Named for the dual-faced Roman God of the past and future, Janus, Giano was designed with a desire to marry the past with the present. Owners and native Italians Paolo Rossi and Matteo Niccoli sought to capture the beauty of changing times yet still hold onto vestiges of the past through their décor and cuisine. In keeping with this theme, the restaurant has traditional mahogany tables and brick walls coupled with more avant garde furniture pieces like feather-shaped lights and swinging rope. Giano also offers a lovely, decorative garden area for dining outside in warmer weather. It’s an eclectic atmosphere that one might find worth visiting for the décor alone, but the food is what has sustained this marvelous restaurant for the last six years.
The Most Appetizing Asparagus Ever
My meal started with a rich and varied trio of appetizers, Crochette di Ricotto e Tonno (Tuna and Ricotta Cheese Croquettes), Polpette al Pomodoro (Grass-fed Meatball in Tomato Sauce), and Asparagi Gratinate (Asparagus Wrapped in Speck and Fontina Cheese). I can happily recommend any of the three.
The tuna and ricotta cheese croquette presented a crunchy, creamy treat that managed to fit delicate morsels of tuna in a warm, breaded shell.
Deceptively simple in appearance, the meatball consisted of savory and tender beef bathed in a bold and zesty tomato sauce that changed my perspective on an Italian classic.
Surprisingly, it was the asparagus that left the biggest impression on me. Now let me tell you that I absolutely detest asparagus. If you read my previous post on my status as a supertaster, you understand that I am not particularly versed in the consumption of potentially bitter greens. However, Giano’s asparagus transformed it into a dish of a different species. Swaddled in a sweet layer of Fontina cheese and a second layer of salty speck (it’s like prosciutto), the docile taste of cooked asparagus perfectly complimented by a cocoon of flavor, though the asparagus itself remained a firm and crunchy branch. Wrapping your veggies in cured meats and cheese is a surefire way to enjoy them!
Giano really focused on its selection of homemade pastas, treating each like its own separate main course. Paolo and Matteo offered us Bigoli al Ragu D’agnello e Noci Totaste (medieval-style spaghetti in a ragu of slow-braised lamb with crushed walnuts), Gnocchi ai 4 Formaggi (potato gnocchi in a four cheese sauce), and Raviolo di Spinachi e Ricotta (spinach and ricotta ravioli in a sage and butter sauce).
The spaghetti dish was so colossal and filling that it threatened to end my tasting session early. Thick, cooked in egg, and served with generous dollops of lamb meat, it stood out as a champion amongst pastas. Filling enough on its own, the addition of the crushed walnut powder added more meatiness to the ragu’s flavor. While, I certainly enjoyed the succeeding pasta courses—pillows of fine potato gnocchi and the lightest of raviolis beneath a veil of butter, the bigoli al ragu d’agnello e noci totaste is what really exemplified the restaurant’s unique qualities for me. Giano took a peasant dish and made it fit for a king!
Non-Pasta Main Courses
Baccala’ alla livornese con polenta came next. Baccala is a traditional dish of seared and salted cod. I’m no expert on European fish dishes, but one of my fellow diners insisted that the Baccala at Giano’s was the best Baccala she has had in the world. While I haven’t been to Europe in over 15 years, I can agree that the Baccala was of a superb quality as it was flaky, succulent and served atop an equally crisp piece of polenta.
Last up, the Fillet al Balsamico (Balsamic Glazed Fillet Mignon) came with two sides: basil whipped potatoes and pancetta diced over onions. At this point, they kept the portions mercifully small because we were absolutely stuffed after the last four courses. Arranged in an artistic green swirl, the basil whipped potatoes cleansed my palette, preparing me for one, fine cut of beef.
The only thing I can say about the fillet mignon is that I try to avoid red meat when I can, but I finished that morsel without a single regret. One day, I hope to touch someone as wonderfully as this cow’s body and soul graced my appetite. Perfectly seasoned and juicy from bite to finish, I found myself satisfied with even a small piece.
Giano turns tradition into innovation, taking classic Italian cuisine and decor and revitalizing it for the enjoyment of contemporary customers. With excellent homemade pastas, creative appetizers, and an atmosphere that can be enjoyed by people of any age, looking to the past never tasted so good!
126 East 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A
New York, New York 10009
Telephone Number: (212) 673-7200
Closed on Mondays, Open from 5:30-11 PM from Tuesday to Thursday and on Sunday. Open from 5:30 to Midnight on Friday and Saturday. From 5:30 to 7 on every day but Friday and Saturday,
Giano also offers a happy hour with a 2-Course $21.95 Prix Fixe Dinner and ½-price on select wines by the glass.