In the Coachella Valley there are many NY style Italian restaurants with a similar style, with an old world mafia vibe. Many of them have their interesting backstories, but none as fun as Johnny Costa’s. When I talked to Vince on the phone I knew I had to try their cuisine as well as make a new friend! Vince Costa has seen it all with his Dad being at the helm of Johnny Costa’s and lots of other notable desert spots. The thing that sets them apart is that Johnny Costa’s has true delicious Italian cuisine, for me it was a meal to remember.
It’s like you stepped out of a Rat Pack Movie, with all of their great stories, told by very funny storyteller Vince Costa. Most of the stories are just too hysterical with his father in the midst of some serious conflicts. His father Johnny is still going strong, but lets Vince do all the heavy lifting and prefers to stay in the confines of his desert home. Most of the recipes though are from him and Vince’s Neapolitan Nonna. With major respect I say thank you to all of their relatives who have provided us with such delectable honest great Italian cuisine. Johnny Costa’s is by far the most authentic Italian restaurant that you can find in the desert of anywhere for that matter.
Here’s what I tried:
Each martini was fantastic; I loved the pear one the best.
Antipasto for Two, a plate of prosciutto, salami, marinated mushrooms, roasted red peppers, marinated eggplant, Greek Olives, marinated artichoke hearts and fresh provolone cheese. A nice array of cured meats, and cheese, but the best part is the marinated cooked eggplant that comes along side the other ingredients, sweet and savory, just amazing.
Caesar Salad, Johnny’s own original Caesar dressing. From the stories Vince told me Frank Sinatra loved Johnny’s Caesar dressing. It is simple yet perfect, a great rendition of this main stay.
Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spagetti pasta topped with Johnny’s marinara sauce with homemade ground sirloin meatballs. Wow, wow, and wow, a family recipe that I could eat everyday.
Shrimp Newport with large prawns sautéed with garlic in a lemon butter wine sauce. Too bad I only got one, but this dish is a true winner.
Steak Sinatra, well-trimmed New York Strip Steak, pan-seared, sautéed with garlic, mushrooms and bell peppers in a wine sauce. I can totally understand why this dish is so popular, its fantastic.
Veal Saltimbocca Veal Medallions topped with prosciutto and mozzarella, sautéed in butter, shallots, sage and wine sauce. Nice pounded veal and the sauce is to die for.
Ravioli Alfredo, with its plump cheese filling and creamy Alfredo sauce, it will make you come back for more.
The wines I tried:
All of their house wines, Chardonnay, Chianti, Cabernet, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, are perfect for your dining experience, I would come back and just drink those.
Chardonnay, 446, Noble Vines, Monterey,CA., this wine was fantastic with the Caesar Salad.
Pinot Noir, Artesa, Carneros, a nice light fruity wine that went good with the Ravioli Alfredo.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Hess Select, North Coast, got to go with the Steak Sinatra with this big fantastic wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Earthquake Lodi CA., I like this wine with the Saltimbocca, it just added a nice earthiness to this dish.
Chianti Classico Querceto, this is one to be had with a well-rounded tomato sauce and of course the meatballs.
Barco Reale di Carmignano Sangiovese-Cabernet Blend, I would try this wine with the Spaghetti and Meatballs as well.
Sasyr Toscana Sangiovese Syrah Blend, this wine was great with the Steak Sinatra.
The family are all employed here, I met most of them, and Vince will tell you about each and every one of them. “Family owned and operated.” There is so much history here: Johnny Costa was born in Naples, Italy. Johnny worked in New York and Las Vegas before moving to California. Johnny arrived in Hollywood in the 60’s when he met Patsy D’Amore, who was the owner of the Villa Capri Restaurant in Hollywood and Tony Riccio was the Maitre’d. Patsy was friends with Frank Sinatra and Villa Capri became a Hollywood celebrity hang out and the place to be in the 60’s.
Johnny Costa was hired as Sous Chef in Hollywood. There he met Frank Sinatra who feel in love with the steak dish that was already named after him, “Steak Sinatra”. The other one of Frank’s favorites was the Linguini with Clams. Frank really took notice of Johnny because he loved the way he cooked. Johnny later followed Tony Riccio to a restaurant he was a partner in called Martony’s in Hollywood. Tony Riccio hired Johnny as his Head Chef and Tony moved the Hollywood celebrity following with Frank in tow to Martony’s. Johnny later moved to the desert in the early 70’s started working again with Tony Riccio, who was the owner and Maitre’d of Club Trinidad in Palm Springs. During that time Steve McQueen, Bob Hope, and the Rat Pack frequented Club Trinidad which became a Palm Springs celebrity hang out. In the mid-70’s Frank hired Johnny to work at his estate with his personal chef. While working for Frank Johnny opened Johnny Costa’s Ristorante in Desert Hot Springs, circa 1976, then moved the restaurant to Cathedral City before moving to their current location in Palm Springs. The legacy continues with Johnny and his family, for the last 40 years he owned restaurants in the Palm Springs area.
What an honor to have been hosted by the best of the best. I tip my hat to you and want to tell my readers go check out this great Italian establishment. Make sure you share some of Johnny’s old war stories with his son Vince, you will go home a happier person having had this fun experience.
440 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262