Friday, 01 March 2024

Foodie Freak: Zino

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Zino's Ristorante: 6330 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville; telephone 707-279-1620. Open for dinner every day of the week, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit the restaurant online at www.zinoclearlake.com .


I was standing in The Kitchen Gallery during an event some time ago when a beautiful young woman came up to me and asked (the exact question has been changed to protect the innocent), “Are you Ross Christensen, the food writer?”


Since up to this point I had been standing anonymously in front of Zino Mezoui, the owner of Zino’s Ristorante, I stood there not knowing what to say. After all, I didn’t want to be recognized by a restaurant owner that I would be reviewing one day, but after a couple of awkward moments I turned away from Zino and his staff and said to her, “Yes, I am.” OK, so pretty women are my kryptonite, and I couldn’t be rude to her.


I have avoided doing a review on Zino’s out of fear that they would recognize me from that incident. But it had been quite a while, and I was recently camping nearby Zino’s with my daughter and we decided to have dinner with them. After all I’m not that memorable in the looks department and I was sure they wouldn’t recognize me.


In the world of Italian restaurants you can predict the food by what the restaurant calls itself. A ristorante is the most formal type of establishment with printed menus and haute cuisine, while a trattoria is casual, family style eatery. An osteria is similar to a tavern or working class type regional food, a pizzeria and spaghetteria … you get the hint. Zino’s is a ristorante.


We arrived at Zino’s just as they were opening and were able to immediately get a table. Our waiter Jim introduced himself and we knew that this evening was going to be special.


Jim is a very formal and practiced waiter, appearing almost like he was military trained if there was a martial maitre d’ program. He would approach our table and appear to almost stand stiffly at attention before asking “May I take these away” followed by a crisp gesture to the empty plates. His formality, poise and professionalism made me feel guilty for wearing a t-shirt and shorts to dinner, but after all, I was on a camping trip.


He did make one notable mistake with our dinner that we didn’t even notice until we got home and started comparing notes for writing this review, but it didn’t detract anything from the meal, and since it took us so long to figure it out we’ll just keep it too ourselves this time.


The décor of the restaurant is nice with rustic walls and a little fitting artwork, but the dominating feature of the room are the windows looking over the lake. There isn’t a table in the house that can’t see the water. The lake is the major decoration of the dining room.


One of the highlights of the evening for me was when my daughter went to take a drink from her glass and she accidentally hiccuped into it giving off a loud echoing “Heeerraap!” as if a pterodactyl had just swooped into the room. Her face turned bright red as she glanced around the room to see if anyone else noticed. I thought it was adorable. Just a little daddy moment to share.


We ordered the crab cake appetizers that were the special for the evening, and for entrees I had the petrale sole special with lemon butter while my daughter ordered the pepper steak. They both came with mashed potatoes, sautéed vegetables, and we ordered the Caesar salad instead of the soup.


The crab cakes were very good with a couple different colors of sweet peppers adding some great color to the interior. They were sitting in one sauce and topped with another which seemed a bit over the top, but they worked well together and didn’t overpower the cakes.


Now, there will never be a man so educated or refined that will live up to my daughter’s expectations. I know this because when the salad showed up my daughter looked up at me all bright-eyed and said, “Wow, a classic Caesar salad!” Now to prove my point we’ll pause for a moment for parents of teenage boys to ask their young men what that means ...


Yeah, she’s a spoiled girl.


I’ve written column on the history of Caesar salad that you’ll read soon, but for this story I’ll let you know that Caesar salad should contain whole romaine lettuce leaves from the center of the head which are meant to be eaten with the fingers and not a fork. The Caesar salad at Zino’s was exactly that, hearts of romaine leaves stacked neatly like Lincoln logs, then dressed and covered in Parmesan cheese. My daughter recognized it instantly. Although it's not really “classic” Caesar salad at Zino’s it was close enough to thrill my daughter.


The petrale sole was fantastic, simply prepared, perfectly seasoned and a very good sized portion. The mashed potatoes were unique, being made with a combination of sweet potatoes, starchy potatoes and waxy potatoes in perfect harmony with some of the potato peels also included.


The sautéed vegetables surprised me because the combination of broccoli, summer squash and carrots all cook at different rates yet were all perfectly cooked, and I ate every single bit of them, happy knowing that Zino’s kitchen staff was really on the ball.


My daughter ordered her steak rare and it was perfectly done to that standard. It was a large portion which she wasn’t able to finish, which caused the chef to send Jim to our table to ask if everything was OK. We said it was but since the steak was probably a full 1 percent of her body weight it just wasn’t going to get finished.


Part of the way through our dinner I noticed that every table in the room was either full or had a reserved placard on it, so I would definitely recommend calling ahead for a table before you make the drive. Prices are fair for the experience that you receive. If you are curious about what they have to eat and the prices, their usual menu is posted on their Web site.


Zino’s has several reviews online already and they all are in the four- to five-star range and I would have to agree. Zino’s Ristorante is a definite “must visit,” whether you are a local resident or visiting the county.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.

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