Known as the land of slow food and fast cars, Modena, Italy is also the hometown of, and inspiration for, the new Balsamico Italian Kitchen, created by Elisa and Michele Borelli. The duo planned every detail to create the feel of an outdoor Italian piazza, from the cute outdoor patio to the brick wall with pictures of the church in Modena, where they got married and began their journey.
Both grew up in families with a strong tradition of cooking and came to the U.S. in 2014, joining her family, who had moved here in 1999, with her brother and sister attending CHS. Elisa’s degree is in finance, and she was a currency trader in Italy. Michele worked in several Italian restaurant kitchens, and as a “pizzaiolo,” a pizza maker, here before starting at Soleluna, in downtown San Diego, where after a year they were able to purchase the restaurant. When COVID hit, they pivoted like many others and moved to take-out meals. “It helped that we were small to make it through,” comments Elisa.
When they heard about the opportunity of an Imperial Beach location, they jumped at the chance, so they could “create their own story.” They have since sold Soleluna and shifted their focus to Balsamico, which opened at the end of May. These delightful owners are appreciative of the local support and enjoy sharing their passion for food and wine.
We had heard the buzz about this new restaurant and decided to check it out for lunch on a recent Saturday afternoon. Caprese is one of my “must order” dishes, so we were delighted to find a sizeable ball of cheese, surrounded by small fresh tomatoes, basil and arugula. Pesto, balsamic glaze, and grilled focaccia completed the yummy dish. Salt, pepper, hot peppers, and parmesan cheese are available to suit your preferences. The gluten free pepperoni pizza my husband ordered was large and couldn’t be finished in one sitting. My gnocchi, again a favorite dish of mine, was soft and pillowy drenched in a delicious creamy pink sauce. The portion was large enough to share and enjoy the next day.
When I asked about the Roman style pizza, I was told it features a unique crust which is crunchy on the exterior and soft in the center. This is created by mixing a combination of rice, soy, sourdough and double zero flours. Their popular pizzas are named after elements of their beloved Modena. For example, Piazza Grande, which boasts toppings of mozzarella, bacon, pepperoni, and roasted potatoes, is named for the main town square in Modena. As the home of Ferrari and Lamborghini, the Ferrari pizza comes with mozzarella, mortadella, pistachio, and arugula; while the Big Luciano, named for Modena-native and opera legend Pavarotti, is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, sausage, and mushrooms.
The menu also features a variety of flatbreads, as well as homemade pastas and entrees. Michele points out the balance of the salty bacon and the sweet balsamic as perfect for the tastebuds in the popular Caramelle Vecchia Modena, which is stuffed pasta with ricotta and spinach, in a light cream sauce, with crispy bacon, balsamic glaze and shaved parmesan.
There is always a special risotto of the day, which can be made to order. A sampling of pasta includes Shrimp Lobster Ravioli, Lasagna Classica, and Tortellini Romagnoli, as well as Chicken Valdostano and Lemon Baked Salmon entrees. The Antipasto Emiliano, with mixed imported Italian cold cuts and cheese, olives, balsamic glaze, with homemade focaccia bread for two, has quickly become a popular appetizer. Dessert options include homemade tiramisu and crème brulee, Sicilian cannoli, chocolate lava cake and Nutella flatbread. They also offer a host of vegan and gluten free options.
You will not find the typical spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, because they want to expand diners’ culinary horizons by introducing authentic dishes of their region. Elisa laughs when she says not to ask Michele to put pineapple on pizza. She points out that he is passionate about making the best food, including hand picking the produce and creating all the sauces. Many of the pastas are made in-house and high quality imported Italian products are sourced for needed items. She is also working on getting balsamic vinegars, with their own label from the gold standard Modena region, to sell.
They work to educate their staff on the intricacies of the food and wine, so they can offer suggestions. Passionate about wine, Elisa notes that they offer an affordable, extensive wine list for $37 a bottle, featuring Italian wines, from which guests may not be familiar, so staff can help with selections, based on their likings. They also have higher priced wines, wines by the glass, and an array of beers. Check out their new monthly Italian Wine Dinners, with limited seating, highlighting different regions in Italy. These include a four-course dining experience paired with complimentary wines. They feature wine specialists, and guests can purchase the selected wines at discounted prices to take home.
Balsamico Italian Kitchen is open daily for lunch and dinner from 11 am to 8:45 pm, and is located at 791 Palm Avenue, Suite 101, in the Breakwater Shopping Center, in the former Guahan Grill space in Imperial Beach. Reservations can be made online at balsamicokitchen.com or by calling 858-294-3183.