Bar/Restaurant, Italian, Pizza
$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

Getting in the Mood For Smaller Food

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2006

When it comes to eating out these days, Americans know no middle ground. It's either modern-day hors d'oeuvres -- trendily termed mezze, tapas, small plates, etc. -- or T-bone for two. (And you can't tap to that rhythm.)

In some cases, the expectations of likely customers are so divided that the menus are as well: Witness Ballston's Pinzimini, which devotes almost as much space to its antipasto list as to its dinner lineup and has lavished rather more publicity on the former, along with its specialty cocktails, among them a blood orange martini and a vanilla-flavored Bellini. (The entree menu, including that 38-ounce T-bone, will be reviewed at a later date.)

Pinzimini, off the lobby of the Westin Arlington Gateway hotel, has a lounge area of overstuffed seating that is announced at dusk by a row of candles down the hallway. Once ensconced in the lounge, one is introduced to the term pinzimonio, which refers to both a flavored olive oil (in this case with sea salt and herbs) into which raw vegetables and bread are dipped, and to the plate as a whole, a tasting version of which is offered to customers in the lounge. At the bar itself, there are breadsticks and (bottled) olive oil, though the complementary crudites are not offered. Instead, there is an antipasto spread, whose dishes can be ordered individually at $3 a serving (a house selection is $12) and a list of appetizers.

It's a nice gesture, from which the restaurant derives its name. However, the diminutive form is more appropriate than might be expected. Several antipasto choices seem arbitrarily apportioned (one slice of grilled eggplant rolled around julienned prosciutto seems a little thin for $3, while four large asparagus spears, though still perhaps a touch pricey, was more reasonable) and a few were frankly disappointing. The pair of jumbo shrimp, which arrived with their heads dramatically blackened from the grill, had the dull flavor and mushy texture of having been cooked in advance, chilled and then tossed on the grill for effect. (It didn't get them warm, either.)

Weirdest of all, the breadsticks, which are stuck like sheaves into vases up and down the bar, were so stale on one occasion that even a stint in the oven couldn't revive them, and no other bread was tendered with the antipasti. The two most successful dishes were the scallops, tender and tossed in a light lemony dressing, and the similarly flavored artichoke hearts. A fennel salad was nice, but scant.

Pinzimini's pizzas also are available at the bar, small, thin-crust versions whose dough is a little too soft for easy handling, but unobjectionable. At $12, the margherita could have used more than one partial leaf of its promised fresh basil, but the mozzarella was good and fresh.

Only a couple of blocks from Ballston Common mall, Pinzimini clearly hopes to become a neighborhood hangout, and it has the look, but perhaps the kitchen's attention is a little too divided.