A Taste of Sicily on the Shores of San Diego

You might initially come for the spectacular view over the Bay onto San Diego’s dramatic skyline, but once you’ve visited Il Fornaio Italian Restaurant in Coronado, you’ll return for the exquisite authentic cuisine that accompanies the sweeping view.

In addition to its standard menu, Il Fornaio offers the Festa Regionale, a unique monthly culinary expedition through the various regions of Italy. As part of this culinary tour, one of the chefs--often a native of the particular region--will craft a menu spotlighting the bread, wine, and culinary specialties prevalent in the area.

Since Sicilian cuisine ranks among our family’s favorite, my husband Tony and I immediately took advantage of the opportunity to revisit the culinary delights of Sicilia without having to travel further than the shores of Coronado.

Our Sicilian food adventure began with a bowl of bruchivia, a hearty soup prepared with fava, garbanzo, pinto beans, lentils, peas and farro. The result of the pairing of these various legumes resulted in a creamy blend that easily could serve as a main course when coupled with a chunk of the restaurant’s crusty home-made artisan bread. However, we resisted the temptation of ordering a second bowl of this superb soup, since we knew a variety of tasty dishes awaited us.

We were delighted to see one of Sicily’s specialties, arancini al sugo, on the menu. These fried rice balls are filled with meat ragu, peas, hardboiled egg and caciocavallo cheese, and topped with a light tomato coulis sauce. One taste brought us back to Tony’s parents’ birthplace near Palermo, where we last enjoyed these delicacies in a little restaurant overlooking the harbor.

Although the various pastas offered as part of the first course looked tempting, we opted instead for the Risotto o Casteddu, as it is a dish we don’t often see on restaurant menus. How delighted we were with our choice, as this creamy rice dish, which featured a mixture of shrimp, crab, dill, smoked salmon oil, and parmesan cheese, was cooked to perfection!

Our main course selection was another “must have”—pisci spada, Sicily’s famous swordfish. Caught in the clear waters of the Southern Mediterranean, this meaty fish can be prepared in a variety of ways, depending on the culinary customs of the region. We’ve enjoyed it breaded or fried in butter while visiting family in Palermo.

It was a delightful surprise to sample Chef Luigi’s version, which was grilled and topped with chopped tomato, cucumber, lemon and herb sauce and served with grilled eggplant and couscous.  (Brought to Sicily from Northern Africa centuries ago, couscous is another very popular dish, especially in the southwest region of the island, and even merits its own annual Festival).

Whenever we visit Sicily, we delight in the wide variety of delicious wines produced in the sun-soaked vineyards of the central and coastal regions. The Festa Regionale features four distinctive Sicilian wines that pair perfectly with the menu options. They are available by the glass and bottle, or the diner can choose the “Sicilia Wine Flight” that offers any three half-glasses of the featured wine.

No Sicilian meal can end without Dolci (sweets). Furthermore, how could we fail to nibble on Sicily’s most famous dessert, cannoli?  Our dessert plate arrived not only with the requisite cannolis, but also profiterole (the Sicilian equivalent of a cream puff), hazelnut gelato, whipped fresh cream and chocolate sauce, and almond cookies!  A steamy expresso café capped this culinary adventure through the best of Sicily’s multi-faceted and always succulent cuisine.

In addition to the à la carte menu items, Il Fornaio also offers a three-course tasting menu for $29.99, which allows the diner to choose one item per course for their own personalized culinary adventure.

Upcoming culinary tours at Il Fornaio in Coronado will feature the culinary specialties of other regions of Italy such as Piedmonte, Emiglia-Romagna and Lombardia. For more information, log on to www.ilfornaio.com and make your plans to feast as you would in Italy right on the shores of San Diego Bay. Buon appetito! 

Il Fornaio is located at 1333 First Street in Coronado, CA 92118. For reservations, dial 1.888.ITALIAN.

Photos: © Joanne DiBona