This fun and playful eatery in the East Village gives diners a choice to enjoy the excellent food and drink in either a futuristic setting or a rustic one. The interior design and the menu reflect the name Giano, the double-faced mythological deity with one side looking toward the future while the other beholds the past. And service and prices are just right.
The bar in the front serves not only drinks but also food. The sophisticated and clean-lined contemporary setting exemplifies the future. Surface material for the bar is compressed sea salt from Italy, and the tables in this section are made of carved wood and coordinated sea-salt inlays. Diners who prefer a more traditional setting will find their comfort a few steps away and immediately feel they have entered a time tunnel, finding themselves in a rustic, cozy area surrounded by brick walls, wooden ceiling, and lots of candles sitting in wall niches, emanating warmth.
Partner Matteo Niccoli said, “Italian food is all about the quality of the ingredients. At Giano we use the freshest and best quality available.” Matteo and his partner Paolo Rossi, an architect and an engineer, designed and built the interior and the furniture with the help of a talented carpenter friend who flew in from Italy.
The menu honors both the old and the futuristic Italian cuisine. Each menu category—appetizers, seconds (secondi), and mains (primi) do elegant and creative justice for each food choice—the traditional and the innovative, contemporary fare, emphasizing high quality and seasonal ingredients.
Traditional appetizers are the Insalata Invernale ($9.95), warm octopus and potato salad, or the Calamari In Umido ($11.95), which is calamari and green peas stewed and flavored in a thick tomato sauce and paprika. The contemporary counterparts are innovative, artistic presentations, such as the Crespelle Di Zucchini e Taleggio ($10.95), crepes stuffed with zucchini and taleggio cheese, which my friend and I chose.
The crepes arrived wrapped like a gift, gently displayed on a simple white plate. The Octopus Carpaccio, a verbally mentioned, non-menu listed item, I went crazy over. It looked like thin slices of salami drizzled with a few drops of aromatic Italian olive oil and fresh lemon zest. It was buttery, tender, light, and refreshing. My friend loved the Crespelle Di Zucchini, though I wished the chef had used a sharper cheese to contrast it with the sweet and crunchy zucchini.
Some of the traditional primi are the classic Lasagna Bolognese ($13.95) and Pappardelle Al Ragu Di Cervo ($16.95), homemade papardelle pasta with venison ragu and orange zest. Contemporary offerings featured unique items such as the Taglioni Alla Bottarga E Tartufo Nero ($15.95), homemade tagliolini pasta with cured fish roe and black truffles, or the Risotta Alla Zucca E Gorgonzola Con Amaretti ($14.95). The latter is definitely for rice lovers with a somewhat sweet tooth. The cheese was not as salty as I thought, while the rice was not as soft, the way I prefer it, almost al dente, with a sweet Amaretto crunch sneaking in every once in a while.
Reading the menu, I salivated over the Gnudi Al Burro E Salvia. It reminded me of a dish I had many years ago at Lake Cuomo—an unforgettable, similar flavor. These are gnocchi-like, potato-less dumplings made with the slightest amount of flour, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and dressed in a light butter and sage sauce. This finger-licking, cannot have enough of dish was a knockout. What really stood out was the perfectly smooth and refined blend of butter and sage. Oh, how I wished I had ordered it for the main course! But then I had to try more tongue ticklers, and I went for the traditional Baccala Alla Vicentina ($20.95), whose perfectly harmonious flavors rewarded our expectations. The fish was almost mashed and mixed with cream and nutmeg—definitely comfort food for a winter day.
My friend prefers meat over fish dishes and found a choice to both our liking in the contemporary menu selection: the Tagliata Di Maiale Alla Senape ($17.95), sliced pork tenderloin accompanied by “caponatina,” placed in a round shape next the meat. It was drizzled with a light, creamy sauce to enhance the neutral flavor of the pork.
Dessert included a wonderful and refreshing Carpaccio di Ananas ($7.95), pineapple with ginger, and mint-infused Panna Cotta ($7.95) with chocolate at the bottom. Listening to the songs and music of the early 70s, 80s, and 90s only enhanced the enjoyment.
Many of these dishes can be enjoyed at the bar in the late hours of the night with a glass of wine for under $15 from the internationally inspired wine list.
Location: 126 E. Seventh St., between First Avenue and Avenue A
Open: Sunday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. until midnight. Brunch Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m.
Web site: gianonyc.com