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San Diego Restaurant Reviews

   Pino’s Cucina Italiana

By Sue A Prelozni

If you close your eyes, listen to the music of mandolins, while savoring the food in your mouth, you would think you were in Italy. The fare at Pino’s Cucina is as close as I have come to authentic Italian cuisine since my grandmother’s cooking.

To test the waters, both my dining companion and I ordered typically heavy entrées: Emiliana’s lasagna and Papperdelle con stinco d’aginello, lamb shank over a flat, fat pasta.

Most impressive was the pasta itself: handmade, fresh daily. Again, reminiscent of my childhood when pasta was rolled out and cut by hand versus a machine, the consistency and flavor were excellent.

The lamb, so tender it fell from the bone, was nicely enhanced by the Chianti based tomato sauce. According to my dining companion, who claims to have a very fussy palate, the lasagna was “the best I’ve ever had.” With that proclamation, I had to try. It was right up there with grandma’s.

For an appetizer we tried the carpaccio, served over a bed of spinach, topped with shaved parmesan cheese and capers. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, it will. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the price very reasonable.

Pino’s began in 1997 by owner of the same name, Pino Bottalico, a native of Florence, Italy. Truth be told, Pino is a nickname.“My real name is Joseppi.

But because I was small for my age, my mother would call for me, ‘Joseppino.’ But it sounded more like a call for Tarzan, ‘Josepiiiinoo.” Suffering the harassment of his friends, Joseppi convinced his mother to just call him Pino.

Although it is large, Pino’s main dining room has a cozy feeling, with intimate corners cut out for more private dining.

The walls are covered with pictures of famous movie stars – black and whites of the best – Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Marilyn Monroe, Marcello Marciani. “Since I was a little boy, I loved the theatre.” Pino reflects. “Then it was only seven or eight cents. But even that was a lot of money.”

It is difficult to say which is better, the food or the atmosphere here. If you are coming with a large appetite, then, definitely, it’s the food. The portions are sizeable. If you are coming to relax, drink fine wine, and feel at home while exchanging family stories, then it is definitely the atmosphere.

Hospitality has been Pino’s life. He began with the Westin hotel chain in Italy. Although he was born the son of a fisherman, his family lost everything when his father and boat were lost at sea. Pino turned to the hotel and restaurant business where he could earn a wage to help support his family.

He came to America the first time for a sponsored position with the Westin at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. “After I returned to Italy, I was bored.

In Florida we were busy serving thousands of people in one night. In Italy, we’d stand around for hours, waiting, smiling.” And the wages he earned in the US were much higher.

So, much to his mother’s chagrin, he returned to the States and began his career in the restaurant business.

His managerial experience reads like a book of the better Italian restaurants of North County: Tuscany, Tommaso’s, Il Forniao. To say Pino is connected is an understatement.

Many of the recipes are from his mother, Tina, or variations of family recipes. The menu features monthly specials from different regions of Italy. This night our entrée was from the Puglia region of southern Italy.

Pino’s chef, Nazario, has been working with him since inception. However, no new recipe or new dish is served without the prior approval from Pino.

Our evening is topped off by the devil’s delight – an incredible tray of sinful desserts. I chose the amaretto cheesecake; my friend, the lemon tarte. The cheesecake won hands down. Smooth, creamy, rich, topped with slivered almonds and accented with ribbons of chocolate. Satiated beyond expectation, we begin to exit.

But do not expect to try to leave without a warm embrace from Pino. If you have had an enjoyable evening or not, he will know. He visits each table at least once throughout the evening. Pino’s has a thriving catering business and serves private parties. His manager, Alex, handles the catering business. “It is only three years old, and yet we have a great reputation.” As the food is from the restaurant menu, cooked by the same chef, it is no doubt fabulous.


Hours: Monday – Friday lunch: 11:30 am – 9 pm; dinner: 4 – 9:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday dinner only 4 – 9:30 pm.
Payment accepted: Credit cards, cash.
Pricing: Reasonable. Entrees: $12.95 – 26.95. Pasta: $7.95 - $11.95; Appetizers: $3.95 - $8.95; Pizza: $10.50
Other: Very courteous staff. Very clean environment.

967 South Coast Highway 101
In the Encinitas Lumberyard
Encinitas, CA

                                                                                                                                              Photos by John Leonffu



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