Chris Crary

Executive Chef

Jack's La Jolla - Viaggio

Almost a month after the opening of Viaggio, the Italian restaurant that takes over the former Dining Room at Jack's La Jolla, Executive Chef Tony DiSalvo seems surprisingly calm. It was a "really smooth shift," he says of the transition. There was "a lot of planning," he explains, so that the entire transition was able to take place in just three days. "We tore the kitchen apart, brought in an extruder, a pasta cooker, a grill. All the necessary equipment." He explains how the kitchen made every dish on the menu in the three days before the restaurant opened, testing the new equipment and trying the dishes out on the staff.

Of the new restaurant, he describes it as "a nice change." "I don't miss the old stuff," he says. He explains that he was the driving force behind the restaurant’s changes, which came about when he realized that he "was not enthusiastic" about the food he was cooking for the Dining Room. "I want to cook food with more soul," he says with a smile. Plus, he had come to observe that the style of food, which he describes as "too fussy," might not be right for San Diego. He "was not 100% sold that that’s what San Diego wants."

DiSalvo sees his role as a middle man, constantly striving to "balance what I want to cook with what people want to eat." It is a wise perspective, and one that has helped shaped the cuisine at Viaggio. "This is just good food. It's technical, it's flavor based. We bring in a craftsmanship by making our own pastas." He explains that with the new concept, he still applies his signature style, but that the food is "more to my roots. It's who I am." He explains of the Dining Room’s old cuisine, "It's hard to cook that food and not feel like you are trying to be someone else."

"It's been a fun process," Tony says of the change. He specifically emphasizes the pastas, which he did not offer at the old Dining Room and which make up about third of the new menu. He describes how all of the pastas served at the restaurant are made fresh daily, using a pasta machine called an extruder. The extruder accommodates a 3-kilogram batch at a time, and can make a variety of pasta shapes using bronze dies, which mould the pastas into uniform shapes. The dies also create “lots of texture,” which ensures that sauces will cling to the pasta shapes. During a glimpse into the kitchen, a staff member was cutting thin sheets of mint papperdelle, a wide flat noodle tinted green from mint leaves, then laying each slice carefully on a rack to dry. "We use 100% semolina," DiSalvo explains of the flour used to make the pasta, explaining how the semolina flour helps the pasta shapes air dry. The menu includes both fresh and dried pastas, and the kitchen often dries pasta shapes that will be paired with heartier sauces. The drying changes the consistency, making the pasta heartier and a bit more toothsome.

DiSalvo is happy to be able to make dishes that "people can identify with." He describes Viaggio’s overall menu concept as less expensive as before, but also offering premium options, such as five- and seven-course tasting menus. "There's a wide variety" he says of the 36-item menu, but claims that making that many dishes is not hard for the kitchen to manage. "We designed it in the smartest way imaginable," he claims. He explains that he wanted to start with a large menu, rather than starting small and expanding—he describes his approach as to "go big."

This is not the first time that DiSalvo has decided to “go big.” His entire career has been founded on high ambitions. After graduating from the CIA and working under such esteemed chefs as Tom Colicchio and Jean Georges Vongerichten in New York, he came to San Diego in 2004, ready for a challenge. He moved specifically to open Jack’s La Jolla, in a move that had him—from across the country—agreeing to take on not one, but three restaurants. Since opening in 2004, Jack’s has emerged as a culinary mainstay in the city, and DiSalvo has not only succeeded in running three restaurants, he has won numerous awards for his hard work and creativity.

But he is not one to rest on his laurels, and has striven to ensure that the restaurants constantly evolve. For example, shortly after its opening, he changed the menu in Jack’s Grille from an original Asian-influenced, small-plates concept to a more casual, American-bistro-like menu; he saw that the place had the potential to be a locals’ place, but that it needed a light-hearted menu and simple, yet flavorful fare. Now, he seems both excited and determined in introducing Viaggio, and my hunch is that, like the Grille, this change will be welcomed and well-received.

Restaurant Info

  • 7863 Girard Avenue
    San Diego CA 92037
  • Restaurant: Jack's La Jolla - Viaggio
  • Address: 7863 Girard Avenue, San Diego CA 92037
  • Cross Street: Wall Street
  • Location: La Jolla & UTC | La Jolla Village
  • Cuisine: Italian |
  • Cost: $$$ | Moderate | $50 - $75
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Casual Elegant
  • Meals Served: Dinner |
  • Parking: Street | Public Lot | Valet Parking |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | MasterCard | Discover | Diners Club |
  • Corkage Fee: 25.00 | per bottle
  • Phone: (858) 456-8111