Talented Chef Andre Pinto Heads Pechanga’s Paisano’s Restaurant
by Susan Montgomery
We have always loved dining at Pechanga Resort & Casino’s wonderful Paisano’s Italian Restaurant. So we were excited to learn that a talented young chef has taken the helm. Pechanga is California’s largest casino resort and is located in Temecula, about an hour from San Diego and two hours from Los Angeles and Orange County.
Recently we met Chef Andre Pinto who has assumed the head chef position at Paisano’s after being the kitchen supervisor at Kelsey’s, Pechanga’s popular American grill. I am always impressed that Pechanga frequently promotes talented staff members who are already working within the resort. Obviously, Pinto proved himself to be a capable chef who could bring expertise and passion to his new position.
Pinto grew up in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil where he learned to love cooking from his mother. In particular, he fondly recalls baking cakes and making feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew.
Before coming to Pechanga, Pinto spent about ten years working at several top restaurants on the east coast, including LaScala, a well-known fine dining restaurant in Boston, where he was the Sous Chef. Looking for a new experience and more moderate climate, Pinto accepted the job at Kelsey’s. Now at Paisano’s, he brings his rich Brazilian heritage and his valuable east coast experience to the inspired Italian cuisine served at Paisano’s where his focus is combining fresh, interesting ingredients that will appeal to a wide range of guests with varying tastes.
When my husband, Todd, and I visited Paisano’s we asked the chef to bring us his favorite dishes and we were not disappointed. But first I started our dining experience with a refreshing Cucumber and Cilantro cocktail made with Hendricks Gin, lime juice, and simple syrup. I especially enjoyed being able to peruse the extensive list of available beverages on a colorful, illustrated iPad menu full of enticing cocktail, beer, and wine options.
Chef Pinto first brought us his innovative Bruschetta Con Pomodori, which was wonderfully different than the typical bruschettas in most restaurants. The presentation of grilled bread, a tangy olive tapenade, goat cheese, and lovely roasted garlic came with a clever pipette of balsamic vinegar that added just the right zing to this tasty appetizer. (We’ve noted recently that pipettes, which are little squeezable tubes full of varying liquids depending on the dish they accompany, are becoming trendy in upscale restaurants and we love them.) Another appetizer that Todd especially enjoyed was the lightly breaded, tender Calamari Fritti.
As we savored our dinner, we were particularly impressed with the service. Our server, Dino, was friendly and knowledgeable and was always there when we needed him. We also appreciated the attention of Alan Barry, Paisano’s personable, helpful manager who made us (and other guests) feel so welcomed. We are always pleased with the attentive service in Pechanga’s restaurants.
Chef Pinto sent us three outstanding main courses. The special of the evening was halibut served with little neck clams that had simmered in white wine. The dish was light, fresh and subtly flavorful. It was pleasantly enhanced by a glass of crispy, nicely balanced 2014 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc from Napa.
Providing a delicious contrast to the light fish dish was a rich, savory Ossobuco. The tender braised veal shank meat literally fell off the bone and we had fun using a small fork to dig into the bone for the scrumptious bone marrow. This was all served on a tasty, creamy saffron risotto. The combination of flavors was superb, making this just about the best ossobuco we’ve ever tasted. Complementing this intensely delectable dish, a full-bodied 2011 Trivento Amado, a Malbec from Mendoza, was the perfect match.
And, finally, our Italian feast would not be complete without pasta. There are many appealing pasta dishes on Paisano’s menu. The chef brought us a classic Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce that was surprisingly light while also being full of flavor.
Just as we were thinking we could not take another bite, Paisano’s Sideway Chocolate Layered Cake magically appeared on our table and of course we had to try it. Made with sponge cake, dark chocolate mousse, and creamy ganache, and served with blackberries, blueberries and strawberries on raspberry sauce, it was “magnifico!”
Paisano’s, which is one of 11 restaurants at Pechanga Resort and Casino, is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Soon the restaurant will be announcing a “dinner and a laugh” Friday evening dinner in connection with the resort’s Comedy Club. Check Paisano’s web page for the announcement of this special. On the website, you can also review the restaurant’s menu, which reflects some changes seasonally. Reservations are a good idea and can be made by calling 951-770-8506.
Sideway Chocolate Layered Cake
Photos taken by Todd Montgomery.