Munching at Michael’s Pizzeria at The River

I often gripe that my Italian is getting rusty due to a lack of practice. So I was very happy to recently meet the dashing Pietro Luca Bordignon, General Manger at the recently opened Rancho Mirage branch of Michael’s Pizzaria at The River. Pietro was born in Milano, and then lived in Roma for years before coming stateside to study film. After working in the biz for “too long,” he returned to the restaurant world, which he tells me he has always been drawn to. And I’m very happy he was.

He is overseeing one of those “authentic” Italian eateries which many of us wish there were more of.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear the lengths the Michael’s staff goes to in order to serve the freshest and tastiest food around.  Just about everything is made in-house, from the pizza dough, mozzarella, tomato sauce, pesto, and daily fresh-baked breads to their gelato, sorbetto, and an assortment of other deserts, including Tiramisu and Cannolis.  Even their artichoke hearts are made fresh on site.

But what brings most customers into the restaurant in the first place is the pizza.  Trust me, it won’t disappoint.  Baked in an 850-degree wood-burning oven that never goes cold, Michael’s thin-crust Napoli-style pies are ready in an astounding 90 seconds!  Every variation on the theme is available, from the simplest Margherita (with tomato, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil) to one of my newest favorites, a Bianca (white) pizza with goat cheese, baby artichokes, fingerling potatoes, mozzarella, and pesto.  Benissimo!

Not to be overshadowed by the pizzas, the rest of Michael’s menu also boasts other delectable main courses, including a white Lasagna Napolentana, beautiful baked Cannelloni Coda di Bue with braised oxtail and ricotta, Roasted Octopus with garlic, olive oil, and lemon, and delicious Salsiccia (fennel sausage with tomato and peppers).

With food this good one will be surprised to find prices for main courses in the $10 to $15 range, and a great selection of antipasti, insalate, wines, and beers that will not break the bank.  Kid- and family-friendly yet intimate enough for a romantic dinner before or after a movie, Michael’s Pizzeria is a winner.  And take the opportunity to practice, or learn, a bit of Italian by saying “buon giorno” (hello/good day) to Pietro from Potter!