No-strings fine dining

Photo by David Robert

Pinocchio’s, despite the “Bar & Grill” moniker that is added to its name, is a real, live restaurant with serious intentions toward getting rid of your innocent hunger pangs. It harbors no delusions about being ultra-fancy, but it cranks out the comfort food with a style all its own.

First of all, I love a restaurant that is redolent with potent, fresh aromas that nearly knock you over when you walk in the door. There is something about the smell of roasting garlic that throws gasoline on the glowing coals of my appetite. The joint was packed on a Wednesday night, so Tony and I put in our name, took a seat and let our eyes wander over the eclectic knickknacks and the small sea of happy, chatty diners. Our wait was not overly long, and soon, we were seated in the kitschy, cozy dining room. It didn’t have a spare inch of open wall space, as it was packed with antique mirrors, decorative plates and odd memorabilia from the top of the booths to the ceiling.

The menu is reasonably large and diverse, without straying too far from the Italian and Italian-inspired themes that are the origination of the garlic aroma. There are sandwiches and burgers, including a tempting veggie pita ($6.50 including beer-battered fries) that holds roma tomatoes, avocado, red onion, romaine lettuce, broccoli slaw, cucumbers, feta cheese and herb dressing. Pizzas are available, along with a selection of pastas and entrees more suitable to the dinner hour.

The wine list is rather small, but it includes some notable mid-level labels at very reasonable prices. Why not get a bottle instead of just a glass? You know you want to.

We started with an appetizer of (what else?) roasted garlic ($4.95). There were two whole roasted bulbs, served with sliced tomatoes, fresh basil and warm sourdough bread brushed with olive oil. Yum. Roasted garlic gets mellower as it cooks, so it is possible to eat a whole head of it. In fact, I defy you to leave any uneaten.

Entrees come with a salad, served family-style in a big bowl tossed with Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Just when you are really digging into it, your entree is likely to arrive. This isn’t a place that stands on ceremony, and like any family meal worth having, there will be plates of food everywhere.

Tony had the ravioli of the day, which were delightful spinach-and-cheese pillows sauteed with mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, onions and fresh basil in olive oil and wine ($10.95). Oh my, it was so, so, so good! The effect was light and intensely mouth-watering. If I hadn’t been so enamored with my own plate, I would have summarily stolen his.

I selected from among a few server suggestions and chose the Parmesan-crusted lemon chicken ($11.95). The enormous plate was piled with vibrant fresh vegetables, herb-sauteed mostaccoli pasta and two half breasts of chicken. The chicken had a pronounced lemon flavor and was gently crisp with golden-brown Parmesan breading. I only ate a portion of it so I would have room for dessert.

Tony had a piece of peach pie a la mode, with dense and chewy French vanilla ice cream ($4). It had a nice bright flavor and was not overly sweet. I had the raisin and berry bread pudding ($4.50). The warm brick of pudding was thick and satisfying with a mound of slowly melting whipped cream on top. I didn’t have room for it, really, but it was so tasty, I couldn’t resist.

The service was perfect for a casual restaurant—not stuffy at all. I felt as if I were part of the family. All in all, it was the most perfect meal I could eat while wearing blue jeans.