Restaurant review: Giorgio Italian Restaurant

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From the September 9, 2012 edition

I was blithely walking my dog right past Giorgio a couple of weeks ago while thinking about dining someplace entirely different — which is something I did most every day. I’m not saying I disliked Giorgio, I was just sorta used to ignoring the place since it terminated its fine Sunday brunch service and after one too many visits when I came away thinking it was lacking in identity.

Sure, it was kind of Italian and, yeah, it was smack-dab in my neighborhood, but my memories of Giorgio were … um, what? You see my problem? Semi-vague recollections of unnecessarily heavy and undistinguished food had left me with no compelling reasons to regularly dine there.

That changed the day I previously referenced when, after watching a waitress hang a proclamation on Giorgio’s window announcing its participation in Farm to Plate Week, I hitched my dog to a patio table and sauntered inside on a reconnaissance mission. Informed Giorgio now routinely shopped at the Clintonville Farmers Market, generally offered seasonal ingredients and had just released a new menu, I realized I needed to get up to speed with this accommodating, Tuscan-esque and suddenly more interesting restaurant. Considering I’d soon enjoy relaxed, personable service, alluringly reasonable prices for lean and salt-restrained dishes popping with fresh veggies and herbs, I made the right decision.

Giorgio’s wine list ain’t awful. There’s a 25 for $25 section with functional “best buy” types like a Nero d’Avola from Cusumano, Masi’s Campofiorin Ripasso and Fireland’s (of Ohio) fine pinot grigio. Since I spotted a go-to prosecco in cute “Bambino” form (a Riondo split, $8), I targeted that delightful sip and recommend you do, too.

Up first was a locally sourced Spinach Salad ($8) that scored high with that classic prosciutto and cantaloupe combo — the standout Ohio fruit was beautiful, juicy, pale yellow. Goat cheese and a thickish, semi-sweet peppery dressing were able accomplices.

Zucchini Fritti ($7) were a heaving pile of crackly, not too heavy or overly greasy sage-sprinkled veggie fries and a terrific value. Even better was a pretty Margherita Flatbread ($9), with golden Ohio heirloom tomatoes, a lotta fresh basil, blobs of melted fresh mozzarella and a crispy, paperthin 12-inch pizza crust.

Entree-wise, the new Tonno Fresco ($17) is my kind of light eating. A huge pan-seared yellowfin tuna steak was crusted with herbes de Provence and placed on a king-size bed of rustically chopped — and wonderful — sweetly roasted vegetables (eggplant, more heirlooms and zucchini). A simple butter sauce finished off the thoughtful presentation.

Another hearty yet healthy solid value was the Pork Ribeye Farm to Plate special (no longer available but worth a mention). A juicy, tender and shareably massive slab of lean, perfectly pink-in-the-middle meat was scented with rosemary, draped with hunks of sauteed local squash and placed atop good mashers not reliant on buckets of dairy. The only downside: the pork wasn’t attractively seared.

That wasn’t a problem with the killer Fileto Manzo ($21), an all-star filet mignon with spinach, OK (likely not homemade) gnocchi, pink peppercorns and one-two knockout punches of sauces — creamy gorgonzola and ’shroomy demi-glace. It wasn’t as virtuously lean as other selections and was a bit of a mess to eat, but it delivered a joyous jolt to the pancia that has me walking past Giorgio lately thinking about returning later that evening.