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In the mood for a love story? 

A new business invites you to sit down and tuck in

click to enlarge A-TISKET, A-TASKET:  Cinema E Vino Paradiso treats guests to a movie and goodies, like this pasta al cartoccio and sausage and peppers dish with Italian Chianti. - PHOTO BY GINA DEGIROLAMO
  • PHOTO BY GINA DEGIROLAMO
  • A-TISKET, A-TASKET: Cinema E Vino Paradiso treats guests to a movie and goodies, like this pasta al cartoccio and sausage and peppers dish with Italian Chianti.

# Picture yourself and your lover picnicking on a vineyard-covered hillside in Tuscany. Your picnic basket is chockablock with ambrosial delights like sausage and peppers, freshly baked bread, ripe figs, and creamy cheese along with biscotti and spiced popcorn for dessert. And it wouldn't be complete without a special bottle of Chianti (perhaps not that straw-covered version if you're with someone you love) to enjoy through eventide. Once the stars light up the sky, the soft glow of a giant screen with surround sound entertains you with a movie classic mine would be Casablanca, but you might prefer Some Like it Hot. Romantic summer nights don't get much better than this.

Now San Luis Obispans don't have to reserve seats on an Alitalia flight to Tuscany to live the experience. At least not since Gina DeGirolamo and Melita Toscano moved to Paso Robles. The duo decided to create a retirement business they could really enjoy, and that's how they came to create Cinema E Vino Paradiso. As of January, they began offering the romantic dinner at various wineries with the open-air theater described above.

"Who doesn't love the idea of relaxing outdoors on a soft California night, sipping wine, dining out, and watching a favorite film?" Toscano asked. "It's such a natural fit for this region and so much fun people are saying, 'Why hasn't someone thought of this before?'"

The partners divide their time each week between their home in L.A. and a home in Paso Robles that they purchased a few years ago. Their plan is to eventually retire to Paso Robles and dedicate themselves to their business venture. DeGirolamo has worked in the film industry 20 years, so the movie set-up comes easily to her. Interestingly enough, DeGirolamo says neither of them have been professional chefs but they both have a "strong family food background." They created the Tuscan menu using their favorite family recipes, which DeGirolamo said was easy to increase for a larger audience. The entire affair is designed, produced, and directed by DeGirolamo and Toscano.

Although they knew they had a unique concept, the partners called on winery owners, tasting room managers, and others in the business to hear their opinions of the business plan before moving forward. Last January, they began setting the business into motion and will hold their first Cinema E Vino Paradiso open to the public on June 16. The twilight dinners only take place during warm weather months, DeGirolamo said, noting that local warm evenings last well into the fall, so the duo hopes to continue the events through October and possibly November. DeGirolamo also explained that their dinner affairs are designed for a specific audience, and let's just say it's not rated "G."

"A lot of communities do this type of event for families, but Cinema E Vino is not a family affair. It's about wine, food, and film in a romantic setting," explained DeGirolamo, who described their dinner "like grandma's dinner table brought outside." They provide a picnic basket packed with a freshly made dinner including antipasti, pasta al cartoccio (a tomato-and-olive-sauced spaghetti served warm in a parchment package), Italian sausage and peppers, seasonal vegetable or fruit, biscotti, and Ecuadorian popcorn. The latter treat is a specialty from Toscano's native Ecuador, where her mother owned and operated her own restaurant. Guests can bring blankets and lawn chairs or they'll provide them.

"It's catching on like wild fire," said DeGirolamo, explaining they started in Paso Robles but are already negotiating with wineries in Santa Barbara County. "We're thrilled, and we know our customers will be too."

They already have numerous dates available and movies chosen for those wineries. Check out How to Marry a Millionaire at Maloy O'Neill on June 23, The Pink Panther at Cass on June 30, and A Night at the Opera at Villicana on July 21. You can order tickets online and purchase gift certificates. Tickets are $75 per person with a $10 voucher for wine that must be used the same night. If you don't drink alcohol no worries DeGirolamo says you can use the voucher toward jewelry or souvenirs from the winery. Online ticket purchases must be made at least 24 hours prior to the dinner.

"This is the true meaning of la dolce vita," DeGirolamo said.

Interested in learning more about the Italian sentiment for the good life, perceived as one of personal pleasure and self-indulgence? At www.cinemaevino.com, you'll find the full schedule of movies and participating wineries which is still growing. You'll also find this promise: "It's like a night in Tuscany. We provide the food, wine, and atmosphere. You provide the love."

SIDEBAR: Last chance for tickets!

June 10 marks the fourth annual Pinot & Paella Cook-Off in Templeton Community Park.

This is one cooking contest in which I take great pleasure in participating as a judge. The inaugural event was held in Paso Robles at Windward Vineyard, whose owners Marc Goldberg and Maggie D'Ambrosia were inspired to create this tasting. The epicureans wanted an event that would focus on Pinot Noir, the varietal they produce exclusively. Even though their Pinots were the only wines poured (because it all came together at the last minute and other Pinot producers had previous commitments) it was hugely successful. Ever since, the annual pinot and paella cook-off has taken place in Templeton.

We've always had a beautiful afternoon in that oak-shaded park while we feasted on gourmet paellas prepared by some of the county's best chefs. Old favorites who've attended since the beginning are Dining with Andre, Catering by Chef Charlie, 10th St. Vineyard Cafe, Villa Creek, and the Paso Robles Culinary School's top students. This year, some exciting newcomers have joined the fun, including Artisan, Matthew's, and Novo. There are 17 Central Coast Pinot Noir producers, like Adelaida, Hug Cellars, Jack Creek, and Windward. I consider Pinot Noir the king of red wines when it comes to its versatility. It pairs with an array of foods, from mussels and chorizo to octopus and saffron, all of which you'll find in the many paellas presented. But these 15 culinary experts get downright creative when it comes to this competition. One of the most delightful surprises the second year was a paella with rice blackened with squid ink its appearance was downright odd but the delicious combination of flavors certainly won over the celebrity judges.

Tickets must be purchased in advance by June 8. They won't be available at the gate. Visit www.pinotandpaella.com or call Windward Vineyards at 239-2565.


You can contact New Time's Cuisine columnist at Kathy@GrapevineRadio.net.

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