If you are in the East Village, looking for a good plate of pasta accompanied by a first-rate bottle of Italian wine, you might want to check out Giano, named after the two-faced Roman god Janus by the restaurant’s Italian co-owners, Chef Matteo Niccoli and Wine Director Paolo Rossi. As they explain it, “The art of food is Tradition and Innovation, two sides of the same face, one looking to the future, the other to history and the past.” And true to its name, the restaurant’s physical space and menu are a mix of modern (in front) and rustic (in back), of traditional cooking and innovative spins on familiar themes.
A comfortable, curved modern bar (resin over compressed Sicilian salt) is presided over by wine maven Paolo Rossi, who has assembled an impressive selection of regional Italian wines. When in doubt, place yourself in his hands and you will not be disappointed.
At a recent press dinner we began with a lively Prosecco, which carried us through a troika of Appetizers, as part of our Tasting Menu. In the innovative category– among the Polenta e Funghi (spicy mushrooms and polenta) $10.95, Polpette al pomodoro gratinate (grass fed beef meatball) $12.95, and Crocchette de ricotta e tonno (croquette of ricotta and tuna) $12.95 — was the Croquette. Unexpectedly light, creamy and crunchy, it is a delicious variation on what, in Italian cooking, is the traditional and heavy rice or potato croquette.
All pastas are homemade at Giano, which is not to say that all the pasta dishes are great. My number one favorite was the Gnocchi ai 4 formaggi (potato gnocchi with four cheeses) $14.95. The mix of Fontina, Parmigiano and Tallegio atop the delicate homemade gnocchi created an unctuously rich sauce redolent of the 4th cheese, Italy’s delicious dolce Gorgonzola. I took the line of black pepper, artfully arranged on the plate, and sprinkled it over the sauce, which added a nice bite. It’s a dish you will return to again and again. Quite perfect.
The most unusual pasta on the menu, hands down, was the Bigoli al ragu D‘agnello e noci testate (Medieval thick spaghetti with slow cooked braised lamb ragout and toasted walnut powder) $16.95. It’s a good Fall/Winter dish — hearty, earthy – with an unexpected crunch of walnut. A bit on the dry side, it could have used more sauce and, perhaps, a fresh herb to give it more punch.
Similarly, the Rigatoni con Fave e Pancetta (Rigatoni with pancetta, fava beans white wine topped with ricotta salata), $15.95, was curiously dry and fairly bland. While each ingredient was of the highest quality, the dish needed more of a sauce to come together and blend.
To accompany the pastas, Paolo Rossi suggested a Grenache style Sardinian Sardo, sold only by the bottle, with a deep flavor. It was exceptional.
Of the two sampled main courses, I preferred the Balsamic glazed filet mignon with basil mashed potatoes, pancetta and braised onions to the pan-seared Cod. The pesto infused potatoes were delicious, despite the fact that they arrived cold, and I loved the mix of the braised onions on the steak. The Baccala alla livornese con polenta, with tomatoes, black olives and capers is excellent in an understated way. It would be a good choice, especially if you are watching your calories.
For dessert we were offered an Espresso Gelato, embedded with a small surprise. The ingredient that makes the Espresso Gelato special — and delicious — is a layer of crispy wafers that, in addition to the cinnamon, gives the vanilla ice cream an unexpected crunch. Not the fanciest of desserts but just plain good.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
126 East 7th Street
Between First Avenue and Avenue A