It’s fitting that the Italian word “gioia” means “joy,” because it seems everyone at this new Neapolitan eatery at The River in Rancho Mirage is full of this infectious emotion: native Italian owners Salvatore Evangelista and Luca Ricca, general manager Giada Ingegnoso, chef Luigi Mauro, and even server Nathan.
Housed in the space that used to be home to Michael’s Pizzeria, Gioia Italian Bistro is the brainchild of wine connoisseur Salvatore, who wanted to reward his sister for taking care of their mother in the Old Country by making his nephew Luca’s dream of living and working in America come true. A friend of Michael’s owner, Evangelista saw and seized the perfect opportunity when that dinner house shuttered.
The new space has been slightly remodeled—gone are the big booths, replaced by more streamlined bistro tables—and the food is lovingly crafted with time-tested recipes from Naples, whence Salvatore and his family hail. On the night I dined there, an amico and I sampled the Insalata Della Casa (oh so deliziosa in its simplicity), the Parmigiana (traditional eggplant and cheese in a light tomato sauce; it floated on our palates), and the sublime Guazzetto (baby octopus, black olives, capers). Rather than go for one (or more!) of seven thin-crusted pizzas on offer (we’ll just have to make a repeat visit to sample those), we chose a trio of pastas: the Linguini Veneziana (shrimp and zucchini pesto), the Spaghetti Amatriciana (tomato sauce, pancetta, onions), and the Rigatoni Al Ragù (homemade veal Bolognese sauce). Mamma mia is all we can say! And then we repeated that exclamation when we tasted the divine Tiramisu, one of the airiest versions of this classic I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying.
A few things you need to know about Gioia: The kitchen serves up its pasta al dente, like in Europe. Luca is a graduate of culinary school in Italy, so he knows what he’s doing. The gnocchi is made by hand in house. And the place is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with a break between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Oh, lest I forget, the best deal by far at Gioia is the Pranzo Panini (lunch sandwich), served with a choice of house salad or Italian potato salad for only $10.
As the holidays approach at a steady pace, I find myself intoning, “Gioia to the world…” Mangia, mangia! www.gioiaitalianbistro.com