Friday, November 04, 2005 | San Diego is home to more than 200 Italian restaurants of all sizes and type – pizza joints, spaghetti and meatball places and of course, those nicer dining venues. And everyone has their favorite place depending on their mood. For the classic red-checkered tablecloth and Chianti bottle décor, where the mix of Parmesan and tomato sauce is perfume to the nose, there’s the perennial favorite, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto in Little Italy and locations all over the county. But if you’ve got pals in town, or an aging relative and you want a nicer, more refined meal and atmosphere, then the 26-year-old, 10-time Four Diamonds award winner, Baci Ristorante, is your place.

Baci’s northern Italian menu features a selection of pastas, meats, fish and antipasti in a relaxed and comfortable setting. Waiters are in tux, and owner Tony D’Amato warmly greets diners and oversees the dining room. The food is quite good with service to match, though one night our waiter was a bit impatient with a little attitude. Could it have been that he was serving two women or that the party next to us included Cliff Robertson? By the end of the meal he warmed to us, especially when I told him he had forgotten to charge us for the bottle of wine. He was most gracious, lowered the price and thanked us profusely for bringing the error to his attention.

Now the food: Fabulous fried calamari that are so light, they float off the plate – not chewy and lightly battered with a faint hint of oil. There is a so-so Caesar salad with chopped romaine (I wish for whole leaves and a zippier dressing) though the additional not-too-salty anchovies that my friend requested are tasty. Osso buco is not on the menu, but is available and worth the $29.95 for a nearly two-inch meaty bone sitting on a simple saffron risotto. The meat is tender, flavorful and the risotto cooked a hair past al dente but addictive in its seasoning. Tony picked a terrific $45 Italian red wine to complement our food. The house-made tiramisu is worth sharing for dessert, not overly sweet, classic and very good. Baci Ristorante, 1955 Morena Blvd., Bay Park, (619) 275-2094, open for lunch and dinner; closed Sundays.

Tidbits: People on the move: Wine guy David Derby is back in town at downtown’s Wine Bank. This store is one of the area’s best and Derby knows his wines. Wine Bank, 363 Fifth Ave., in the Gaslamp, (619) 234-7487.

Look for the up-and-coming Beauty Bar (with locations in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles) to open at the cusp of Talmadge (on El Cajon Boulevard at Euclid) in the next few months, according to General Manager Erica Jessup.

Join renowned cookbook author and teacher of Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy, on Saturday, Nov. 5 at “A Royal Affair,” a fund-raiser dinner in Fairbanks Ranch to benefit the San Diego-based ECOLIFE Foundation. Menu by Sbicca’s Restaurant and hosted by Loren Nancarrow of KGTV. Cost is $150 and reservations can be made by visiting

Downtown’s Bacchus Wine Market will have a five-course wine dinner on Nov. 16. Cost is $70 including tax and tip with limited seating and special wines. For more information, call (619) 236-0005.

In the Solana Beach area, Blanca will open in the next few months under the ownership of Seth Baas, a relative of John Moores.

Marcie Rothman loves good food – no matter where it’s cooked – at home, a hole in the wall or a white tablecloth restaurant. Known as The $5 Chef on radio, television and in her two cookbooks, Marcie travels far and near with an eye on what’s current in food. You can find her at

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