Friday, August 10, 2007

Mona Lisa Italian Foods - Allied Gardens

Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, So starts the theme song from that classic sitcom Cheers. And the words ring true here at Mona Lisa in Allied Gardens. Unlike the other Mona Lisa restaurant in downtown San Diego, This one is nestled in a strip mall in a neighborhood setting and owned and operated by Mike Apparito, Using family recipes that had been handed down by his father Gaspare Apparito and creatively coming up with his own versions has made this place an institution in San Diego and of course the community of Allied Gardens.
The restaurant has recently gone through a major renovation project that completely transformed the dining area into a beautiful open and yet intimate dining experience. Photos of the family hang everywhere. They bring a great sense of comfort to the diners and let you know that, Yes, there are still those family restaurants around town. Not just family style, But the new honoring the old style family kinda place.

The menu is a nice spattering of what you would expect from a classic old school Italian eatery. Pasta dishes, Veal or Chicken, Lasagna and pizza and so forth. But a few things set this place apart from the rest. One of them is that food of love factor. Not so evident in other places. But here it still thrives on. You can tell that at this Mona Lisa, Mike still has a passion for the food and the place. It would be easy after all the years in business to just let the place go on auto pilot. But not here. A major remodel and the food is nice and comforting. The tomato sauce has to be one of my favorites. It is a rustic basic sauce that has a huge and bursting intense tomato flavor, with a nice fresh sweetness to it, Hints of Oregano for a slight smoky background and lot's of garlic flavor. Great stuff. Right away you can tell that this is a heavily Sicilian style influenced sauce.
A nice tight wine list consisting of a few choice wines. I was surprised to see the Parker Pinot on the list. One of my favorite wines. And litres of the house wines are only $11.00. The food just looks awesome. All finished off with care. We started out with a cup of the house minestrone soup. A classic soup made with Veggies. This one had an incredible tasty broth base. Light, with a nice offering of squash, zucchini cabbage, carrots and various other vegetables. and they weren't all soft and mushy after being in the pot all day long. Good stuff.

As you should know by now I have an aversion to that vinegary mushy pile of veggies that a lot of Italian places put on their Antipasto salads. So I was quite pleased when ours came out that it didn't have any on it. Excellent! It look very nice and piled high with greens and cheese, and various cold cuts. With your choice of dressings on the side.

I had the Veal Marsala. tender and juicy with a nice wedge of lemon for that citrus kick that balances out the sweet Marsala wine flavor.

The veal was nice and not overly sweet tasting, looked great on the plate and wasn't overcooked. Very simple but elegant dish that at most places can get overly complicated and usually ends up tasting like either a dill pickle or a sweet candy.

Lasagna was next up. Nice to see the Mona Lisa rendition of this old school dish. Most places pile up the layers so high that they need a light on top so the planes won't hit it. This one had just a few choice layers resulting in a nice balance of flavors. The Lasagna pasta was done to perfection and not overly cooked and mushy. The filling gave you just enough to allow you to taste all the separate ingredients. Most places usually make huge trays of lasagna once or twice a week and when you order, they take a hunk out and cram it in a ramekin dish and throw it in the pizza oven and then a few minutes before it's heated all the way through they load up the top with cheese to cover it all. Yummy right? Yeah, that's why I usually never order Lasagna in an Italian restaurant. If I want 5 day old re-heated left overs. I will stay home. So remember, Usually when a Place has Lasagna on the menu and it comes in a ramekin dish look elsewhere for another item. Because that's what it usually means. Your gonna get the stuff that they are gonna throw out in a few days. heated in a dish and covered with cheese.

This version at Mona Lisa's was a pleasant surprise.
Very pleasant staff on hand. Nice desert menu with a great offering of Italian classics.
Remember this is unpretentious family fair served here. But having said that. It is also a place to go for that first date or your 50th anniversary. A great little home style Italian eatery. And yeah, Sometimes it is nice to go to a place where everybody knows your name. A place with quality food, service and ambiance that pays homage to it's past by carrying on it's passionate food tradition for the future.

Mona Lisa
5156 Waring Rd
San Diego

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