New name, new food

Photo By David Robert

When the New York Italian Grill opened in the old Coffee Grinder location, some friends of mine went to try it and had good things to report. I didn’t even have a chance to check it out before it changed. Time sure flies while you’re having Italian food.

After working for years at Luciano’s as headwaiter and accordion player, Pierino Filipazzi decided to strike out on his own and join forces with Donato Lamortes and Paolo Canta. The result is Pierino’s Ristorante Italiano. While the sign remains, for the moment, New York Italian Grill, the pizzas are gone, and so is the New York. The menu has been changed to reflect more upscale tastes and true Italian style.

Confusing? Not really. Once you are inside Pierino’s, there is no mistaking the intent. Paintings of various Italian works of architecture adorn the walls of the ample-sized dining room. Music fit for an early evening gondola ride plays softly in the background.

Tony and I were escorted to a table in the center of the room, where I could easily crane my head around for some pre-dinner people watching. Wine glasses clinked, and everybody seemed pretty happy. There were several family gatherings at some of the larger tables, but the atmosphere was still somewhat subdued. Even though the restaurant was already about half-full, there was an almost hushed quality that I am unaccustomed to in Italian places, which are usually jovial and boisterous.

The menu consists of pastas and luscious-looking gnocchi (potato dumplings), as well as seafood, chicken and meat specialties. The wine list is modest and short, but contains a decent selection of Italian labels, as well as the usual Californian suspects. We tried the Australian McPherson Chardonnay ($4.50 per glass) and found it bold and fruit-forward, but a decent wine pairing with the food that followed. Just your basic apple/oak/cream combo that makes Chardonnays so popular.

One appetizer on the list caught my eye: carpaccio di bue ($8.95). Carpaccio is very thinly sliced raw filet mignon cured with capers and lemon. I don’t see it in restaurants very often, and I started talking Tony into the idea of eating what is essentially raw meat. Unfortunately, once the server (Pierino himself) heard our intent, he informed us that that item was not being served that day, because he rejected the latest piece from his supplier. While I was disappointed, I was glad to hear that he would rather not sell it to us than compromise on quality.

So instead, we ordered the antipasti Pierino ($9.95). The plate was covered with some very nice cold cuts, cheese and some chilled calamari salad with mussels. While the salami was fantastic, the presentation could have used a splash of color, preferably in the form of some marinated vegetables or olives. The span of meats left the look a monochromatic pink. It was just a little too much meat for two people with dinner on the way.

Tony’s entrée was cappesante alla povenciale ($14.95). The thin noodles were lightly sauced with a white wine, garlic and fresh tomato reduction and plump sautéed sea scallops that were tender and perfectly cooked. This simple dish was delicate and appealing to the eye.

I chose the ravioli portabella ($12.95). The large, round, portabella-stuffed ravioli were draped in a creamy sauce studded with fresh mushrooms. The white-on-white plate looked a little bland, but the taste was grand. I intended to only eat half of it, but I ended up polishing it off.

While I am sure that a sign change is likely to be in the works, keep an eye out for this place. It is rubbing the knee of greatness under the table, but will it make the big move and set the already populated Italian scene on its ear? Wait and see.