“Coastal Italian” is an inviting descriptor for the restaurant on the top floor at Wall and Girard. So I went twice.
Initially, we were a group of journalists hosted for Saturday lunch at Catania. The streets were blocked off for the La Jolla Art and Wine Festival. Though we sensed the happiness factor in the streets below, our focus was the server and the menu in front of us.
Nathan and Jessica informed the nine of us would be sharing plates, Italian style. The owner and founder, Arturo Kassel welcomed us with warmth. We opted to be surprised.
And so we were. Catania is brazen food selections in a beautiful space. I loved the sweet potatoes among local baby lettuces. And crudo: yellowtail with cucumber salsa verde, radish and olive oil and local halibut with sweet plum puree, olive and pistachio relish. The off-the-menu crispy Spanish octopus with Merguez sausage, chickpeas, capers and herb salad was beautifully spicy and succulent. Next was smoked duck liver mousse with pluots, dates, almonds, red onion and parsley. The blackberry pizza was, by consensus, the showstopper, created in a 5,000 pound brick oven named Beatrice. Add burrata, pecorino Toscano, fried sage and saba (the grape must component of balsamic vinegar). Too much fun and flavor!
The restaurant is part of Whisknladle Hospitality. Whisknladle restaurant is around the corner. There are three prep kitchens in La Jolla. Besides Arturo Kassel, Ryan Johnson is chef/ culinary partner, David Balanson is chief operating officer/ partner, plus three others, two of which are silent. The third manages the beverage service and Milagro Farm in Ramona.
Five days later, my husband and I arrived around sunset for a new perspective. From table #14, the inky sky with pink hues framed Girard storefronts, adjacent structures and palms. The patio’s alive and the aromas entice. Outside is the place to be, though inside dining and a gorgeous bar are here, too.
A bottle of Donafugata Nero d’Avola was an almost automatic choice which complemented the oh-so sensuous fare. The crispy octopus I tried previously is now on the menu, and it’s sensational! We shared the local baby lettuces and savored those dates, sweet potatoes, Milagro Farms pomegranate seeds and gorgonzola. Tonight I nearly inhaled the duck sugo with housemade tiny orecchiette. We shared succulent grigliata mista (mixed grill) with beef ribs, fragrant lamb meatballs, pork sausage, Heirloom tomatoes and cipollini onions. David insisted that we try the spit-roasted duck, with shallots, pluots, pancetta, bay leaf and homey-pine nut gremolata, and we were eager to oblige.
I couldn’t help noticing the smiles on the faces of the party nearby as Alberto presented the menu. Catania has that effect on me, too.
Torta di Ricotta with figs, candied almonds, Fior di Latte gelato was superb.
You’ve gotta love the spirit here: on the dessert menu, the last selection reads: Cucina Sixer: Say grazie to the kitchen crew with a round of beer. Certamente.