Girasole Report (Long)
I recently had the chance to dine at Girasole in Larchmont Village. Four of us, consisting of my parents (it was my dads birthday), a close friend and I, sat down to a wonderful meal a few nights ago. The food, the patrons, the prices, the neighborhood, the no-corkage fee policy all of these things have helped me come to the conclusion that this could be my favorite restaurant in the city. It isnt necessarily the best food in the city, and it isnt the greatest décor in the city either. And there could certainly be more room at other places for a party of four (Girasole has really small tables unless you get one of the two by the front window). Nevertheless, everybody that I know who has dined at this little restaurant has truly enjoyed it.
The four of us squeezed around our little table about 5 minutes after we arrived (we had reservations). The place was crowded for a Tuesday night, in part because the tables outside were empty (we were there on one of those cool nights last week). Despite the close quarters and small room, it never gets too loud (they do have high ceilings). We started to snack on the bread and olive oil they provide as we broke out our first bottle of wine and a set of glasses that we brought from home. (Note: As I mentioned earlier, there is no fee for corkage and they do provide you with glasses, but if I recall correctly, they are small and stemless. If you are opening a special bottle of wine I would recommend bringing your own. Also, if you forget to bring wine, the Larchmont wine shop is right next door, but it closes early.) The wine we opened was my last bottle from a case of 2000 Poggio alle Gazze.
For those of you who dont know, the Poggio was Tenuta DellOrnellaias sole white bottling to my knowledge. It was a Sauvignon Blanc and distinctly Italian. While it usually had none of the grapefruit of Bordeaux, even less of the exotic fruit of New Zealand Sauvignon, and typically didnt have the acidity of great cool climate Sauvignon, it was, on this night, all of that. I dont know if the cellaring had anything to do with this (5 years is a pretty long time to cellar an Italian sauvignon blanc - last time I had opened a bottle was two years ago), but for some reason I really enjoyed the sharp citrusy acid that dominated the tasting of the wine. I went perfectly with the rich pastas we were about to enjoy.
Unfortunately, a few years ago, the great Bolgheri, super-tuscan house of Ornellaia was purchased by the Frescobaldi-Mondavi monolith and after the 1998 Ornellaia received Wine Spectators wine of the year in 2001, the decision was made to uproot the Sauvignon ($25/bottle) in favor of the varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot ($120/bottle). I couldnt help but take a pause as the last sip of Poggio was drained from my glass, for the 2000 was the last of its kind.
Since my parents had never been to Girasole, we all decided to start by sharing a number of their pasta dishes. Our excellent waiter, who is there every time I go, spaced the orders so that only one pasta would appear from the kitchen at a time. Our first order was spinach gnocchi with a butter and sage sauce. While it might seem crude, I thought the best way to describe this dish was to say that the gnocchi seemed like a combination of really good creamed spinach and really good mashed potatoes mixed together and formed into pieces of gnocchi. At the same time, the pieces were incredibly light and didnt feel like the lead sinkers that some other places pass off on us. Also of note, the butter sauce was a perfect accompaniment. It only served to highlight the richness and creaminess of the gnocchi. I would not recommend the tomato sauce that they also offer as an option. Save the tomato sauce for another dish.
Our second pasta was mushroom ravioli. If I got it right, they use both fresh crimini and dried porcini mushrooms for the ravioli and the pasta is covered in a cream sauce filled with additional slices of fresh mushroom. I tend to find that many restaurants renditions, no matter how from scratch they are, tend to taste like some form of Campbells Cream of Mushroom soup served over pasta. Girasoles version, however, is incredibly earthy, creamy and fresh tasting at the same time. The bread at our table didnt make it past this dish as we used it to mop up the remaining sauce.
Our last pasta dish was a special that night, shell pasta served with prosciutto and peas in another cream sauce. The pasta in this dish was cooked perfectly. You can tell it was cooked in properly salted water and was taken out of the pot with just a little bite left in it. The cream sauce was very basic but the peas were perfectly cooked and seemed incredibly fresh for this time of year. All in all a nice dish.
Since we had such a good time sharing the pastas, we decided to continue the trend with the entrees. We ordered two entrees for the four of us (also served one at a time). We also opened another bottle of wine. This time it was a 1999 Copain Pinot Noir Dennison Vineyard from the Anderson Valley. I thought I would add a little about Copain since it is such a small winery. Wells Guthrie is the owner/winemaker. Up until 1997 he had done work at Chapoutier in Tain l'Hermitage. He worked at Turley Wine Cellars for a couple vintages, then worked with Helen Turley at Martinelli & Marcassin. "Dennison" is a 3 1/2 acre vineyard near Boonville and it produces an excellent Pinot Noir.
Our first entrée was the veal stew. It is called a stew on the menu, but for the rich sauce it seems more like a braised dish to me. Tender, slow simmered chucks of veal (probably shoulder) are served in a sauce that looks and tastes like it is flavored with saffron. I say it is more like a braised because there are no other noticeable vegetables in the stew. They appear to have dissolved into the sauce. The veal is served with a plain risotto, which, like the pastas, was perfectly cooked. Once again, the table agreed that this was a great dish.
Our final entrée was the pollo involtino. It is a shaped chicken breast stuffed with asparagus, bell pepper and mushroom. It is served in a light mushroom marsala sauce with sautéed spinach and (I think I cant remember right now) mashed potatoes. I am not usually a fan of stuffed chicken, but this was my dads choice and it was his birthday. I liked this dish, but I think it was my least favorite of the evening. The chicken was very moist and the sauce wasnt cloyingly sweet like a lot of marsala dishes at other restaurants. It was nice and understated and only served to enhance the sweetness of the vegetables inside the chicken. Despite my worries at the outset, there wasnt a bite left on the plate.
That ended the meal for us. We didnt have dessert as we had a birthday cake waiting at home. All in all it was wonderful meal, perfectly paced and perfectly executed. For the four of us, the bill totaled $90 with tax and tip, an amazing price for such a wonderful experience. Remember, however, this does not include the cost of the wine, which was purchased retail over 3 years ago.
I hope all of you have a chance to go, even if it is just once, just dont make it too crowded so I cant get in myself. One last thing, the owner can usually be found sitting at a table near the kitchen and he loves to chat (especially about his historic model ships around the restaurant).