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Published on November 27th, 2012 | by Kaela Miltimore


Monello: Introducing Milano Aperitivo in Little Italy

Introducendo Il Aperitivo

In Milano, when night falls the locals take to the bars.  A pre-dinner social custom called Apertivo promises delightful drinks to “open your stomach”, served with appetizing bites chosen by the chef.

Most common in northern Italy, but still present throughout Italy, it is most commonly compared to the American “Happy Hour.” However, Happy Hour in the U.S. is about getting a drink “discount” and drinks and/or appetizers are usually discounted or bundled together.  Not so for the Aperitivo. For Italians the most important thing is the quality of the drink. This is why the “appetizers” are served on the house. The drinks are made with the best of spirits and liquors, and nothing is substituted to sacrifice the drink quality.

Monello: The Concept

At Monello, the newest restaurant to occupy the streets of San Diego’s own Little Italy, the “Aperitivo” is nothing less than sopraffino (excellent/best-quality). A true gem in the heart of this beloved neighborhood. Monello, an enduring term meaning “naughty little boy” in Italian, is the little brother of neighboring restaurant Bencotto– a restaurant serving the most amazing Italian food I have had outside of Italy.  Owners Valentina DiPietro and husband Guido Nistri have created a truly unique dining experience, guaranteed to be unlike any other you have ever encountered here in San Diego.

Executive Chef Fabrizio Cavallini has created a mouth watering menu, inspired by Italian street fair.  During our trip to Monello we were able to sample dishes such as the Octopus Salad, Risotto Balls with house made Marinara, Chicken Milanese, and their infamous Salsiccia Flat Bread. Simply writing this makes me want to hop in the car and head back to Monello for a full entree. The food was really that good. Being of Italian heritage I feel it in my blood, the hearty craving for the simplicity that Italian food offers. Monello showcases the ingredients so simply and beautifully, I couldn’t ask for more.


Because the Aperitivo is based on the social pre-dinner drink, I must take a moment to introduce the resident Mixologist, Jennifer Queen. Formerly with Snake Oil Cocktails, Queen has formed Pick & Rocks’ – a unique form of “culinary mixology” that involves reinterpreting culinary ingredients in unique and unusual ways. Her name is quite fitting, as I would undoubtedly call her the Queen of Vermouth – a spirit undiscovered by many, and which she has made her own in every sense of the term.   If you think you have had Vermouth, think again. Ms. Queen’s house made 27- ingredient Vermouth is carefully concocted with herbal and botanical infusions. This rose colored fortified wine was consumed as a medicinal libation until the later 19th century when it became an important ingredient in many of the first classic Italian cocktails such as the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni.  However, Monello showcases their distinctive Vermouth as the star in the majority of their drinks. With the deep anise, citrus, and botanical flavors, this drink is a must try. Jen suggests ordering this distinguishing spirit “straight up with a twist”, and I couldn’t agree more.

During our visit we were able to try a variety of classic Italian drinks and cocktails, served alongside some delicious “Piattinis” or small bites.

Cocktails worth noting:

  • Bensonhurst: Grappa infusion, pressed lime, bitters, ginger beer. (Similar to a Moscow Mule)
  • Negroni: Gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth on tap.
  • Rock & Twist: House Sweet Vermouth* – straight up on the rocks with an orange twist. (*Must try!)

A sampling of great Piattinis:

  • Caesar Monello- Caesar salad with Parmesan crisp.
  • Octopus salad
  • Chicken Milanese with spicy marinara
  • Crispy Risotto Ball
  • Fresh shaved Raspa Dura-  young lodigiano cheese flakes
  • Citrus/herb cured Lima beans in the shell
  • Salccicia Flat Bread
  • Penne pasta with house marinara

Enjoy Aperitivo at Monello every day from 4 pm to 7 pm, where the fair price of a remarkable cocktail, beer or glass of wine includes a complimentary selection of classic Italian Piattini from Chef Fabrizio! (Piattini changes daily)

Not in the mood for an alcoholic drink?  Order an “Analcolici” (non-alcoholic / “virgin”) drink, and add the Piattinis for only $5 bucks!

Saluto alla aperitivo

All of the bites were incredible, and had me dreaming in Italiano for nights to come. My next visit to Monello is highly anticipated.

Monello says it best! An Italian would never drink just to black out and forget what a good time they had!  Our visit to Monello was an authentic, and noteworthy culinary experience. The owners are delightful, and will make you feel like family. The entire staff – Manager, Amanda and our server, Katie were incredibly friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable. And Mixologist Jen Queen really knows her stuff.  We are beyond excited to see what she has to offer in the future at her new home at Monello.

750 West Fir Street
San Diego, CA 92101

(619) 501-0030

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About the Author

Kaela Miltimore

is a food writer, photographer and San Diego local. Google+ | Twitter

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