Yep, here's a picture of the sign.

Yep, here's a picture of the sign.

Photo/Allison Young

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Pinocchio’s Bar & Grill has accomplished something of a magic trick: they moved to a new location in the midst of a recession and not only survived, but thrived and expanded (with a second location in Sparks). Established in a Reno strip mall circa 1997, the family-owned quasi-Italian restaurant is fondly known for good food and an eclectic collection of kitschy decorations. I’m not entirely certain whether the goal was more room for customers or knickknacks, but the 2011 move to a new two-level building on South Virginia provides plenty of space for both.

I say “quasi-Italian” because the recently-retooled menu is a mashup of pasta dishes, pizzas, steak and chicken entrees, burgers and sandwiches, salads and bar munchies. A great place for newcomers to start is the fresh, house-made ravioli of the day ($11.95-$13.95).

Shortly after our group was seated, a basket of deliciously warm bread arrived with a bottle of 2011 Bell’Agio Chianti I’d selected from the wine wall ($11.99). The selection is pretty impressive, and the prices more so compared to the mark-up usually added to wine in a restaurant setting. Bottles are available for sale to take home or enjoy in-house, with pricing on par with the best retail shops in town (including big box stores known for great deals on wine). Affordability shouldn’t be the sole motivation to enjoy wine with your meal, but it certainly helps.

For starters we ordered grilled polenta ($10.95) and deep fried calamari steak strips ($11.95). The humble texture and flavor of cornmeal combined quite well with melted mozzarella cheese, sauteed mushrooms and house-made marinara sauce. The menu says it comes with blue cheese, but I couldn’t detect any in the dish and didn’t really mind. We scarfed it right up.

The battered calamari was served with marinara and lemon wedges, but was a bit chewy compared to similar examples. Chewy squid usually indicates either being left in hot oil for more than a couple of minutes, or perhaps having sat on the plate too long prior to serving. It wasn’t bad, but left some room for improvement.

My daughter and I each ordered a cup of clam chowder ($3.95) which was full of chopped clam, potato, onion, carrot, and a slightly spicy, herbal-seasoned broth reminiscent of chowder served on Martha’s Vineyard. Definitely above average, not the usual flour-thickened fare, and my hard-to-please daughter finished her entire serving.

My wife ordered the big ass salad ($8.95) with the grilled chicken option ($3.25). Tossed in a tangy house vinaigrette and loaded with greens and goodies, they aren’t kidding about the size. My daughter and I each got a taste, and you could easily split this salad between two people.

The meats on both specials sampled were outstanding, including the 16oz prime rib ($21.95) and pork loin ($16.95), both applewood-smoked to perfection. The loin was lightly drizzled in a “drunken bourbon sauce,” served with a surprisingly spicy, truly tasty capellini primavera (steamed garden veggies with long, thin pasta tossed in a tomato basil sauce). The menu indicates scalloped cheese potatoes, but the prime was served with steamed veggies and mashed potatoes with brown gravy. Nothing wrong with that, but compared to the fantastically medium-rare, smoke and beef delivery system on the plate, the sides felt like stand-ins for something lost in translation.

With wine still left to finish, we capped the meal with a shared brownie sundae ($8.95), featuring vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, rum sauce and chocolate syrup topping a molten-hot, plate-sized chocolate fudge brownie. The dry chianti paired perfectly with the gooey, creamy, chocolatey chaos, and both were cleaned up in short order.