Pam Kragen writes about Semola. This weekend, the Milanese trio behind the popular Pacific Beach pizzeria Ambrogio15 will open a new restaurant that its owners hope will encourage San Diegans to not only re-examine Italian cooking but also the concept of fine dining.
Semola, the Ambrogio15 Gastronomy Project will open Saturday evening in the former PrepKitchen restaurant space at 7556 Fay Ave. in La Jolla. The menu — featuring mostly locally sourced ingredients — will mix contemporary pasta dishes created by a Michelin-starred chef in Italy, with gastronomic influences from Argentina, Japan and South Korea. With six chefs and initially just 35 outdoor seats, Semola will offer a fine dining experience at market prices, according to Giacomo Pizzigoni, who co-founded the Milano Five Group in 2016 with partners Andrea Burrone and Luca Salvi.
“Italian cuisine in San Diego has been butchered. We want to show what Italy is right now,” Pizzigoni said. “This will be fine gastronomy in a casual setup. We’re not doing crazy stuff with the food, we’re just elevating it.”
Although the pandemic wasn’t great for Milano Five Group’s ventures at the Little Italy Food Hall, Pizzigoni said it did help the company redefine its place in the San Diego restaurant community. In December, the group closed one of its booths at the Little Italy Hall, the first iteration of Semola, a quick-service pasta bar that struggled to succeed with the repeated pandemic-related shutdowns and loss of tourism.
Meanwhile, the Ambrogio15 location in Pacific Beach had its best year ever, with the community embracing the neighborhood eatery that in 2020 expanded its outdoor seating and its menu to include some cutting-edge takes on pizza. Pizzigoni said both experiences taught him and his partners that the low-end, express route was not the direction they want to move.
Early last year, they signed a consulting partnership with Silvio Salmoiraghi, who helms the Michelin-starred Ristorante Acquerello, a modern Italian restaurant just outside of Milan. Salmoiraghi was a protégé of the late Gualtiero Marchesi, the Milanese chef known as the founder of modern Italian cuisine. Since 2003, Salmoiraghi has launched two Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe.