By Rick Riozza

This season, everybody in town is excited about all of the restaurants and eateries we have to choose from.  New places such as Eddie V’s and Wildest Restaurant +Bar, and, the established venues such as Johannes and Copley’s on Palm Canyon.

But when it comes to dining during the Valentine’s Weekend, one of the most romantic restaurants with ambiance, food, and drink is Johnny Costa’s Restaurant in Palm Springs.  We’ve always enjoyed just stopping by their bar during Happy Hour; but it’s a real treat when we have reservations to sit, relax and dine while taking in all the elegance and cool vibes at the candlelit tables with classical Italian music in the background.

(And for those folks who weren’t made aware of the sad news, Johnny Costa past away this past September at the age of 87. Most everyone around knew the chef’s personal connection and friendship to Frank Sinatra through the years.  One can find a great historical homage at johnnycostaspalmsprings.com/in-memory-of-founder-johnny-costas/)

I knew Johnny Costa.  Some years ago, when his son Vince took over the executive chef reigns, Johnny kept a fine presence at the restaurant as somewhat of a Maestro Host.  Seeing him every-so-often, I remember chatting with Johnny in Italian.  He was born in Napoli and my grandfather was raised there so we had a fun connection as he comfortably quipped about the ins and outs of the business.

During some Restaurant Week event at the bar, I remember asking Johnny what his favorite wine was.  Of course I expected to hear perhaps some Brunello or Barolo mentioned, but he shook his head and slightly smiling said he really loved California Chardonnay!  Va Bene!

When my wife and I arrived in Napoli last spring, immediately coming to mind was the esteemed Johnny Costa.  Indeed, sitting at a trattoria just off the bay, while enjoying a fresh octopus salad and a Margherita Pizza, we said a toast to Johnny—not with a Chardonnay, but with a tasty Falangina white wine.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind that a bit.  Saluté

Of course my favorite dishes at Johnny Costa’s are the Steak Sinatra—New York steak strips, pan-seared, and sautéed with garlic, mushrooms, and bell peppers in a red wine sauce, the Cioppino, and the Veal Saltimbocca.  However, for a Valentine’s theme dish, you may wish to order the Lobster Heart Shaped Ravioli with pink vodka sauce.  Other special Valentine’s dishes are available.  Call ahead at 760.325.4556 or check the website.

And don’t forget for opening cocktails, check out the Chocolate Martini, Strawberry Bellini and Raspberry Lemon Drop Martini.  Cheers & Buon Appetito!

Of course to cover all the bases, some really good Valentine’s wine options to consider for your parties and soirees include the following that we’ve covered and written about this past year.

Bonterra 2018 Rose ($16) celebrates the fresh, lively spirit of the organic viticulture practices that Bonterra adheres to and reflects their unwavering commitment to sustainability and the environment; refreshing on its own, but also the perfect accoutrement to a bouquet of roses or a light Valentine’s Day dinner.

2016 Two Creeks Anderson Valley Pinot Noir  ($44.99)  Pinot is perfect for the cooler months, and this gorgeous raspberry-crimson color leads to sweet black cherry, raspberry, dried rose petal and violet blossom aromas. Fresh raspberry and bright strawberry flavors are concentrated, yet balanced, in this pretty, floral wine. The finish is smooth, with silky tannins, mineral notes and lingering fresh fruit.

2016 BV Tapestry Reserved Red Blend Napa Valley ($65) A Bordeaux-style blend, Cabernet Sauvignon imparts a generous core of brambly blackberry, cassis, and macerated blueberry, while Merlot brings a vibrant, riper dark cherry fruit character. Malbec contributes dark plum and briary blackberry notes, while Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot complete the blend with delicate floral nuances of violet and wild sage.

2018 Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay Napa Valley ($32)  Opening aromas of fragrant citrus, white peach and floral honeysuckle paired with subtle hints of Tarte Tatin and brioche toast make this a lively Chardonnay. Nuances of lemon meringue, green apple, guava and Asian pear alongside notes of vanilla and caramel oak showcase the balance of freshness and complexity of this wine ($32.00)  

2018 SLW Chardonnay Napa Valley ($32) This wine has racing acidity and a steely minerality which adds to its crispness and complexity. Layers of white peach, hints of lemon grass and raw almond are plentiful on the palate, leading to a long, elegant, delicately floral spiced finish.

2016 Oakville Cabernet Franc ($65) This special bottle stands in the company of the world’s finest, with fine-grained tannins, notes of juicy black berries and velvety richness. This wine is ideal for uncorking with company – partners, parents, best friends – and alongside dishes like mushroom ravioli or herb roasted chicken.

2017 Napa Valley Pinot Noir ($28) One of Robert Mondavi Winery’s most expressive varietals, the heady aromatics and refined silkiness of pinot noir show themselves, with a swirl of wild dark cherry and red plum aromas. Hints of dusty cocoa and dried herb complexity round out the lush fruit notes, making this ideal for a pre-dinner toast to your special someone.

Eternally Silenced (SRP $54.99), the brand’s first pinot noir, is rich and elegant, yet soft and well-balanced. Lovely aromas of pine needles, cranberries, dark cherry, clove and brown spice make this bottle a seamless choice for an evening in. Each bottle is hand-dipped in wax, a tantalizing tease to the eyes and sparking the imagination for more adventurous Valentine’s Day activities.

Saldo 2017 ($32 SRP), deliciously smooth, this dark ruby red Zinfandel is filled with bold aromas of black licorice, black pepper, cherry and baking spice. Its distinct quality and rich palate make it perfect for cold weather sipping and paired alongside Valentine’s Day menus of flavorful red meat and chocolate covered desserts.

Here’s to Love—Cheers!

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