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A Heavenly Italian Christmas Dinner at Pinzimini

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Pinzimini italian Restaurant at the Westin's Mission Hills Spa & Resort

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It’s always fun to imagine spending the holidays in Italy—but getting the entire family over there defies logistics. Of course, San Francisco isn’t too far away and they’ve got great Italian fare & haunts all around town at the best restaurants and at great hole-in-wall places; and think about North Beach and at the Wharf. But sometimes just getting the time and entire family over there still defies logistics.

All right—all right! As we’re wont to do, let’s keep things a little easy and simple this year. The rationale is: “Let’s just take a break from the madness and humbly appreciate the Lord’s bounty of food & wine with family & friends.” (And bless you folks who give to the homeless.)

Pinzimini [Peen-zuh-Mee-nee] at The Westin’s Mission Hills Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage is the good news that we can enjoy the dining here and envision 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 here more often during the rest of the year.

Pinzimini provides an encounter of dining in an Italo-modern calming 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. A veritable Italian abbondanza awaits, but allow me to suggest some particular courses per il periodo natalizio—for the Christmas season.

Holiday cheer dictates us to immediately enjoy the Zardetto Private Cuvée Prosecco. The chilled bottle displays a sleek & artsy label and brings a quick Milano-chic look to our table top. A perfect light sparkler for the season. Its bouquet boasts cherry-almond scents while still playing coy with a fresh and delicate flowery backdrop. Its palate is dry, tantalizing and fruity—easy to drink, with light acidity.

The Zardetto craves the Chef’s Antipasti Tasting Platter: Here you enjoy Polpo—grilled octopus; Polpette—veal & beef meatball; Datteri Locali, made with Rogue River blue cheese, handcrafted pancetta, and dates; Olive Misti, assorted marinated olives, 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.

And speaking of blossoms, the next wine on your table can supply wonderful aromas of citrus blossoms and green apples. It’s Michele Chiarlo’s Gavi, made from the Cortese grape, that’s fruit-driven with crisp acidity. That gets us thinking about fish, and, the focus would be the citrus.

Another wonderful and tasty white is the Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo. Straw-yellow in color, Greco di Tufo is a wine that recalls a vast expanse of beach in its saline notes along with aromas of apricots and peaches. On the palate, experience pale gold flavors of pear skin and almonds, soil and light toast, showing great structure and zesty acidity, leaving an overall impression of complexity and elegance. Pairs perfectly with seafood & grilled fish so why wait?

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, are wildly delicious and prepared brilliantly. And it’s a good time to introduce Chef de Cuisine Shawn Aoki. The San Francisco California Culinary Graduate is a great chef and we’re happy having him down here! And if you don’t know, the resort’s Executive Chef is the James Beard Honored Joel Delmond.

Chef Shawn presents the whole roasted sea bass as though it just came up from the beautiful sea coast of Bolgheri. Easily a scrumptious meal for two. And do keep the Gavi and/or the Greco di Tufo chilled: it’ll continue to cleanse the palate no matter what you’re having.

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. Italian red with its complex fruit & earth and vibrant acidity is always and classically a food-friendly wine.

The Frescobaldi Tenuta Castiglioni 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 and now’s a great opportunity to enjoy it

To match with this wonderful wine, the Bistecca alla Griglia—an aged rib eye with Barolo mushroom sauce and grilled lemon, or, the Braciola di Maiale—a bone-in pork chop alongside lemon gremolata & mostarda, are fantastic.

Both meats are tender, juicy and flavorful, exquisitely prepared with their respective sauces, which brings out the latent mushroom & forest notes in the wine. The grilled char on both meats simply added to the complexities of the plates.

For a side dish treat, try 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. A plate for two, 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. My son Paolo comments that it compares to the Bistecca he recently had in Italy. Rare to medium rare, carved and emersed in the pomegranate red wine mushroom sauce, the platter is fabulous—è semplicemente favoloso! e Buon Natale!

Pinzimini • 71333 Dinah Shore Drive • Rancho Mirage • Ca. 760.770.2150 •

Rick Riozza wittily titles himself the "sommelier-about-town" in the desert publication CV Weekly wine and food column: the Vino Voice where his beat is to eat, drink, and cover the environs of Palm Springs. A freelance writer, a contributor to Tasting Panel Magazine, palmspringslife.com and the Brand Ambassador for the historic Galleano Winery, you can find him conducting wine tastings, food & wine pairing events and fun wine seminars. Contact winespectrum@aol.com

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