie made the executive decision to order for my guest and me.
“Desserts, shall we?” Jamie asks. I am stuffed, filled to the top with, traditional, Italian fare. Luckily, to move all the food in my gut, we take a walk to the first level to handpick the last leg of the journey. After sampling a barrage of cremolose and gelato, we opt for the 7-Layer Chocolate, filled with chunks of chocolate pieces, Strawberry Cake that is comparable to a Good Humor Strawberry Shortcake bar, but better, Bacio that’s rich and has a playful, nutty crunch in every bit, and Pistachio that is nonetheless a classic a choice. Although this is the last part of our food excursion, the dessert is fabulous. My guest notes, “I could have just came for the gelato.” However, how could you not indulge in all the other goodies Cremolose has to offer? I truly believe that it cannot be done.
With our doggie bags in our hands, we wave farewell to Jamie and Victoria, thanking them from a great journey. “Hope you enjoyed everything! You still need to come by for our Happy Hour,” said Jamie. What doesn’t Cremolose offer? I thought long and hard about, wrapping my head around the question while walking back to my car. They offer terrific food, superb desserts, unique cocktails, and late night goodies. I came to the conclusion: there isn’t much they don’t offer. Cremolose is all-in-one.
Insider Tip: Indulge their exquisite Italian fare for Sunday Brunch while taking in some sunrays this summer on their outdoor patio. Marry the experience with a cup of import cremolose while relaxing in the fabulous Downtown District.