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flamesFrom the first moment you step inside Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, you feel as if you’ve been friends with Alessio and Francesca Di Sabatino for years. Francesca often breaks into song and Alessio always has a big hug for you. It doesn’t hurt that they also have delicious Italian food and a nice wine list to compliment it.

I sat down with Alessio yesterday to learn about their journey to Temecula. Alessio is originally from Rome and Francesca is from Milan. Alessio’s mom owned a restaurant and his dad worked in one, so he’s been around food all of his life. His grandfather was a food taster for Benito Mussolini while he travelled by train during World War II. He’s been in the business since he was 15, Francesca since she was thirteen. They met in Orange County in 1995 and she came to work for him in 1999. Alessio had strict rules about employees not dating one another, but he wound up breaking his own rule and in 2003 they married on the island of Oahu.

When they decided to open their own restaurant, they went searching for an area that would remind them of Tuscany; a rural setting with horses and wineries. When they found Temecula, they knew they’d found the right spot. They bought a home in Lake Elsinore in 2005 and started work on the restaurant in July of 2007. September 13th will mark their second anniversary.

Alessio has worked every aspect of the restaurant business – as a busboy, waiter, bartender, general manager and sommellier. His goal was to offer authentic food made from scratch, “like mama used to make.” We went into the kitchen and he took a couple of river prawns and threw them in a pan. Five minutes later, we were eating them.

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I spoke with Alessio about how he goes about selecting the wines he serves. He features three separate cultures: local wineries to support the local economy and introduce people to the quality wines being produced here; Napa/Sonoma and Paso Robles, because of their international reputation and finally wines from different regions of Italy. He picks wines he is able to pair with the food he serves. He wants his patrons to sample wines they may not have had before and he offers a wine club. For $50, members get two or three bottles of wine a month from a different region of Italy and one night a month they get to come taste them. This way, customers can try a wine they can’t find at their local market and perhaps find a varietal or region they weren’t familiar with and expand their palate.

Alessio likes to serve unique wines. You’ll find Primitivo from Calabrio, Rosso di Montepulciano from Umbria and other wines you’re not likely to see at the supermarket. There are monthly cooking classes on Tuesdays and live music Friday through Sunday with Vic “The Sax Guy”. If you haven’t discovered Francesca’s yet, you’re in for a real treat.

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