By Tom Cesarini
To be sure, fine restaurants and eateries abound in Little Italy—no matter what your taste or style, in this culinary quarter, you are sure to find something to suit you. Something truly magical happens, however, when cultural heritage combines with culinary expertise to form a restaurant’s foundation. Seekers of fine dining and cultural tradition in Little Italy need look no further than Rovino on Kettner Blvd., which serves up “fresh, authentic cooking found in homes throughout Italy.” Proprietors Tom Tarantino, Antonia Buono and Vincenzo Bruno have been together since opening Rovino in 2016. The famed restaurant has become nothing less than the talk of the town, garnering accolades and awards year in and year out. Beyond the exquisite food and wine selections, you can get a glimpse of the trio’s roots in San Diego’s Little Italy through the myriad black-and-white family images that adorn the restaurant’s walls, punctuating a solid partnership that has been influenced by the important family ties that once shaped the Italian neighborhood.
Tom Tarantino’s culinary traditions go back 30 years. His acumen in running a restaurant is coupled with his keen insight into how the right ingredients help to create a great meal, having learned the ropes in the grocery industry as well. Tom’s family hails from Porticello, Sicily. His grandfathers having settled in San Diego, they both became fishermen, taking advantage of the local burgeoning fishing industry.
Born in the birthplace of the Renaissance, Antonia left her beloved Florence at a young age and immigrated with her family to San Diego. Antonia’s adherence to faith and family would help to form the bedrock of her upbringing in the new land. Insofar as her cooking tradition, Antonia’s mother would prove foundational, and Antonia incorporates many of her mother’s recipes in the restaurant menu offerings.
Beginning with his namesake, grandfather Vincenzo (renowned for his barber shop on India Street), Vincenzo has strong family ties to Little Italy, and it was only natural that he would carry on tradition and become involved in a business venture. Vincenzo’s business background from San Diego State University has set the foundation for Vincenzo to bring his business expertise to Rovino and add an important ingredient to the overall partnership.
Now the proprietors have taken their collective expertise and have created Rovino the Foodery in the East Village, San Diego’s largest Italian retail market. Convivio is partnering with Rovino the Foodery to launch “Aperitivo con Amici” this month, celebrating the art and style of the Italian happy hour at Amici House (at the Little Italy Dog Park). Guests will enjoy a variety of appetizers from Rovino the Foodery along with its exquisite Prosecco and will also be entertained by live-music performances. Tickets will be available at conviviosociety.org. All proceeds help to support Convivio’s work in the community in promoting arts, culture, and heritage programs.
— Tom Cesarini is the executive director and founder of Convivio and also serves as the Italian honorary consul in San Diego. Convivio cultivates community and fellowship, advances Italian cultural identity, and fosters multicultural awareness across myriad disciplines through education and research, social enrichment, and innovative programming. Visit www.conviviosociety.org or follow @conviviosociety on social media.