With temperatures just slightly falling, the next few weeks may be ideal for sitting in the tranquil backyard garden of Giano, an oasis of calm in the often tumultuous East Village. But whether your dining al fresco or in the eatery’s large, stylish interior, you can be assured that chef Matteo Nicoli’s carefully calibrated mix of inventive and traditional Italian cuisine will make for a memorable evening.
There’s nothing particularly unusual about Nicoli’s take on grilled polenta served with mixed mushrooms, except how addictively delicious the dish is. Grass-fed beef meatballs are equally classic, as are the wide variety of salads and charcuterie that make for appealing starters. But I wouldn’t really have been able to identify the flavors in a tasty croquette of tuna and ricotta cheese – an intriguing interplay of the creamy and the crunchy – without the menu in front of me.
Nicoli also serves up pastas you may never have seen – or eaten – before, including tonnarelli (homemade square spaghetti) in a bracing anchovy sauce or bigoli (which almost resemble Italian soba noodles) topped with a lamb ragout and toasted walnut powder. If you’re not feeling so adventurous, don’t worry. There’s potato gnocchi in a four-cheese sauce, spaghetti al pomodoro, and other more familiar staples for you to choose from.
Oddly enough, I’d almost recommend foregoing the pastas – or sharing one as a starter – in favor of two superb entrees. Baccala alla Livornese should be required tasting for anyone who likes – or thinks they don’t like – cod! The flaky fish is perfectly pan-seared, crowned with a zingy yet not overpowering mélange of tomatoes, black olives, and capers, and sits cleverly atop a criss-cross of that excellent crispy polenta. Similarly, a strip of mouth-filling filet mignon benefits from its balsamic vinegar glaze, and is smartly accompanied by basil-tinged mashed potatoes and supernal braised onions accented by pancetta.
Desserts continue in the same vein, as you can finish the meal with an authentic tiramisu or a refreshing concoction of coffee-flavored gelato, cookie wafers, and a foam that features cinnamon, chocolate, and coffee. Either way, it’s a win-win.