Gemelli Italian Grill

495 Laurel Street, San Diego CA 92101
$$ Italian

Gemelli Italian Grill offers casual elegance and modern style. The restaurant couples modern Italian cuisine with steakhouse fare, serving both in a quiet, sophisticated setting. Just north of downtown on the corner of Fifth and Laurel, Gemelli is an escape into a refined world. Generous portions of pastas, steaks, and Italian classics pepper the menu, with dishes as diverse as pesto-filled Crepes Cristina, authentic Sicilian Halibut, and the “Twins Special”—petit filet mignon paired with jumbo tiger shrimp. With gracious service, reasonable prices, and an elegant, upscale setting, Gemelli is a gem of a restaurant you don’t want to miss.

Gemelli Italian Grill

Review by

I arrive at Gemelli Italian Grill from the heart of downtown, after a quick drive up 5th Avenue. As soon as I exit the flurry of activity in the Gaslamp, I am put at ease. Just a few blocks from downtown proper, parking is plentiful and streets are serene. Rounding the corner of 5th and Laurel to the restaurant’s entrance, I wonder why I don't come up here more often.

Greeted by a smiling hostess, we are led past the granite bar through the dining room, where we are offered one of many prime window-side tables. The room is awash in warm tones, with low lighting, tan walls, and dark woods. The decor is tasteful and elegant, a modern interpretation of a classic setting. Lush, golden-hued drapes soften the floor-to-ceiling windows, while framed oil paintings break up the walls. Tables are well-spaced, chairs are both comfortable and elegant, and part of the L-shaped room can become a semi-private space for larger parties.

The tasteful décor, we soon learn, is the concept of JoJo Busalacchi, who with her husband Vince Busalacchi, own and operate the restaurant. If their name sounds familiar to you, it should: Vince’s family owns Busalacchi’s in Hillcrest, as well as several other restaurants in the area. After working for the family business for over 20 years, Vince decided to pursue his longtime dream—owning his own restaurant—and in May 2005 Gemelli’s was born. The name, which means twins in Italian, alludes to the couple’s twins as well as to Vince’s birthday—he’s a Gemini.

Thick leather menus make their way into our hands, just as a basket of warm, crunchy garlic bread arrives on the table. Moments later, Fernando, our server, arrives with a smile, elegantly clad in all black like the rest of the staff. We realize we are in good hands. Every word out of Fernando's mouth is spoken with a smile—he seems genuinely proud of each dish he delivers, excited about each wine he explains.

The wine list offers about 150 bottles, a mixture of California and Italian wines across a broad price range. Those offered by the glass seem carefully selected to match Gemelli's Sicilian-infused cuisine. We find two that prove versatile throughout our meal: a Banfi San Angelo, a Tuscan Pinot Grigio that's bright and fruity, and a Rodney Strong Russian River Pinot Noir.

Gemelli's menu is peppered with enticements. The appetizer pages alone hold our interest for some time, with a broad selection of both hot and cold Antipasti. All of the dishes are prepared daily by chef Arturo Salas, who has worked with Vince for years.

We begin with something traditional—a plate of Calamari Fritti from the hot Antipasti section. A square plate arrives with a heaping pile of rings and tentacles, accompanied by a vibrant red bowl of fresh marinara for dipping. Lightly floured and pan-fried, the rings are tender and juicy, and not overly coated. Each bite, squirted with a hint of fresh lemon and dipped in the tangy marinara sauce, is lively and refreshing, tempting our palates for what is to come.

Plates are set down and cleared with precision—this is service at its best. Before our next course—and with each succeeding one—we receive a new set of plates and silverware, our water is refreshed, and we are checked in on by Fernando. We haven’t received such good treatment in some time.

Enamored with appetizers, we sample two more before moving on—Crepes Cristina and Mama's Imbotitti. The difference between the two is deliciously apparent. The Imbotitti is Sicilian at its best—savory eggplant, rich pesto, tender pasta—rich with flavor without being heavy. The crepes, on the other hand, are straight out of Northern Italy, smothered in a creamy béchamel sauce, decadent and lush.

We turn to the imbotitti first. Thin slivers of pan-fried eggplant are wrapped like a cannoli around a filling of pesto-marinated bugatini pasta and a mixture of three cheeses: provolone, mozzarella, and parmesan. The entire form is topped with a chunky tomato sauce, whose freshness is unmistakable. We are delighted by the novel way of eating the long, thick strands of pasta—rather than twirling them, we cut through the whole ensemble, so that each forkful offers the perfect ratio of pasta, eggplant, and cheese. The flavors are deep and savory, the eggplant perfectly fried and the pasta offering just enough bite. I could easily make a meal out of the dish.

Then, I am blown away by the Crepes Cristina. A thick triangle sprawls across the plate, blanketed by a shimmering, creamy white sauce. The presentation promises decadence and does not disappoint—the tender, house-made crepe mingles with creamy sauce so richly that it could pass for dessert. Yet, just when the richness reaches its peak, a burst of savory flashes across the tongue—a fresh pesto made of basil, parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic. The combination is brilliant, the pesto perfectly balancing the rich cream. But perhaps more than the flavor, I am wooed by texture—the house made batter results in a perfectly spongy crepe, a true delight to experience.

Just when it seems nothing could follow such decadent appetizers, the Misto di Centrioli steps up to fill its role. The dish, appearing on the salad section of the menu, is an ideal palate cleanser between courses, with a fresh liveliness that reawakens our appetites. Consisting of a heaping mold of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn kernels, the salad is light and vibrant. A subtle vinaigrette as well as tiny crumbles of Gorgonzola lend just a hint of flavor, but not enough to mask the refreshing cleanness of fresh produce. A final, seemingly insignificant ingredient surprisingly makes the dish—copious amounts of fresh ground pepper add intensity to every bite.

Whether it is the work of the appetite-stimulating salad or the savory wafts of garlic and lemon, I approach our next dish with unhesitating abandon. My eagerness is rewarded—Halibut alla Siciliana proves to be the crowning dish of the evening. The dish features a thick piece of tender fish, lightly breaded and baked, then topped with a fresh-made sauce of tomatoes, garlic, white wine, and lemon. Moist and tender, the halibut is cooked to perfection, while the sauce is arresting—thick and tangy, it is almost sweet and sour at once. The piquant tang from the lemon lends a depth of flavor that keeps the dish exciting and our palates wanting more. It is unique, surprising, and entirely engaging. The dish is accompanied by buttery mixed vegetables and creamy, thinly sliced potatoes, but it is the fish that has our attention. I easily clean my plate—the halibut is rich and satisfying without being overly heavy.

Our last dish is also a winner, even though it is widely different than the last. The Salmone alla Crema, or salmon with caper cream, is hearty, luscious, and complex. A rich, full-bodied sauce blankets a generous piece of salmon, studded with verdant capers and herbs. The salmon is warm and savory, both flaky and moist at once. The sauce is bewitching, lending an almost smoky, nutty depth, which is interrupted mid-bite by the salty tang of the capers. Flavorful and unique, it is a stunning conclusion to a meal that has run the gamut of flavors.

By conclusion, I mean conclusion to the savory portion of our meal. After our plates are cleared and our table laid bare, Fernando arrives on cue, smile on his face and oversized tray in his hand. The desserts he displays are as enticing as the menu has been, and despite our clearly sated—and satisfied—state, we sample two. The Cherry Vanilla Cake offers a sweet respite: several moments of bliss before we must leave this enjoyable place. Popping sweet with a sugary vanilla and maraschino cherry cream, it reminds me of birthday cakes of years past. Yet, as good as the cake may be, it is the Cannoli that steals our hearts. Made in house, the dessert is the perfect marriage of savory cream and sweet crispness, with a dense, ricotta filling and a flaky sugary shell. Like many moments of our meal, it seems straight out of Italy. We linger, savoring each bite of tangy ricotta, not wanting dessert or our meal to end.

But, alas, we soon find ourselves unable to take another bite, and regrettably surrender our forks. We aren't rushed to leave, and spend the last few moments watching pedestrians outside the window, grateful for our peaceful surroundings. Gemelli's is that place you head to when you need a break from the world, when you want a few hours of calm and courtesy amidst an ordinary day. It is a place to depend on, where you know the service will shine, the setting will welcome, and the food will not only satisfy but captivate. Next time I’m in the mood for a comforting meal, I’m heading here. I know I will be in good hands.

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Business Info

  • Address: 495 Laurel Street, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: 5th Avenue
  • Location: Downtown | Bankers Hill
  • Cuisine: Italian |
  • Cost: | Inexpensive
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Private Lot |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: does not allow outside bottles
  • Staff: Arturo Salas | Executive Chef
  • Phone: (619) 234-1050
  • Features: Full Bar, Catering Services, Live Entertainment, Outdoor Seating, Takeout Available, Wheelchair Access, Happy Hours, Lounge / Bar,
  • Occasion: Romantic Dining, Dining Alone, Business Dining, Meet for a Drink, Quiet Conversation, Special Occasion, Dog Friendly,


Gemelli Italian Grill - Gemelli Italian Grill
Gemelli Italian Grill - Gemelli Italian Grill Gemelli Italian Grill - Owner Vince Busalacchi Gemelli Italian Grill - Executive Chef Arturo Salas Gemelli Italian Grill - Owner Vince Busalacchi Gemelli Italian Grill - Executive Chef Arturo Salas

Business Hours

Reservations Available
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 9:45 p.m.
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 9:45 p.m.
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Breakfast - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 9:45 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 9:45 p.m.
Happy Hours - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:45 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:45 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 9:45 p.m.
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Customer Reviews & Ratings

4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes