Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Di Leone's Italian Restaurant - El Cajon CA

After seeing the ads for Di Leone's for sometime now and reading all of the glowing review quote snippets in parenthesis on it's ads. We just had to try it out. I mean when a place constantly has reviews like, " Best food in San Diego" and "Best Italian Food anywhere" in there ads. You just have to go, mainly because like most film reviews with an over abundance of good review quotes on the ad, You know the film is gonna stink. When you look closer at the reviewers, there usually from the Fresno Review Journal or the Pacoima Sentinel. Papers that nobody reads anyway. So we went on a mission and I must admit bent on finding things that aren't good. You know the if you stick your neck out and tell people how good you are, then you put yourself under a microscope for inspection. We arrived around 5:30 on a Saturday Night. The place was packed with a line at the door. We were told about a 20 minute wait to be seated. No problem. We conversed with the folks in line and all of them had been coming here for years. All had absolutely glowing reviews and all said it was worth the wait and the weight. Did we discover restaurant "pod people"from Invasion of the body snatchers? or was this place actually this ferociously addictive.

The Owner, Vito Seragusa used to be the chef at Mama Leone's restaurant in Manhattan. That place is an institution and has been open for almost 100 years. The first thing you notice in the place are the family photos of the Seragusa family, kids, grand kids. Italians are kings at putting that family first mantra into action. Located in an East County strip mall this place is beautiful inside. nice contrasting earth tones abound. We were seated by I believe a niece of Vito's, very nice woman with a genuine smile and warmth. You could tell she liked working here, and who wouldn't, this is definitely a family run business, with nieces, sons and grand kids working here and all very professional. The Patriarch, Vito sat in a booth with some friends and he continually worked the room as the evening progressed, he knew and spoke with everyone there.
That's him in wearing the white apron. Seemingly a lovely guy. We were sat in a booth towards the front of the restaurant and where immediately served some warm focaccia bread. The bread was more of a pizza dough, more dense than a normal focaccia and seasoned with dried herbs consisting of rosemary, oregano and basil. The nice touch was that they had bottles of Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar already on the table. Sue and I grabbed the menus, but first we gave each other that snickering look of, "let's see what we have here". And we found a beautifully laid out menu that hit on everything it should have. Various pasta dishes and chicken, veal, real classic stuff and a few exceptions.

If clams are on the menu, I will always order up a batch. I love clams and the ones on this menu are definitely the best clams I have ever had anywhere. Clams Bordelaise ($12.95) and worth every penny. Wonderful and flavorful large clams in a garlic, butter and wine broth. Just give me some crusty bread and a straw to slurp it up. This is one of those signature dishes that I would drive across town to get no problem.
You can just see all of the chunks of garlic and shallots in this broth. I could have easily acted like Homer Simpson and tipped the bowl to my lips to finish it off.
The Chicken Tortellini soup had the most intense chicken flavor I have ever had at any restaurant or anywhere for that matter. I ordered the Chicken Pizzaiola with Eggplant ($16.95) chicken breast sauteed in a light red wine marinara sauce and topped with capers, olives, and layered with lightly breaded egg plant with hints of oregano. OK, So we were beginning to get the picture here and Sue and I started to get on the bandwagon along with the other patrons of this place. As our eyes glazed over in a culinary haze, we felt we where becoming assimilated into one of the "pod people" fans that this place has. The chicken was pounded flat and sauteed along with mushrooms and eggplant, in a really nice piquant sauce. nice blends of textures and tastes.It came with a great side dish of spaghetti with marinara sauce. Sue had the Lasagna($10.95)
Lasagna is such a generic name. It only refers to the noodle style and not really what else comes with it. But here in the states Lasagna is mostly that classic red sauce and ricotta mixture. The Lasagna here was superb and compiled together fresh onto the plate and not premade which I just detest. The sauce was a very tasty Bolognaise style with Italian sausage mixed in throughout. This place is really a nice little eatery and the way the family works the room definitely reminds me of a neighborhood restaurant in New York.
My only gripe would be the wine list. $25.00 for a $5.00 bottle of Bella Serra is way overly steep. So skip the bottled stuff and go for the house wine.

Is it the best and most authentic Italian restaurant in San Diego? Well, have you ever seen Italians argue over a game of Bocce? If you have then you know that no one can answer this question. Is this place good? It is an outstanding little place with excellent service and flavorful well thought out dishes. Not a gourmet joint to be sure but it takes the family style restaurant to a new level.
Definitely worth a visit. We will be back.

Di Leone's Italian Restaurant
1480 Jamacha RdEl Cajon, CA 92019




Danny said...

Hi Michael,

I haven't been able to drive eastward to try the Caruso at All'Italiana, and now you have another wonderful find. The Chicken Pizzaiola looks yummy. Keep up the great work!

Michael said...

Hi Danny - Thanks for the kind words. Both All'Italiana and Di Leone's are great places to eat and worth the drive.

caninecologne said...

hi Michael! Wow, thanks for linking my blog on your site. What an honor! Looking forward to more posts - which will give me an excuse to go out more often and try different places!

Anonymous said...

It is the best food ever. I have been going for my whole life!!

rick said...

Been going there for years. A best kept east county secret.

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