by Rick Riozza
As with the Christmas Star, there is a new jewel shinning wonderfully bright and it’s got Italian cuisine written all over it! Pinzimini: it’s the new buzz word spoken for fine Italian dining.
I’m especially excited: For the last three years or so, whenever I come across a fine Italian restaurant, a glowing Italo-gastro-pub, or those tasty mom & pop or hole-in-the-wall Italian/Sicilian eateries, I write and categorize my column under the sub-title “Bit of Italy in the Desert” as there is a great Italian-American restaurant heritage in our valley. Benvenuto! Pinzimini [peen-zuh-Mee-nee] at The Westin’s Mission Hills Resort & Spa is welcomed in & added to the ranks.
Unfortunately the economy has kept a lot of us from the usual Italian pilgrimage. The good news is that we can at least enjoy the dining here and imagine ourselves in Florence with all the sights & sounds, smells & tastes, feel and—have I mentioned the vino! I assure you: this will be your season’s holiday restaurant treat, and, your reason to get out and dine more often during the rest of the year.
Pinzimini provides an encounter of dining in a modern, energetic atmosphere while enjoying a menu featuring a variety of top quality grilled meats, exceptional salads, simple pastas and traditional dishes for a comprehensive Tuscan-style dining experience.
The last time we visited, my son, Paolo—the foodie blogger, and I reviewed Mission Hill’s Fireside Lounge, and met with the Resort’s spirited Marketing Director, Denise Harnett. This time, to our delight, she joined us for the night’s Italian abbondanza.
And we were all in accord to immediately enjoy the Zardetto Private Cuvée Prosecco. The chilled bottle displayed a sleek & sexy label and brought a quick Milano-chic look to our table top. Plus, I would call this a sexy sparkler. Its bouquet flaunted cherry-almond scents while still playing coy with a fresh and delicate flowery backdrop.
Zardetto’s palate is dry, tantalizing and fruity—easy to drink, with good acidity. It was crying out for the Chef’s Antipasti Tasting Platter: Here we enjoyed Polpo—grilled octopus; Polpette—veal & beef meatball; Datteri Locali, made with Rogue River blue cheese, handcrafted pancetta, and dates; Olive Misti, Carciofi Arrosti—which are brick oven roasted artichokes with olive oil, lemon and parmigiano cheese; Fiori di Zucchini Fritti—crispy zucchini blossoms, ricotta, mozzarella in arrabita sauce; and, the famous Creminelli Artisan Salumi plate consisting of Sopressata, Mortadella, Prosciutto, and other deliciously cured meats.
For the record: Just last week, I ordered the fried zucchini blossoms at a trendy Pizzeria that opened up down the road. They were sorry to report the blossoms were out of season. Hmmm—that’s funny, the Fiori here at Pinzimini were real, fresh, and delicious! So who you gonna call!
And speaking of blossoms, the next wine on our table supplied wonderful aromas of citrus blossoms and green apples. Michele Chiarlo’s Gavi, made from the Cortese grape, is fruit-driven with crisp acidity. Therefore the culinary match was fish, and, the focus would be the citrus. Both the Branzino Agrodulce—whole roasted sea bass with roasted fennel, crispy sage, citrus and a sweet & sour sauce, and, the Salmone alla Griglia—grilled salmon with salsa verde & grilled lemon were desirous of the light clean flavors of the Gavi.
The whole roasted sea bass was presented as though it just came up from the romantic sea coast of Bogheri. Easily a scrumptious meal for two. And do keep the Gavi chilled: it’ll continue to cleanse the palate no matter what you’re having.
And since everyone thinks about pizza once a day, of course we couldn’t pass up trying one. Hand-tossed and made from dopple zero Italian wheat flour with fresh made mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce, spicy Italian sausage, olives, Serrano chile, and spicy oil—well, it’s the Pizza Vulcano that came fulminating out of the high-heat wood burning oven. This Napolitano-style thin crust pizza is as good as it gets in the valley.
Both the Prosecco and the Gavi work well with pizza, but it was time to bring out the red Italian. Actually—as soon as you are seated, I recommend ordering your Italian red wine and having it uncorked and decanted, or, simply have your server provide a large pour into the wine glass where it can aerate—as will the remaining wine in the bottle at the same pace as well.
Whether you’re focusing on soups, pastas, pizza, meats, or all of them as we did, Italian red wine with its complex fruit & earth and vibrant acidity is always and classically food friendly wine. One cannot miss with Pizimini’s elegant and streamlined wine list. Any of the various 12 Italian reds listed will be a fine choice: Barbera and Chianti are lighter bodied wines with cleansing acidity; the Corta Giada (Merlot-Corvina) and the Allegrini Palazzo della Torre will be more lush.
We decided on the Masi Campoflorin and the Frescobaldi Tenuto Castiglione because we were all feeling very Italian and these producers are historically as Italian as they come! The bouquet of the Masi hit us like a Roman candle: Red fruit jam, candied black cherry, spicy notes of cloves, licorice, and balsamic syrup. However, when tasting, it was tight! It was a wine so full of potential and ready to burst—but holding back. This is why decanting Italian wines are so important. Yes—the wine did come around, smooth with deep cherry fruit, a little raisin—a little cocoa, a very tasty medium-bodied wine.
The Frescobaldi is what they call a “Super Tuscan” where the Italian Sangiovese grape meets up with old-vine French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is a world class wine, a great value, and a great opportunity to enjoy it—difficult to find at any local wineshop.
To match with these wonderful wines, we were not shy to order the Minestrone di Pesto—a comfort soup just like mama use to prepare on cold nights; the Bistecca alla Griglia, an aged rib eye with Barolo mushroom sauce and grilled lemon; Braciola di Maiale—a bone-in pork chop alongside lemon gremolata & mostarda; Pappardelle all Bolognese—handmade pappardelle pasta with butcher shop Bolognese of beef and pork.
The rib eye and the pork chop—both tender, juicy and flavorful, were exquisitely prepared with their respective sauces. The meat brought out the latent mushroom & forest notes in both wines. The grilled char on both meats simply added to the complexities of the plates. I can see myself enjoying the chop every time I come in.
And for good measure, the Risotto del Giorno prepared with herbs, Pinot Grigio, and Grana Padano cheese and the Polenta Fritte which is a crispy polenta.
Perhaps the crowning dish on the menu is the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. For two persons, it’s a Tuscan-style olive oil marinated 38oz Porterhouse steak roasted with sage, rosemary in brown butter with Pizimini’s own Barolo mushroom sauce. This dish was a knock-out at their Grand Opening a month ago. Paolo commented that it compared to the Bistecca he had in Venice. Rare to medium rare, carved and emersed in the pomegranate red wine mushroom sauce, the plate is fabulous—è semplicemente favoloso!
Our meal was wonderfully enhanced when the James Beard Honored Executive Chef Joel Delmond sat with us and discussed his menu and take on life. Quite an interesting and accomplished man. We missed Restaurant Chef Shawn Aoki that evening, but his creative culinary flair was present in the meal.
The restaurant is newly renovated featuring outside dining and an interactive display kitchen. As you can see by the photo the place is both elegant & and beautifully designed—with great atmosphere. The Service staff was very attentive and very gracious.
If good food brings people together, then a great Italian meal must bring out the Italian in all of us as we shout out “Momma Mia!” or the new buzzword: “Pinzimini!” while dinning at this first class restaurant. 71333 Dinah Shore Drive · Rancho Mirage · Ca. 760.770.2150 ·