OK, I don’t usually do food reviews. But, I couldn’t pass this up. I go by Pina’s Bistro nearly every day and, until recently, I had never eaten there. I am a big foodie and, while this blog doesn’t normally do restaurant reviews or, eww, culture stuff, this little place I now know, deserves the highest praise. I urge all of my readers, if they have not made their way down to First and Pacific for Italian food, they drop what they are doing and head down there now….well, read my blog first…then go -Jeff
A few weeks ago, I lamented in a post that I couldn’t share Valentines Day dinner with my wife. I went on about my favorite romantic Italian restaurants both without and within the city and was instantly slapped down by my friend and fellow blogger, Dan Chmielewski over at the Liberal OC. Immediately after, I was hit by a number of reader emails concerning the same thing. In fact, I was hit so many times, I was starting to feel like the hysterical woman in the cult classic Airplane! with all the passengers lined up waiting to smack her.
All of this, because I failed to mention what they felt was simply the best Italian restaurant in our town Tustin. Dan wanted to make sure I understood the serious gravity of the breach I committed so he invited me to lunch at his favorite spot. I never turn down a free meal and, to make it even better (or at least to claim the tax deduction) he also invited the Orange County Register’s local talent, Elysse James to join us (note to the Register editors, Elysse insisted on paying her own tab).
So, we all wound up on a recent Wednesday afternoon on a sidewalk table at Pina’s Bistro for lunch. Dan and Elysse were already there when I arrived. He promptly presented us to Pina who then showed us around her establishment.
If you haven’t been there (and who hasn’t…I mean, besides me), Pina’s Bistro is really more like the kitchen and dining room of her home. The kitchen, a scant twenty feet from the front door, was alive with the aromas you would expect to find in your mom’s house… well, if your mom was Italian. Between the kitchen, stuffed with an enormous range and grill, and the front door are the half dozen or so tables filled with hungry patrons, of course, that comprises the dining room. Another half dozen tables outside make up the front porch and that’s where we chose to sit on this unusually warm Winter day.
Pina made us feel right at home as she showed Elysse and me the kitchen and explained that everything, including the pasta, is made to order when it is ordered. Servers were hurrying past us as they brought huge dishes of great looking food out to hungry customers. So, we got out of the way and took our seats outside with Dan. Drinks were waiting for us, along with a wonderful Caprese salad that made it’s way to the table as soon as we sat down. It did not take long to figure out what I wanted from the menu. I am a pasta fan and a marinara fan. The Baked Mostaccioli beckoned and I answered. Dan ordered, what I suspect is his favorite, Linguini and Clams and Ellyse ordered a great looking pannini.
I would like to tell you the three of us ate lunch without a political word between us. But, you probably know that putting together two political bloggers and an ace reporter is probably going to bring the conversation to our favorite subjects (are your ears ringing, Jerry?) In between overseeing the kitchen activities and tending to her customers, Pina would pop out to see how we were enjoying our food. I have to tell you, Dan was right. In fact, he could not do Pina’s justice because I am not sure there are adequate words in the English language to describe the delicious food we consumed that day. The pasta was cooked exactly the way I like it (how did she know?) and the sauce had the subtle flavor nuance one looks for in fine food crafted by an artisan. Every bite put a smile on my face and a warm comfy feeling in my belly.And, in any case, I hope she reads this because I am sure she could not understand me singing her food’s praises with my mouth stuffed with pasta and homemade bread. Did I mention the homemade bread?
Now, I like to try a new place a couple of times before I make a decision whether it will be on my regular trail of food havens. That way, I don’t give credit to a chef or cook when they may have just gotten lucky. Never mind that Pinas has been here at this location as long as I have lived in Tustin. Who knows, she might have been fooling everyone, right? So, the other day, I invited my good friend Linda Jennings, president of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, to lunch at Pinas. Of course, Pina knows everybody in Tustin. She welcomed me back and greeted Linda like an old friend.
This time, I was torn between the Cannelloni and the Penne Arabiata with Sausage (which I eventually went with) while Linda had a sandwich. The day was a bit brisk but we still sat outside with the heater on, of course. When our dishes came I was, once again, in heaven. The sausage was ground perfectly, the spices just right and the pasta slightly al dente as I like it. And, if I haven’t mentioned it before, the homemade pasta is just the right consistency because it is made by the loving hands of Pina and her dedicated crew consisting of three generations of highly skilled family who know the art of great food.
Too soon, I had to leave for my real job. Another great day with good company and conversation over a wonderful meal from one of Tustin’s hidden gems. Of course, now that the city politicos and their henchmen know where we bloggers eat, I may have to have Pina’s occasionally swept for bugs. We just can’t get away from the politics. I just hope we didn’t bore the table next door with the gossip from our town Tustin.