GIANO

New York is peppered with Italian restaurants. While it’s not hard to find great Italian cuisine in a city with a strong Italian influence, it sometimes is a challenge to find good pastas and genuine Italian warmth in the same place. Giano is the exception.

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I was invited to dine at Giano a few weeks ago. The East Village Italian eatery was named after Janus — the dual-headed Roman deity with one face looking into the past and the other gazing into the future — and this concept is reflected in Giano’s eclectic interior.

The owners — Paolo and Matteo — designed the entire place from scratch. The front of the restaurant features a sleek bar with a collection of Italian wine behind it. Plush red cushions and white tables add a clean, modern touch. Then the interior breaks into a rustic setting with dim yellow lights and wooden furniture. These two areas are separated by strands of thick red ropes fashioned into curtains. At the back of the restaurant, a lovely garden awaits the dawn of spring.

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I was greeted with an abundance of Italian hospitality the moment I entered. Paolo, with his long hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail, offered me a glass of white wine to start the evening. Chef Matteo, his long-time friend, stepped out of the kitchen briefly for a quick chat. He’s the mastermind behind the menu, which contains a range of fresh Italian products shipped all the way to New York from Italy. At Giano, you get authentic Italian cuisine at an affordable price, and each dish is sprinkled with Matteo’s creativity.

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It was lovely meeting the two Italian men who founded this cozy dinner spot. While Matteo worked in the kitchen, Paolo moved around the restaurant conversing with customers and bouncing jokes around. His humor was contagious.

For appetizers, the Crocchette di ricotta e tonno featured creamy ricotta and crunchy tuna croquette balls with arugula salad, which was basically creamy tuna shelled in a crispy layer of deep-fried breaded goodness. The Asparagi gratinati contained soft asparagus wrapped in fontina cheese and drizzle of balsamic reduction, while grass-fed beef meatballs in tangy tomato sauce defined the Polpette al pomodoro gratinate.

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Now, moving on to pastas, Giano’s pastas are made in-house. I love pasta. I love pasta so much that I actually went on a pasta diet for a week while I was in college (I had pasta every single day for every single meal that week). So naturally, when the Tagliatelle di castagne con salsiccia funghi e noci arrived, I dived in. Homemade chestnut tagliatelle tossed in creamy sausage and ragout mushrooms was peppered with toasted walnuts. It was rich, but definitely worth the carb binge.

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Gnocchi isn’t something I’d usually order at restaurants, unless I’m in the mood for something really heavy. Surprisingly, Giano’s Gnocchi ai 4 formaggi was lighter than the quintessential gnocchis. Bathed in luscious four-cheese sauce, the homemade potato gnocchi  resembled little clouds that would literally melt on your tongue.

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If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend the Risotto di zucca e gorgonzola con amaretti. Matteo sprinkled a dash of sweet amaretti cookie powder to the butternut squash and gorgonzola cheese ricotta. The risotto was delicious and the cookie powder added a nice crunchy texture to the dish.

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Steak lovers would enjoy the Filetto al balsamico con pancetta e cipolle — balsamic-glazed filet mignon served with crispy Italian bacon and braised onion and— wait for it— basil mashed potato! (It’s green, by the way, and no, it’s not the lighting). Invented by Matteo, this unique side dish was extremely creamy and scrumptious. I was literally scraping it off the plate… so good! As for the filet, the chewy meat and balsamic vinegar made a great team.

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I loved the Baccala’ alla livornese con polenta, which was pan-seared cod fillet garnished with fres tomatoes, black olives and capers served with crispy polenta. The fish was so tender that soft chunks of it broke away at the slight pressure of a fork.

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For dessert, I was introduced to the Cappucino gelato. It arrived with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon powder, and the Tiramisu was a refreshing palate-cleanser. Tinged with coffee, it was the perfect balance of bittersweet.

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By the end of the night, I was beyond bloated but grateful for such a pleasant experience.

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