Server saves the day as Catania celebrates two years of business
by MARTIN JONES WESTLIN
Published - 03/25/17 - 01:26 PM | 3042 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you like the seafood at Catania Coastal Italian, try the pizza and house-made pastas.
If you like the seafood at Catania Coastal Italian, try the pizza and house-made pastas.
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Not quite two years ago, La Jolla was basically a single-industry neighborhood that probably could have sustained itself as a small city. The spectacularly upscale, The Lot restaurant and movie house, opened in the fall of 2015, and for the next 20 months, several eatery remodels and openings threatened to turn the Village into Beverly Hills South.

The food was king, queen and kin around these parts. Everybody, including the kids, gained an average 47 pounds, and local orders for doggie bags and styrofoam containers boggled stock exchanges the world over.

Catania Coastal Italian stands as a testament to those frenetic days. Its two-year anniversary is in full swing, and it's weathered the shake-down like the great restaurant it is, adding supply to consumer demand with new entrees like the wood-fired burger and a house-made pasta called squid-ink spaghetti. (Don't let the name throw ya—squid ink is a bona fide coloring agent and seasoning, although the cephalopod community probably sees it differently.)

Being the hopeless seafood junkie that I am, I went for the newly installed pan-seared local snapper piccata, which came with lemon, asparagus and an astute suggestion on wine pairing. Fish, white wine and I normally make a perfectly agreeable trio, but I was about to be reminded that with such an exquisitely tender fare, the wine makes all the difference.

As I absentmindedly ordered a glass of Zibbibo (mostly because of the funny name), my server piped up with a rejoinder: The meal would go markedly better with a Tuscany Chardonnay called Le Brunchie. The citrus and exotic fruit flavors, he said, make an ideal companion to the buttery sauce in which a lighter fish happily frolics, and the guy was so disarmingly friendly about it that he didn't leave me much choice.

The snapper was positively made with Le Brunchie in mind, or vice versa, hard science and aesthetics met in the wine pairing of the century, with the wine's fuller body complementing the food's loftier taste at every turn. This was one sensational collaboration and a brilliant reinforcement of a lesson I'd forgotten for a minute in a restaurant situation like this, wine is not so much a drink as a condiment.

Dessert, a chocolate torta with pistachios and pomegranate, was no slacker either. Its crusty shell is a meal by itself, thick with the minty taste that marks this popular item (besides, dessert was all I could do to wrap my head around the ingenious wine pairing from moments before).

Catania has certainly acquitted itself over the last two years, its origin fueled by Whisknladle Hospitality chief Arturo Kassel and culinary director Ryan Johnson. Their 1,400-mile road trip through Italy years ago has yielded a cluster of house-made pastas, handcrafted pizza and a 5,000-pound oven named Beatrice, who sees to it that the fare is crisped to your liking. The sweat equity paid off in 2015, even as the Village food scene was swirling around itself -- that year, Catania was named one of the 15 hottest restaurants in the U.S. by no less than the Zagat restaurant survey.

Meanwhile, the hubbub from the last year and a half fuels speculation about the next two or three years as new venues settle in and old ones gird for reconfiguration. But Catania should stand in excellent stead, especially with a staff that knows way more than its share of the game.

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