Palm Springs is home to many fantastic Italian restaurants, classic midcentury “red sauce” Italian, phenomenal pizza, as well as regional Italian eateries. For my second meal out at a restaurant during the COViD-19 pandemic, I knew I wanted to check out Il Giardino, the Sicilian family inspired restaurant run by Teresa Attardi and Rosario Cultarrio. Please check out my previous article with tips on dining out during the pandemic.
Located on Indian Canyon Drive, Il Giardino has made the most of the indoor restaurant closure by expanding their patio and fencing off the space with some lovely plantings, herbs and a bougainvillea archway complete with misters, oh so important on a day that was pushing 120°. When Il Giardino could seat people in their dining room and on their patio, they could accommodate 72 guests; their current set up allows for 26 people total.
They have the tables well-situated, with two levels of seating adding an additional feeling of space between customers. This setup also encourages a sense of intimacy between tables. While we were seated several different tables were engaged in conversation with one another. Having the ability to chat with perfect strangers without feeling fear was welcome in a time when we are all feeling so apart from one another.
Often when I go out for Italian food, the music playing is either unremarkable or a playlist that seems based on “That’s Amore”. I am happy to say the music at Il Giardino was neither of those things, a refreshing change of pace. Rosario also goes out of his way to make sure his guests are comfortable. When one table asked to have the misters turned up he came around and let the other tables know what was happening and went so far as to shield some of the misters away from our table when it started to get a little too damp. I really appreciate this kind of above and beyond thinking.
We started with two appetizers. The special salad of oranges, olives, fennel, and anchovies was sweet, tart, briny and refreshing on this end-of-summer night, particularly with a glass of citrusy Sauvignon Blanc to accompany it. The Polpette della Casa, four plump meat balls bathed in a rich, garlicy tomato sauce topped with mozzarella were a lovely way to start out our date night.
We were eating family style, so we ordered a Primi of their classic Fettuccine Al Ragu. I love house made pasta and this did not disappoint. Light and cooked perfectly with a bit of resistance to each bite, these noodles would be stars in just a little garlic, olive oil and sea salt. Although the rich savory meat sauce was plentiful, it did not overwhelm this dish. With luscious noodles, zesty tomato and the richness of the meat, you can imagine your Italian grandmother spending all day in the kitchen making this just for you.
For our Secondi, the Vitello Piccata al Limone was calling us. The richness of the tender veal scaloppini was delicately cut by the lemon caper sauce and was perfect with my second glass of wine. I also loved the vegetable accompaniments. Perfectly seasoned potatoes were a little crisp on the outside with a rich fluffy interior, along with crisp green beans and carrots completed this perfectly lovely dish.
Another favorite of mine is the Branzino Al Forno. The mild white fleshed fish has an almost sweet flavor that is easily overwhelmed. Il Giardino bakes theirs with lots of fresh herbs, lemon and salt, perfectly highlighting the taste of the fish. There is a reason this dish is considered a classic and this restaurant does it exceedingly well.
Although located on a major street, the outdoor seating has a feeling of intimacy but also allows you to forget all that is happening in the world outside. The small staff have a way of making you feel like you are part of the family and that nonna will make everything alright. A welcome respite in these troubling times.
Monday- Saturday 5:00-9:00
333 S Indian Canyon, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Open Monday-Saturday: 5:00-9:00