For the past twenty years, my husband and I – when he was alive – housed foreign language students in the United States to learn to speak English. Over those twenty years, more than 360 have lived with us in an “immersion” program. Currently I have two students – one from Korea and one from Switzerland. I was very surprised with my Swiss student told me tonight that he had never had Italian food in a restaurant in the United States. So…since it was Wednesday night – Farmer’s Market Night – I thought we would try Expresso Pizza on Sunset Cliffs because I didn’t want to fight the traffic from patrons leaving the OB area.
The restaurant is really two parts: one to place orders to go and the second adjoining part a dining-in establishment. Our waitress welcomed us and told us that we could sit anywhere we wanted to sit. After being seated she asked us if we wanted to start with water and bread. We did. Looking around us I noticed a table of four – two couples – an elderly couple – (Who am I to call them elderly?) and a singleton sitting at a window seat. As we listened to the two couples, one had a French accent and one had an accent that turned out to be an Argentina accent – it was apparent to us that the Argentinian couple were the owners. (How did we know? For starters they bussed their own table.) The waitress later confirmed we were correct. During the meal, a few others came in to eat, and there seemed to be a steady trade of “to-go” orders.
The menu was extensive, beginning with Appetizers, ( $1.85 – $9.00); Salads, ($3.50 – $11.50) and Sandwiches ($6.45-$7.95). There was a section entitled “Espresso’s Favorites” served either Ala carte; ($$10.25-$15.00) or a full dinner –($12.75-$16.50); one of “Baked Dishes” – Lasagna, Manicotti, etc., ($9.75-$12.75).
There was a section of Seafood that was served with soup or salad, and a side order of spaghetti. ($15.75-$17.00). Pasta was another heading and one had their choice of the kind of pasta with the kind of sauce wanted. ($6.75-$9.45). Additionally there was an offering of 7 Veal dishes, also served with soup or salad and spaghetti; ($23.00-$24.50); Chicken dishes (6 varieties) that were served with soup or salad.($17.00-$17.50).
The final part of the entree menu was Pizza’s,$12.50 for one topping and an extra amount for each subsequent topping; “Specialty Pizza’s” were also offered, ranging from $14.50 for a medium pizza to $$23.50 for a large size. The final selection was 6 varieties of desserts that ranged in price from $5.25-$6.75. On a separate menu listing beverages there were 7 white wines; 2 house wines; 9 domestic reds; and 4 Italian reds. There was coffee, tea, milk, etc. also.
My student perused the menu and decided that he wanted to have a small salad – $2.50 – and a medium pizza with peppers and salami. I ordered the Manicotti and a salad. He ordered “Limonata” to drink, an Italian lemon flavored water.
After the waitress took our order, we tried the fresh hot bread that she had brought to us earlier. It was tasty and warm. It came with a ball of butter. After 10 minutes or so, we were served our salads which were cold (a good thing) and the dressing tasty.
In what seemed to be a long wait, our meal was served. The pizza was hot and looked good. My student said that the crust was a little thick compared to what he was used to, but it was still tasty. He did say that the pizza needed a little bit more oregano and basil. My Manicotti was served in a hot dish and remained hot until I stopped eating it. But alas – It was nothing special I am sorry to say. The tomato sauce was overbearing and I could not detect any other flavor because of the sauce. I tried to push the sauce to the side because Manicotti is one of my favorite Italian meals, and I truly enjoy the flavor, but I could not actually get a good taste of the pasta.
Somewhere during the time we were eating, good Italian music was turned on, but it was difficult to hear. Because it was authentic, it would have been nice to be able to hear it throughout the meal, but for some reason we only heard it sporadically.
My student wanted to try the homemade Tiramisu so we shared an order. It was very bland; the powdered – or grated chocolate – made the texture seem dry. There was no coffee flavor that either one of us could detect, and we were disappointed in our choice.
One thing that happened that I have to mention. My student did not finish his pizza and we asked for a box to take the rest home. The waitress, who was very nice and accommodating, took the plate into the kitchen to box it for him. When she came out of the kitchen she noticed that the underside of the box was wet. She went to the table that the two couples had vacated earlier and picked up a used napkin from that table to wipe the box that she then put on our table. Lest I get jumped at for even mentioning this, I think it is fair to point out that this is an unhealthy practice. Sure, he is not going to eat the underside of the box, but he is going to hold it in his hand and if the person using the napkin was ill, it would be a very easy way of spreading germs.
Now we come back to the question – would we go back again? My student and I are in complete agreement. There are too many other Italian restaurants in San Diego to return to this one. It was pricey, also. The total, with a 15% tip, came to $49. A bit much in that we did not have anything alcoholic to drink.