Want to experience classic Italian cuisine without the hassles of airport check in?
De' Medici Cucina Italiana (the "Italian kitchen"), located conveniently in the Gaslamp, is definitely an alternate destination.
It features a lengthy menu of outstanding dishes prepared from traditional Italian recipes, with a special focus on fine Italian seafood.
De' Medici Cucina Italiana opened years ago, one of the original restaurants in the area and has always been a popular place to dine.
The interior of the dining room is chic and comfortable. The walls are a light mellow pastel and decorated with beautifully framed paintings and graphics that reflect an Italian Renaissance theme.
Large comfortable booths, which are reminiscent of seating in Las Vegas showrooms, frame the room. A heated patio is available for outdoor seating. There is nothing better than to dine there on a cool night while watching the crowds troop up and down Fifth Avenue.
The restaurant is owned by Sal Vitale, a dapper, well-dressed genial man who exudes hospitality.
He greatly enjoys pleasing his guests. "I want my restaurant to be the kind that Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin would have liked to dine at," Vitale said.
Mario Valerio, the general manager, brings years of experience selecting the finest seafood for freshness and taste.
Italian culture loves food. The menu lists antipasti, followed by beautifully described pasta and "secondi" -- the chicken and veal dishes that traditionally follow heaping plates of spaghetti, linguini and fettuccine.
Seafood listing filled a page of the menu alone. The "specialeta del giorno" (daily special) was an extensive offering of steak, veal, risotto and osso buco.
My companion and I negotiated our antipasti -- calamari fritti for me and Langostino for her.
The calamari, baby squid rings were fried in a light oil (it tasted good, not greasy) and came with a mouth-electrifying marinara sauce.
The langostino was a baby lobster (big for its age) sautéed in olive oil and garlic butter. The aroma alone was worth the price.
We then shared a salad, insalata caprese, chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese on top of beautiful beefsteak tomato slices -- perfect for cleansing the palate for the next dishes.
We debated the merits of Scampi Vesuvio, huge jumbo shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic over a bed of linguini, which we contrasted to Lasagna alla Bolognese, fresh pasta with layers of cheese, ground veal and filet, with an herbed tomato sauce.
To support her point of view, she recited the virtues of the Saltimbocca alla Toscana, a rolled veal stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella in a white wine sauce.
We reached a joint decision on the seafood section of the menu. I went with the Seabass Maremonte, a tender and fresh Chilean seabass with garlic, white wine, mushrooms and marinara on saffron rice.
What an incredible delight. She selected the robust loin of swordfish, a "sea" steak first grilled and then baked, with a light tomato glaze.
De' Medici Cucina Italiana serves some of the best Italian cuisine in the Gaslamp. It is expensive but well worth it.
The restaurant is located at 815 Fifth Avenue. Reservations are recommended. Call (619) 702-7228 for information.