Lick the Plate: Beautiful people and amazing food at Cucina enoteca

Lick the Plate: Beautiful people and  amazing food at Cucina enoteca
The Rigatoni Bolognese, giant meatball and fabulous risotto are just some of the reasons to visit Cucina enoteca. Photo by David Boylan

There are certain places in coastal North County where the people watching can be as good as the dining or shopping experience.

Cardiff Seaside Market (the beautiful people market) as we call it, Whole Foods, and just about anywhere in coastal Del Mar. Men and women sculpted, tan and tone in beautifully curated environments and in many cases food and shopping experiences that equal the surroundings.

And yes, I did just use the word curated which seems to be fair game to apply to anything these days but hey, when in Rome right? 

So besides the people, Cucina enoteca is a stunning space.  It’s a two-story, 8,500 square-foot restaurant and wine shop located in Del Mar’s Flower Hill Promenade.

There are playful vintage finds such as antique housewares and colorful world globes that are complemented by touches of greenery and seductive lighting. More on the lighting later though as I did have one minor issue with that.

As a nod to the location’s proximity to the polo fields and the nearby thoroughbred club homage to equestrian is presented with over 400 collectable Breyer toy horses strung in a unique staircase installation.

My horsey friends inform me that these are collectables and a nice tough. Other highlights of the restaurant include a second story open-air deck, open kitchen, bustling communal bar area and intimate glass dining room. The bar area is where the scene is really going off and is said to be where local professional athletes congregate.

Executive Chef Joe Magnanelli leads the kitchen for the entire Urban Kitchen Group with Executive Sous Chef Rosa Geremia executing his menu at Cucina enoteca, bringing creative takes on Italian classics to North County, while showcasing the freshest seasonal ingredient sourced from local farms. 

Their wine list is comprised of over 250 familiar names and rare, small-batch gems from the Americas and Europe, with an emphasis on Italian varietals. The dedicated wine shop allows guests to hand select wines at a retail price, either to enjoy with their meal for a minimal corkage fee or to purchase to go.

Our server paired a very versatile chilled Gamay, which was a perfect selection for the variety of food we sampled. This lighter-bodied red wine made from the Gamay grape has been called “a sommelier’s secret weapon.”

And thanks to its versatility and food-friendly nature, this varietal grown predominantly in the Beaujolais region of France is showing up more and more on menus. It did pair well and drank very smoothly which I appreciate in a red.

So on to the dining portion of the adventure that I’ll start by revisiting the lighting situation.

Yes, it’s sexy and seductive, but between the dim lighting and very small font on the menu, every other table had their mobile phone flashlight on and was holding the menu very close to read it.

Even my twenty-something companion had a hard time with it. Our server said they offered reading glasses but why force diners into that awkward situation?

Anyway, seems like an easy fix and just a small hiccup in what otherwise was a spectacular dining experience

That started with a sampling of starters and the standout was the beet and avocado salad with radicchio, pine nuts, crisp quinoa, and sesame and feta crema. The tuna crudo with aji cucumber sugo, melon and pepita was as light and refreshing as it sounds. And of course, the omnipresent grilled octopus with their own twist that included speck, celery, cashew, lemon yogurt and salsa verde.

The rib eye carpaccio with pickled beech mushroom, parmesan, malted brown crumble and porcini aioli was spot on as well.

The pleasure continued with the arrival of their famous giant meatball that is as good as it gets with it’s blend of veal, pork, beef, all essential to a killer meatball.

The Rigatoni Bolognese with herbed ricotta was as good as I’ve had anywhere. We rounded out our entrée’s with the butternut squash risotto that was also spot on. The risotto changes frequently so keep that in mind.

It’s a great looking menu and while we did sample quite a bit, there is a full roster of wood fired pizzas, salads and entrée’s that veer off the pasta track.

The crafty cocktails we started with were really nice and we ended the evening with a Lemon Semifreddo with raspberry puree, thyme shortbread and vanilla whipped cream.

Cucina enoteca has been open for three years now and is still packing them in. I would have no problem adding it to my list of North County dining recommendations where the food is on par with the environment.

Cucina Enoteca is at 2730 Via De La Valle, Del Mar. Visit online urbankitchengroup.com or call (858) 704-4500.

David Boylan is the founder of Artichoke Creative an Encinitas based integrated marketing firm. He also hosts Lick the Plate Radio that airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. on FM94/9, Easy 98.1, and KSON. Reach him at david@artichoke-creative.com or (858) 395-6905.

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