Blue waters gleamed below the Coronado Bridge on which white dots, small vessels at anchor, bobbed and rolled. The horizon, glowing red at sunset, created a bright backdrop to the silhouettes of tall luxury apartment complexes crowding the shoreline.
Coronado is seemingly a world unto itself, an oasis of beauty, with wide grass-lined streets, eclectic houses and the shining ocean that surrounds it on three sides. Although the military presence is felt, activity is shunted to one side of the "island." Gorgeous resorts such as the Del Coronado and Loews, fine- dining restaurants and soft sandy beaches attract visitors and locals. It is only a 15-minute drive from La Jolla or Chula Vista -- easily accessible.
Tomaso's of Coronado is one of the island's good eating establishments, serving outstanding Sicilian and Italian food that has distinctive homemade flavors. Tomaso's was founded by Tomaso Maggiore in Phoenix, and developed a strong reputation among cognoscenti for good food and excellent wines. It then expanded to more locations.
Many Italian families in the restaurant business seem to create "dynasties," where generations of family members find employment. The Maggiore family has done so. Family members are involved in operations in La Costa (Tuscany, Tommy V's), Encinitas (Zibibbo) and Arizona (Tomaso's in Phoenix and Chandler). Tomaso's of Coronado is run by Tino Maggiore, Tomaso's brother.
"I'm the elder brother and came to this country first," Tino Maggiore said. The casually dressed, smiling proprietor was looking over my shoulder at the large crowd filling his tables, relishing the cuisine. "I'm in the 'front' of the house but I am also the executive chef. My brother Tomaso and I first learned all about cooking from my mother. We watched her as she prepared her dishes with recipes that used the fine products of our region of Italy. We brought these recipes with us to this country.
"Our guests can experience the traditional flavors of the Old World that we've adapted to suit American tastes."
The restaurant is located on Orange Avenue, Coronado's main traffic artery, in the middle of its "restaurant row," on the second story, atop a wide set of stairs similar to Piazza di Spagna, Rome's "Spanish Steps." There is also an elevator.
The restaurant's interior is very comfortable and has a welcoming ambiance. Part of the interior looks like a covered patio, but there is a large exterior patio as well for enjoyable outdoor dining during warm days and balmy evenings. Growing plants hang from the ceilings and small glowing lights create a fun, festive air.
The wine menu offers nice selections by the glass and bottle of both Italian and domestic reds and whites. There is also a good selection of beers from around the world.
Appetizers (antipasti) include a mozzarella and bruschetta dish that combines wonderful cheese atop beefsteak tomato slices with diced tomato and basil, drizzled with virgin olive oil on top of Tuscan-style toast wedges. Mushroom caps stuffed with gourmet crab in a creamy Cognac sauce are a good starter.
Entrees include beef, veal prepared in a number of ways, chicken and seafood. The Veal Chop is very good. The Veal Saltinbocca -- veal topped with prosciutto -- is an aficionado's delight. Orange Roughy and Salmon are both prepared with capers and artichokes with a light seafood citrus wine sauce. The salmon, in particular, was outstanding.
Pasta lovers will find a rewarding selection at Tomaso's. Servings are large and homemade pastas enriched with sauces enhance the food's satisfying "feel good" quality. Linguini with clams is particularly excellent.
Desserts include traditional favorites like crème brûlée, tiramisu, cannoli, spumoni ice cream and ricotta cheesecake. A lot of chocolate is used in the preparations. Working my way through the dessert tray is one of my favorite ways to end an excellent dinner.
Tomaso's of Coronado is a delightful place to dine and prices are moderate, so families can enjoy the experience together. The restaurant is located at 1309 Orange Ave. in Coronado. Street parking is usually available. Lunch and dinner are served daily. Call (619) 522-0077 for reservations and information.
Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. Send comments to the firstname.lastname@example.org. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.