Craving Italian food last week prompted a visit to Gino’s Italian Restaurant. They have been voted AV’s best Italian restaurant year after year, so we were looking forward to having our cravings satisfied. 

We walked into a beautifully decorated, spacious restaurant with elegant leather booths, live music on the stage, a bar stocked to the nines and the aroma of fresh and savory Italian cuisine (garlic) permeating the air. Mama mia, this was going to be a night to remember. 

The menu has a mixture of style, taste and texture that will give you a comfortable selection from the get-go, ranging from antipasti (appetizers) baked meatball with mozzarella, bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, sautéed mushrooms, garlic cheese bread, insalata Caprese, chicken antipasto, calamari fritti, spicy blackened shrimp, soup, salad, sausage and peppers and buffalo wings.

The menu includes a variety of pasta: spaghetti Bolognese, fettuccine Alfredo, capellini Pomodoro and basil, baked penne rigati with mozzarella and cheese tortellini, to name a few. 

Of course, no Italian restaurant would be complete without pizza and Gino’s does not disappoint. Pizza of every variety could be found on the menu: specialty, build-your-own, gluten free, vegetarian, plus Gino’s famous big baron filled with pizza toppings and plenty of cheese enveloped in Gino’s incredible pizza dough.

House specialties include chicken fettuccine with vegetables, lasagna al forno, gnocchi Sorrentina, baked eggplant Parmesan and cheese manicotti. If you like seafood, you’ll love the linguine al Frutti di mare (an Italian favorite from the coast of Italy), which means “fruit of the sea” and includes clams, mussels, calamari, tiger shrimp, herbs, wine and lemon mixed in a red sauce, scooped over a bed of spaghetti. This particular dish had the most beautiful presentation, with an aroma like none other. I can attest to that, as my daughter Nadine thoroughly enjoyed it.

There were quite a few other dishes on the menu, including chicken and veal specialties: Parmigiana, marsala and piccata, a big, beautiful  hand-cut 16 oz. ribeye steak served with Tuscan potatoes, large tiger shrimp scampi with penne Alfredo, panko Parmesan-crusted halibut and a fabulous blackened salmon rounded out the dinner menu. It was a menu as elegant as the restaurant.

My companion and I each started off with a glass of chardonnay from the extensive wine list (one of the largest wine lists offered in the Antelope Valley). Debi ordered a glass of beer from the beer list and the others shared a bottle of wine.

I wanted to start out with an appetizer and as I was perusing the menu, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sautéed asparagus. The description on the menu piqued my interest, so that is exactly what I ordered — asparagus spears sautéed in olive oil, herbs and toasted Parmesan cheese with enough to go around the table, twice. They had a perfect texture and flavor. I enjoyed the extra toasted tidbits of Parmesan cheese that fell on the plate. After that, I ordered the chicken marsala with extra mushrooms, as it has always been one of my favorites. It definitely didn’t disappoint, as it looked and smelled absolutely fabulous. Of course, the flavor was a sumptuous delight of everything garlic, plenty of savory marsala sauce and let’s not forget about those delicious mushrooms sautéed in that sauce.

Debi chose one of her all-time favorites, veal picatta with capellini checca, a classic Italian dish:  sautéed veal in a lemon, butter sauce with capers. The capellini checca is a simple recipe made from the freshest, most divine tomatoes and basil — so light and full of fresh, tasty goodness. Alas, she also let me have a few bites and I was so elated as this would be another of my favorites when dining at an Italian restaurant. I can see why Gino’s was voted AV’s Best Italian restaurant once again as everything we had, simply put, was over-the-top delicious.

My companion ordered his favorite Italian dish, fettuccine Alfredo with sautéed chicken. You will find this dish on most menus in Italian restaurants, however, I think Gino’s chef makes it best. Parmesan cheese, butter, cream and herbs create a rich, delicate cream sauce with the most amazing aroma and flavor. Impressive is the word I would use to describe this dish. Knowing it’s his favorite dish, I felt honored he let me have a few bites. I savored each bite I had, which was three, to be exact. Magnifico and bravo to the chef.

Everyone knows how much I love to end dinner on a sweet note and tonight was no different. As our meal came to an end, the Limoncello cake was calling my name. Lemon lovers rejoice, there’s nothing quite like the pucker from this cake with lemon frosting. It’s exquisite.

Gino’s offers fabulous food and friendly service in a beautiful atmosphere with daily specials, happy hour, catering and banquet rooms at all three locations, with a very large banquet room at the West Lancaster location, that seats up to 300 people. Live entertainment and delivery are just a few of the many things Gino’s has to offer. Try any one of their three locations: West Lancaster, 44960 Valley Central Way, 661-942-1300; Lancaster, 44343 Challenger Way, 661-945-2791 or Palmdale, 819 W. Palmdale Blvd., 661-224-1306. The complete menu is online, www.ginos-italian.com

Bon appétit!

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