Ah, Bencotto (sigh). I write this review with a bit of a heavy heart. Bencotto was truly one of our favorite restaurants in San Diego for most of while we have lived here. For years you could find us sharing an outdoor table overlooking the bay on a late Saturday afternoon, enjoying a glass of wine and an appetizer while we were serenaded by the live music carrying over from the Little Italy Farmers Market. But now, sadly, not so much.
Over the years, things kept changing little by little, and our enjoyment slowly shifted. But, having been truly one of our favorites, we decided enough time had passed and it was well worth another visit.
We went on a Tuesday afternoon for a late lunch, and the weather couldn’t have been more spectacular (especially considering all of the rain we have been getting lately.) We sat at our favorite table outside, and we both immediately smiled. It felt good to be back.
Bencotto has a pretty amazing spread of a menu, but after years of trying a lot of different things, we really know what we like, and also what they do best.
One of the things that Bencotto is known for is slicing their cured meats with the infamous red wheel. Ahh, the red wheel, known by foodies everywhere for producing the most perfect slice of prosciutto that you could ask for.
For years Bencotto sliced their prosciutto so whisper thin that you could see through it if you held it up (which is exactly how it should be sliced). (Don’t take my word for it? Check here or Google it yourself.) But having already had a dinner at Bencotto once before where we ordered this prized meat, and it showed up, I dare say, thick, we weren’t about to hold our breath.
So today, on this beautiful sunny day, we decided to revisit this old favorite hoping for the best. But sadly, the days of whisper thin prosciutto are long gone. We can’t figure out why they had so perfectly sliced the prosciutto for so many years, and then decided to change it.
But alas, as we sipped our wine, we gave it our best shot. A small plate of prosciutto and their famed gnocco fritto (fried pasta dough puffs). The verdict? Too thickly sliced prosciutto and overcooked, slightly tough gnocco fritto. What happened here? Prosciutto aside, the gnocco fritto used to be doughy (in a good way), melt in your mouth little vessels for delivering equally melt in you mouth prosciutto. We were both disappointed.
But, on the plus side, their bread and olive oil is still spot on. Fresh, soft bread that is absolutely delicious dunked in their bitingly fresh olive oil and balsamic. Thankfully, something was just as we remembered.
Up next was another standby, their caprese salad. And although we were both surprised by the change in presentation, it also translated to disappointment in the dish itself. They used to slice the mozzarella and layer it with sliced tomato and basil across a shmear of pesto, drizzled with their olive oil and a decorative splash of balsamic on the side. Today’s version? More of a do-it-yourself caprese. Which, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against, but it just didn’t get the job done. Aside from the fact that all of the ingredients were very cold (too cold), I think that their old way of layering really helped all of the flavors to get friendly with each other.
Our final lunch pick could not do us wrong, we just knew it. This dish had truly never disappointed (well, aside from the one time that there was a piece of metal in the sauce). Homemade fettuccine with their famous Bencotto sauce. This was always our favorite on their menu, and we truly could not imagine that they would have changed it in any way. And they hadn’t (aside from the maybe $6 increase), the sauce is exactly the same. Creamy, salty, savory…the sauce is perfection. However, just to be picky, the pasta has changed. Much thicker than it used to be, and also much wider. We both agreed that it was borderline pappardelle. But, pasta preference aside, the sauce is boss.
So, a lunch divided. So many things have changed, but maybe at the same time the flavors are still worth another shot? I think that we will need some time before we return again, and I do think that we might return in the future. We agreed that it is worth a glass of wine and a shared plate of pasta. But it is also hard for us, knowing where it had been, and where it is now. Although I might be nit-picking the changes they have made, so often we have favorite restaurants because they are reliable. And while I can no longer say that this is a favorite restaurant of ours, it will definitely stay on the list, and the happy memories that it did give us for so many years will not be forgotten.