Venissimo, 754 W. Washington Street, San Diego, http://www.venissimo.com
(with other locations in downtown, North Park and Del Mar)
Venissimo, a small, friendly cheese shop in Mission Hills, San Diego, is doing a lot right. First there are the samples. Tasty bits of appetite-whetting cheese handed to you on a sampling spoon when you come in. An amuse-bouche, if you will. Then, as you’re savoring your sample, you notice that each cheese in the case has its pronunciation written on the name card to give those of us who missed how to pronounce Morbier in French class a leg up when ordering. And this I found brilliant: your receipt comes printed with the name and description of the cheeses you bought, where they come from, and suggestions for accompanying libations. Perfect for keeping a journal of new-to-you cheeses or for just learning a little about the differences between what you like and what you love. They also offer to keep your name and cheese purchases on file, providing a quick answer to that age-old, mildly annoying question, “What was that amazing cheese we had last time?”
But maybe you don’t feel like trying something new and don’t want to buy a whole wedge of cheese, you just need to satisfy a craving for a creamy Brie or a solid sharp cheddar. Well you’re in luck because Venissimo makes sandwiches to order. We opted for variations on the special—a double cream with fig jam on a ciabatta roll warmed panini-style for my mom, and the same for me, but with the addition of a velvety speck and served cold on a baguette. Delicious. Your choice of fruit comes with it, and on our midday, midweek visit in August, the options were grapes or pear. My mom was given a whole, juicy ripe pear, not an easy thing to come by, and my grapes were sweet. The fruit was a thoughtful, refreshing substitute for the usual sandwich sidekicks.
And as you would expect, there is a good selection of crackers, bread, jam and the like to round out your picnic fare or cocktail-hour spread. The knowledgeable Venissimo staff can also help you design meat and cheese trays and baskets for special occasions.
There was only one flaw: our sandwich brown bags came sans napkins. It was OK, though–my mom didn’t seem to mind too much licking the melted double cream off her fingers.