Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Pinzimini, a new Italian steakhouse at the Westin Arlington Gateway, is very pleasing to the eye and palate, but also very businesslike, a little impersonal. The menu offerings range from mini antipasti dishes at $3 to a 38-ounce steak to share for $64.

What first greets guests — aside from a young hostess — is an elegant dining room that looks more Asian than Italian with its angular chairs and wood-and-glass screens as well as a long row of decorative glass that divides the dining room from the bar area. It’s a nice look but almost sterile with its clean lines.

This is true for the service, too. It’s cordial and efficient, but at the end of the night, you almost wish something quirky would happen: dancing waiters, free drinks or something.

The experience continues this way. Everything is very good but lacks personal, creative touches. The food is fresh and well-prepared but offers no great surprises.

We ordered several of the mini antipasti, whose portions are a tad larger than bite-size. The sauteed scallops were lovely. They’re lightly seasoned, and their consistency was just right: Once you pop the surface, your teeth gently glide through the meat. It’s clear from this dish and others that chef Jeffrey Haight knows his seafood.

Along with the antipasti, great moist-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-outside bread and pinzimini is served. Pinzimini? It’s a word used to describe various Italian dips for vegetables and bread, according to the restaurant’s Web site. This restaurant’s version of the dip is olive oil infused with various fresh herbs, lemon and sea salt.

Diners also receive complimentary olives and delicious caponata. It’s all scrumptious, and if you don’t watch out, you easily will fill up on the lovely lemon-infused olive oil (our favorite) and crusty bread combo along with a glass of pinot grigio. (Pinzimini’s wine menu is extensive.)

The menu also has a nice selection of thin-crust pizzas, which can be shared as an appetizer but also are large enough to serve as a main course for one person. The fresh basil and flavorful prosciutto pizza is a great choice.

Among entrees, we liked the bone-in rib-eye. It was very tender and well-seasoned, if a little fatty, and combined nicely with a side order of sauteed — superfresh — spinach with garlic, lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. Also on the main-course menu are best-sellers Mediterranean sea bass with salsa verde and bistecca alla Fiorentina, a Tuscan-style 38-ounce T-bone.

Among pastas, we liked the black linguine with shrimps, scallops and calamari. The seafood was perfectly prepared and the pasta fresh. The tomato-based sauce, however, was uninspired. Maybe a little more garlic to spice things up?

The desserts, most of which are made in-house, were divine. The ricotta cheesecake with glazed caramel oranges was our favorite. It’s a melt-in-your mouth delight with a nice hint of tartness provided by the oranges. The assorted gelato and sorbet dessert also was a treat with a surprising and oh-so-rich scoop of hazelnut gelato included.

This new restaurant’s menu is going through a lot of changes to accommodate guests’ requests, according to a manager. The lunch menu, for example, which is heavy on panini, such as the Siciliana (eggplant, mozzarella and roasted pepper), will soon include more salad options and soup-salad combinations.

How about this for a guest request: We wish that your talented staff would stretch, creating new, unique flavors, textures and wacky presentations. We understand that you’re in a hotel and that hotels by nature have to provide a home away home and a place to conduct business.

We know you have to provide solid fare, but we feel that the components are there for an excellent restaurant if you would just unleash some creativity. If not, the pinzimini and the whole Italian steakhouse thing risks seeming like just another gimmick. You might tick off someone by pushing the culinary envelope, but how can you win unless you’re willing to lose a guest or two?

RESTAURANT: Pinzimini, 801 N. Glebe Road, Arlington; 703/537-4200

HOURS: 6:30 to 11 a.m. (breakfast), 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (lunch), 5 to 10:30 p.m. (dinner) and 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. (lounge) daily

PRICES: Breakfast $4 to $13; starters $3 to $15 (lunch and dinner); main courses $12 to $64 (lunch and dinner); desserts $7

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Valet parking available; free with validation from restaurant

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Ballston (Orange Line)

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