Pinafini is what they call high-tech. The walls are industrial tile, the overhead lights pink and blue neon, the ceiling filled with curt triangular strutwork. Not functional struts, mind you, they're not even attached to the ceiling, but a layer of red-painted strutwork mounted like sculpture on tongue-in-cheek pseudo-Greek columns. It's the Bauhaus aesthetic gone wandering. Form is following function, all right, only it's something else's function.
Fine with me. All that Bauhaus/International Style stuff was whimsical to begin with. Making people look at structural elements is as arbitrary an aesthetic choice as making them look at murals of nymphs and satyrs, and the only thing anybody has ever really liked about it is the pleasing suggestion that one is bold and illusionless and hanging ten on the wave of the future.
Young and feeling one's oats, in other words, and that's certainly the crowd Pinafini is shopping for. It features a ceaseless rock sound track and a big dance floor (it's tile, unfortunately, and I have yet to see anybody dance on it, though I tend to go home long before the 3 a.m. closing hour) and a Beautiful Legs contest on Sunday nights. There's even a dress code (no jeans or sneakers) enforced by a doorman in a tux--apparently a slightly flexible dress code, because the editor of Surfing magazine has been observed to enter in violation of the anti-Reebok ordinance.
The very fact that the editor of Surfing wanted to get in suggests that Pinafini has not gambled in vain the $2 million this place is costing them. Rumbles may have reached Orange County from the Beverly Hills Pinafini. Even though it is scarcely more than two weeks old, the Orang e County restaurant is well known, and a very sharp-dressing young crowd has started to flock to the bar to drink, eat pretty good bar snacks \o7 (rotini \f7 al pesto, decent if not devastating buffalo wings), watch Madonna videos and bask in the Clockwork Orange overtones of the high-tech ambiance and the racket of rock echoing off tile. In fact, this seems to be where you go when you graduate from UC Irvine and/or its on-campus hangout, the Back Lot.
Sooner or later, Pinafini is going to open for lunch and at those hours it is bound to be a slightly different environment, because the windows look onto a placid lake with a fountain in it (Pinafini is located in a place called the Lakes Center). Also pretty soon, they tell me, it will be offering its spare, Bauhausy environment to the time-hallowed Bauhaus function of art gallery; on Thursday nights local artists will be invited to decorate the place with their works. Maybe even wilder things are anticipated, because Thursday nights are to be called Unique Event Nights.
This is in the future, though, and like many a new restaurant Pinafini has been coming along more slowly than anticipated. The only menu I've seen has been one that predicted it would replaced as of March 16th. I'll tell you what, though, I'm going to review it anyway.
On this interim menu the only items passing as appetizers are a couple of salads (the chicken salad, of the usual Oriental persuasion, is the best of them). You get a salad with your entree as well--a strange Clockwork Orange salad of iceberg lettuce with toasted almonds, mandarin orange slices and a salty vinaigrette. The best appetizer is actually the hot \o7 focaccia\f7 they bring you automatically, a rough peasanty bread sprinkled with thyme and olive oil, puffed up like an Indian \o7 puri. \f7 It's delicious and it disappears like . . . like hot cakes.
Where there is \o7 focaccia\f7 there are pizzas, and Pinafini's are good ones made with a thick, browned crust. Besides the usual \o7 Margherita \f7 (tomato, mozzarella) and \o7 quattro stagioni \f7 (ditto plus mushrooms, prosciutto and olives), there are--as of this menu--a few other simple combinations such as \o7 arlechin batocio: \f7 mozzarella, pepperoni, mushrooms. More exotic pizzas, including one with potato in the topping, are promised.
Pinafini is planning to specialize in Venetian cuisine and ultimately we will find dishes such as black risotto with calamary or liver sauteed with sweet onions. At the moment there are mostly some pastas with unfamiliar names. Fettuccine \o7 bolognesse \f7 is rather good in a meaty tomato sauce, and so is the \o7 bigoletti \f7 (which you might call spaghetti) with clams and shrimp in a garlicky, though somewhat salty, tomato sauce. The fettuccine Alfredo, proudly said to be an old family recipe, tastes disconcertingly like Kraft's macaroni and cheese, except that it's saltier.
I should mention a quite good roasted veal chop, and I like the mesquite-grilled chicken breast subtly marinated in honey mustard (they have given this California-sounding dish a full Italian name). There are two dishes of stuff grilled on little wooden skewers: chicken, beef and veal alternating with zucchini (served on the world's stodgiest risotto), and a light-eater's delight of four delicious skewered shrimp, each straddling--practically enclosing--a scallop. At the moment the only desserts are the Italian ices that come with the meal.
Pinafini is quite reasonably priced. Dinner entrees are $5.95 to $9.95; lunch, when it comes, will be in the $2.95 to $5.95 bracket, and ultimately there will be an all-you-can-eat brunch on weekends at $6.95.
PINAFINI 580 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa
Open for dinner daily; soon for lunch Monday through Friday, with weekend brunch. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.