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La Villa: a little lost in Little Italy

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La Villa

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It's easy to do. Get lost, that is. There are so many restaurants, and the neighborhood creates an expectation of Italian (really, Italian-American) food. And they are part of a string of Italian(ish) restaurants. So, perhaps a clear and consistent identity of their own wasn't to be expected. They are, in some ways, just one more face in the crowd. Take an Italian-sounding name, put it on a small building, expose some ductwork, make some sauces, and get to work. That's okay, as far as it goes. But for that model to work, the whole team has to be on their game, because there's a lot of competition for that niche.

The food is good. Good, that is, not great. The menu is full of standards of two types. It's something of a pastiche of what's popular now (to about a year ago) in continental and eclectic restaurants: hello, fried cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts, and the omnipresent beet salad! Then there are the Italian restaurant standards--beef carpaccio, pomodoro & bolognese sauces, the usual run of pizzas. Other than an unusual fondness for cavatelli pasta, there are not many surprises.

The food is well prepared but leans toward salty, with some inconsistency in preparation time. If you intend to order a complex dish, make sure to check with the staff about the state of the kitchen's line at the time; if you go with a large party, expect to wait...for a while. Main courses are less salty (other than the pressed chicken) but also less varied than the starters and salads, so factor it into the thinking.

The drinks & wine list is strong, with a few appealing house cocktails (try the maple old fashion) and a sufficiently varied wine list to please most palates and wallets. The wines by the glass are priced in keeping with the neighborhood, but there are good deals to be had on bottles, especially those of Italian or Californian provenance. There are also a nice array of bottled beers, with some emphasis on the local craft beer explosion.

In simple terms, the service is weak. The hostess over-seated the section of a weak server, who ignored tables for as much as ten minutes. Hosting staff did nothing to pick up the slack. The over-burdened server, when he did appear, forgot drink orders, returning to verify them. When notified that a table had theater tickets and so needed their order to be expedited, the advice given was to come earlier next time. When asked for the check, server disappeared for minutes, returning to table-touch, having forgotten entirely that he'd been asked for a check.

Now, service is variable by its nature. But, the fact that none of the service staff stepped into the obvious breach does not bode well for the consistency of the front-of-house. Some obvious regulars were greeted with friendly smiles, but no apparent urgency to the service. Complaints between staff members could be clearly heard on the floor, as the corner they ducked around to converse was practically on top of some patrons. These are not good signs, overall. Based on the quality of the drinks, the bartender can mix. But, based on the time to get them, they may be as slow and scattered as the server.

In short, if you're looking for Little Italy Italian-American food with an emphasis of farm-to-table trends and aggressively priced wine, they're worth a try. But if you go, make sure you have a lot of time, and low expectations for the service. If you expect high service standards, abhor salt, or have grown tired of recent food trends, then this isn't the place for you.

La Villa Little Italy

  • 1646 India Street San Diego, CA 92101
  • (619) 255-5221
  • Open daily from 11:30 until they decide to close (between 10 & 1, depending on business)
  • serving lunch, dinner, and full bar
  • dinner entrees $20-35; lunch entrees $16-22
  • pizzas & salads $12-16
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