First, many thanks to RR, who suggested Giorgio's in response to my post a few days ago, and thanks, too, to all the other 'hounds who came through with suggestions.
Giorgio's of Gramercy was a wonderful dining experience. The small, intimate space is made all the more romantic and cozy by the dimmed lights, flickering candles and diffused brightness streaming from the kitchen, through a glass brick divider.
Well-dressed, joyous-looking 25-40 year olds sat in pairs or small groups, laughing and enjoying themselves and their food in a quiet, civilized way.
We were seated right away, two of us at a four-top, at 8:30 on a Thursday night. This is not a crowded or stressful restaurant; it is truly a sleeper.
Our waitress was friendly in a shy, frightened way, and I wasn't convinced she knew much about the wine list or the menu. To her credit, I didn't test her on it either. But I like to feel my waitress is knowledgeable and wouldn't crumble up and cry if I asked a question she was unsure how to answer.
We chose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for $31, an excellent, strongly citrus wine, pale green and tasting like summer, grapefruit and pear with a bit of a fresh-cut grass aroma about it. The name escapes me, which is unforgivable, I know.
My friend and I (she could also be described as a Chowhound, although she doesn't post here) conspired on our menu choices for maximum taste experience, planning mid-course plate-swaps.
The bread was a generic sliced Italian loaf, boring and bland and not warm, either. It was served with an excellent, deep-flavoured, musky olive oil that was a rich green color. I ate the bread just so I had a reason to get to that olive oil.
Appetizers. We tried the crab cake with avocado remoulade, which was well-balanced and savoury. A plump, well-crisped patty filled with rich, creamy, almost smoky crab meat--very unadulterated crab taste, without fanfare--the celebration of fresh simplicity. The small cubes of avocado added depth to the remoulade, and a distinct sweetness to complement the crab. A delicious combination. We also tried a goat cheese tart with caramelized onions, which was not as good. Looking like a domed little pie of Marshmallow Fluff, it consisted of crust, a (much too thin) layer of caramelized onion and a glob of soft goat cheese. Something was missing in this dish; the flavours were unbalanced. It lacked an herb, a kick, an acidity, something to cut the sweet creaminess of the goat cheese/onion combination.
Mains. I had an intense, magical rack of lamb. Swathed in stoneground mustard that mellowed during cooking, the lamb was juicy, medium-rare pink and flavourful. Roasted garlic cloves, soft, earthy and always delicious, peeked out from under the rack and from inside a whole, peeled, roasted plum tomato that accompanied the lamb. Also inside that delightful vegetable purse was a chunk of goat cheese, melted and mingled with the garlic and the tomato. That simple little side may have been the most amazing taste I've experienced in a while. My friend's dish had a lot to live up to when we switched plates. She ordered Chatham Cod in an almond crust over cress, beans and cipollini onions. The cod was firm and very mild; the subtlety of the almond crust might have been lost on a more strongly-flavoured fish. As it was, the crust (which was not ground almonds, but roughly broken thin slices of unblanched almonds, giving it an appealing texture and look) played well on the fish. The bite of the cress was almost an overpowerment: I might have gone with the milder pepper of wilted arugula, perhaps. The cipollinis were sweet little pearls hidden beneath the cress, and the earth of the beans was complimented by the almond's flavours. A well balanced, subtle dish.
Dessert. The baked alaska is the thing here, according to pre-visit reports I'd gotten. Voila, a spiny looking brown-and-white hedgehog curled in a ball on my plate. I dug in, my spoon carving through just-toasted meringue, a thin layer of butter pecan ice cream, a layer of almond cake, another thin layer of butter pecan and a thin layer of choclate cake, scooping all this through a puddle of chocolate sauce that pooled around the edges of my plate. Yum, I understate. My friend's dessert, a banana souffle, had a lot of catching up to do. To be fair, I do not tend to like banana desserts, and this was no exception. It was a very subtle dessert, playing with the classic banana-caramel combination, but I felt, again, something lacking...some note unplayed, one table leg missing, that sense that a little more... something... will make it all right.
Overall. Portion size good, pacing of the meal good, service... well... serviceable. And friendly. Not outstanding or abominable.
So go! You'll like it.