In some respects the daughter of the Chino Waynes gets a bit of a raw deal, in that her birthday is December 22, which means it gets overshadowed by Christmas. But if you look at it another way, it means that the celebrating gets to start a little early. Having tried the new Chino Hills outpost of the small, family owned, Orange County chain, Peppinos recently, Chino Wayne, in the continuation of his essential field work on the trail of deliciousness, offered it as one of the options for The Daughter to choose from for her birthday dinner. CW is fortunate in that The Daughter has a lot of the same dining sensibilities as CW (for example, unlike Mrs. Chino Wayne who prefers her meat cooked to hockey puck consistency, The Daughter will actually eat meat medium rare.) So even though four options were suggested, CW knew that the birthday girls choice would be the Italian option, and he could continue his research in to this new, local dining venue.
In that Peppinos is one of the few non-chain (from the perspective of large, corporate, cookie-cutter, dining factory) operations in Chino Hills gives it an immediate advantage in Chino Waynes book. The fact that the closest Italian restaurant to the Chino Waynes homestead other than Peppinos is an Olive Garden, really makes Peppinos so much more enticing; and of course the fact that there is a BevMo practically a hop, skip and jump away from Peppinos in the same shopping center, for an after dining commissary run, is just icing on the cake.
Previously when the Mrs. and Chino Wayne had reconnoitered Peppinos it was a fairly busy Saturday evening. On that first visit the Chino Waynes had sampled the dinner salad, antipasto salad, scallops sautéed with a white wine sauce with linguine, and a pepperoni and sausage pizza. In the visit last week on Thursday evening, the restaurant was notably less busy and the Chino Wayne clan ordered two dinner salads, and Chino Wayne enjoyed another antipasto salad, entrées were baked ziti with a meat sauce, manicotti, and a veal chop with a Marsala sauce.
Just the presence of an antipasto salad is one of the dishes that can make or break an Italian restaurant for Chino Wayne. A lover of real antipasto, (meaning all manner of prepared, cold vegetables laid out on a large table, with some appropriate meat and cheese accompaniments), when Chino Wayne comes across anything remotely resembling the classic antipasto, in the iceberg lettuce wasteland, his heart sings and his tummy wakes up in anticipation.
The antipasto salad at Peppinos consists of mixed lettuce, that is actually green, sliced fresh tomatoes, roasted red peppers, Bermuda onion, black olives, pepperoncinis, mozzarella cheese, salame, mortadella, capaciola and proscuitto. The olives were the canned sliced kind, which have very little taste, all of the other ingredients were first rate. The salad was dressed with oil and vinegar which is on every table, had the olives been whole, and of a better quality this would be a truly outstanding salad, as it was it was still very appreciated, especially in this neck of the woods.
Fresh house baked bread, the generic Italian baguette and focaccia and butter are brought to the table before the salads arrive. When it is fresh, hot out of the oven, it is quite pleasant, when it is not fresh, and has been sitting around; it gets stale rapidly (probably because it is baked on premises and not loaded with preservatives). Chino Wayne is surmising that the busier the restaurant, the fresher the bread, that when business is slow, the bread sits in the kitchen suffering the effects of oxidation.
The baked ziti seemed to have a lot of ricotta mixed in it, and it actually was not very appetizing looking in that condition, sort like pasta with cottage cheese. The Mrs. did eat it all though, the manicotti looked a little heavy to Chino Wayne, he did not taste either of the baked pasta dishes.
The veal chop was good, if just a bit tough (a steak knife instead of a butter knife would have been helpful, but at least at Peppinos they have heavy flat-ware, none of that really cheap, flimsy stainless junk that the Chino Waynes have found at other, small, family run operations). The chop came with a couple of asparagus spears, a halved tomato, and four mushroom caps, all of it drowning in Marsala sauce. A side of fettuccini Alfredo came with the chop. The Marsala sauce was good, a nice sweat Marsala flavor, but there was just too much of it, it overwhelmed the meat, and the vegetables were soaking in it. The fettuccini Alfredo was serviceable, although not quite cheesy enough, the addition of black pepper helped it, but since pasta is a no, no on The Liquid Diet, only about a third of it was consumed. Even though Chino Wayne has had much finer renditions of both veal chops, and veal Marsala at higher end establishments, he really appreciated the opportunity to obtain such a classic, grown up dish anywhere in the sphere of Chino/Chino Hills.
The small, thin crust, pepperoni and sausage pizza that were sampled on the previous visit was excellent. The dough had a good flavor, the crust puffed up with a bit of air, it was fairly light, and the pie so much more flavorful than anything that can be obtained from the local pizza chains. It is a given that on those few and far between occasions when he will allow himself to deviate from The Liquid Diet, that if that interlude is going to be with local pizza, it will be a Peppinos pie. The scallops on that first visit were large, tender and fresh and thoroughly enjoyed by CW.
The menu at Peppinos is quite extensive and very ambitious in Chino Waynes opinion for a small, family owned and operated chain; CW is looking forward to exploring it fully, in many visits to come. The décor of the restaurant is clean, simple and open. There are some wide screen plasma TVs on strategic walls, the bar area is very cozy looking and is fully stocked, and CW had an excellent view of the wide screen in the bar from his table in the dining room. On neither visit did Chino Wayne notice a manager or host/hostess on duty, and most of the staff are quite young, and inexperienced, and were dressed sloppily. The service was a bit uneven, if not earnest.
Even given all of the little negative issues, Chino Wayne has high hopes for the success of this establishment in Chino Hills, it really does have the potential for a much better Italian dining experience than has been available in the immediate area.
CW does suggest that you peruse the menus at their website, especially if you are a captive of The Dining Wilderness That Is The Inland Empire:
12959 Peyton Drive
Highway 71 & Peyton Drive