Written by Bradley J. Fikes, San Diego Union-Tribune
Bagels and biology. Cocktails and chromosomes. Music and medicine. And for a backdrop, the Pacific Ocean and the Torrey Pines Gliderport.
Bella Vista Social Club & Caffé, a spot for social and professional scientific networking -- or just eating and drinking -- celebrated its sixth anniversary last week.
Perched on the second floor of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, the Bella Vista draws scientists from Torrey Pines Mesa’s extensive life science community. Thousands are within easy walking distance. One block to the south, there’s the Salk Institute. UC San Diego is one block to the east, across North Torrey Pines Road. The rest of Torrey Pines Mesa is a short drive away.
Inside, there’s a modest pan-and-handle-shaped dining area, enclosed by glass windows and doors. Outside, there’s an extensive deck with tables, couches and, when needed, heaters. And as a nod to the region’s workaholic science community, the Bella Vista is open every day. (Hours posted at www.bellavistacaffe.com/menus).
Regulars include the biotech networking group French BioBeach, which meets there on the second Friday of the month. Scientists often seen there include UC San Diego cancer researchers David Cheresh and Dr. Catriona Jamieson. Other visitors include Martin Cooper, generally regarded as the inventor of the cellphone; and Dayna Hoff, founder of the Autism Tree Project.
Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford attended the Bella Vista’s anniversary bash last Tuesday. Sanford said he’s been coming there since the consortium bearing his name opened. (He contributed $30 million to its construction).
“The food is outstanding,” Sanford said. “I helped a young lady put together a daughter’s wedding reception right here. We had over 200 people on this deck.”
Philanthropist Malin Burnham, a friend of Sanford’s, said the socializing also helps science.
“It gives scientists the opportunity to have lunch or wine at the end of the day and compare notes,” Burnham said. “This type of atmosphere advances science, because people get together who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise, and it just speeds things up.”
Everything is overseen by owners Amanda and Nicolas Caniglia, who play complementary roles.
Nicolas is the chef and guardian of the menu. Born in Europe of an Italian father and French-Swiss mother, he mixes the Old and New Worlds in the Bella Vista’s cuisine.
Amanda is the extroverted connectress. A third-generation restaurateur who studied dance at UC San Diego, Amanda greets and introduces guests, and keeps an eye out to make sure people are enjoying themselves.
Of course, both work the kitchen as needed. One downside to the restaurant’s popularity is that at peak periods, staff is stretched thin and lines lengthen.
The restaurant is profitable, and the goal is to increase the profit, Amanda Caniglia said. To do that, the Bella Vista, which now serves beer and wine, is applying for a hard liquor license.
Last Tuesday evening, the Caniglias introduced a new themed menu, with selected dishes given names for patrons. There’s a salmon dish, “The Einstein of the Ocean,” named for the late Walter Munk, UCSD’s pioneering oceanographer.
Patrick Ingram, owner of consultancy Agile Jet, credit’s Amanda’s social skills for weaving it all together. He can be found on the menu as “International Man of Mystery.”
“She has created with her charisma and personality a community that’s unique,” said Ingram. “And she’s done it by sheer force of personality.”