There are so many good restaurants in Midtown that it’s all too easy to overlook the less showy ones, and there are so many good Italian restaurants in this city that the same is true of them. You seldom hear of Italian restaurants going under, and there are many good reasons for that, including the restaurants’ all-around cost effectiveness. But it’s mostly due to the intense popularity of the cuisine—who doesn’t like Italian food?
Even though it’s been on a popular block a few doors east of the City Center for 15 years, I didn’t really know that Giovanni existed. But two months ago, a new chef was brought in by owner Giovanni Francescotti. Florentine Patrick Nuti opened Petrosino and Canapa downtown before serving as executive chef at I Trulli in Gramercy and Osteria del Circo, just down the block from Giovanni. As soon as Nuti came to his new perch, I began hearing about his cooking.
Past a row of gigantic champagne magnums, the 130-seat dining room is placid, glowing and graceful, with very clean lines, stiffly clothed tables and quieting carpeting. Upstairs are two beautifully appointed party rooms that can accommodate 70 and 30 people, respectively.
A napkin-lined basked of lightly toasted bread is served with peppered chickpea paste instead of butter or olive oil. Brilliant butternut squash soup is unutterably smooth, so it’s punctuated by a sprinkled row of crushed amaretto cookies and a long squirt of balsamic reduction. It’s the very essence of autumn in a bowl.
Milanese center-cut crimson prosciutto floors a large plate, centered by a tartly dressed and spidery frisée salad adorned with fresh tomatoes.
Absolutely perfect, creamy al dente risotto is stirred with porcini mushrooms and black truffle oil to make it as earthy as a forest floor.
Fresh spinach tagliolini is boldly sauced with a wild boar tomato gravy deepened and darkened with cocoa, reminding me yet again that autumn is in full swing.
Nuti’s veal Milanese is especially toothsome. The veal isn’t pounded as excessively as it usually is; rather it is left thick enough to remind you with each succulent mouthful that it’s none other than veal. This also means that it remains moist in its crunchy crumb coating. The chop is covered with young arugula and ripe halved cherry tomatoes, and a lemon half swathed in cheesecloth is there for the squeezing.
Roasted sea bream has a nice tight texture and plenty of oceanic flavor.
Honeydew melon sorbet is sent out as a lovely palate cleanser before dessert is brought. An apple tart is really a fried puffy pancake with tender sautéed autumn apples. Molten chocolate cake—as plentiful on menus around town as tiramisu, and far more welcome as far as I’m concerned. The gooey cakelet is given a clean presentation, with a dollop of whipped cream on top and a strawberry jabbed with a mint leaf.
For straightforward, flavor-packed Northern Italian fare in an elegant but unfussy setting, you won’t do better than Giovanni.
47 W. 55th St.
Between Fifth and Sixth
Entrées: $19.75 to $38
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