DELIGHTFULLY FRESH PASTA AT GIUSEPPE’S
When my dining companion called to make a reservation at Giuseppe’s on King Street East, she said the person at the other end sounded legit Italian.
I wondered if it had been Giuseppe himself.
However, when we walked into the three-storey red brick Victorian house, we found out that the voice belongs to Giuseppe’s brother, Gerardo, who looked after us during our visit.
A porch out front had a couple of tables covered in white linens, but it seemed like it would be quieter inside. And it was. In fact, the dining room was empty and as Gerardo led us to our table, I began to relish the idea of having the whole place to ourselves.
The dining room is done in lighter shades: pale lavender walls, white tablecloths, and yellow curtains remained open to let in the bright early evening sun. The bars on the back windows just reminded you that you were not in rural Italy but, in fact, downtown Hamilton. However, they had little impact on the open feel of the room.
When I turned to the first page of the menu, I saw a landscape depicting evening in Venice, done with shades of purple. The gondolas were docked, and the moon was up. It looked like just the time to enjoy some wine.
There was none by the glass listed on the menu, so I asked and was offered the house red or the house white. Red it was.
They also stock mainstream beers (Coors, Bud, Keith’s) and classic cocktails (Caesar, Black Russian, Manhattan), along with a list of liqueurs (grappa and Grand Marnier, for example).
The wine was a pleasant surprise, tasting like a merlot that might have been described as “velvety, with medium acidity.” Pleasant. My companion ordered the “Perfect Martini,” which came in a classic martini glass, a shade darker than a dirty martini. Gin, with both sweet and dry vermouth, combined with the onion (inside of the olive) to create a gently stimulating sip.
After a brief pause, our appetizers arrived. A large, whiterimmed bowl held a straightforward stracciatella. The broth wasn’t rich with a meaty flavour, but tasted equally of chicken and vegetables. Next to the clouds of egg were two ravioli filled with herby ricotta. I would have preferred the eggs stirred in a little more, but they were delicate and soft.
And after tasting this fresh, tender pasta, I was pleased that I had ordered more of it for my entrée.
House-made bread, lightly coated with melted cheese and a thin layer of tomato sauce, came with the soup. The bread was, like the pasta, soft without being light, and had a thin, crisp crust. Hard to resist eating all of it.
The Italian salad was right in line with the rest of the food — simple ingredients, skilfully prepared. Roasted peppers, and tartly marinated carrots, cauliflower, celery and artichokes strewn over chunks of iceberg lettuce, with a leaf of parsley and a couple of ripe tomato quarters garnishing the plate. The vinaigrette was served in a large metal gravy boat with a ladle. It was rich with olive oil, and had just a touch of acidity from the balsamic vinegar: a nice, mellow coating for the peppy veggies.
The music mixed well with the martini: crooners, some big band, some R&B. Think part Harry Connick Jr. and part Otis Redding. A relaxing vibe. The service is not rushed; it’s not even verging on quick. This is a place where one should go and relax, with no further destination in mind.
Eventually, the pasta came out with my companion’s entrée: salmon with soft polenta and olives. I had wanted to try a simple dish to fully appreciate the pasta (all but the spaghetti are house made) and so ordered the spaghetti with lamb and beef meatballs but asked about the tagliatelle. Our server seemed to intuit that and offered right away to switch the pastas.
Large meatballs sat atop a bed of flowing tagliatelle covered with tomato sauce. The long, flat ribbons of pasta were tender, just like the ravioli, and with the slight zing in the tomato sauce, I could easily have cleaned the plate. The meatballs, a touch lean yet substantial, were outshone by the pasta.
The salmon was slightly overcooked, we felt, but the polenta underneath was fantastic. Melt-inyour-mouth, soft and rich.
With each dish, I appreciated more and more how the brothers (Giuseppe and Gerardo do the cooking during the day) handle their starches. Capers and olives sparked up the plate as did other Southern Italian flavours — sultana raisins, and lemon rind — and the light tomato sauce surrounding the polenta brought it all together quite nicely.
We had to try the pizza, too, and I was glad we did. The bread and pasta foreshadowed the thin, delicate dough of the pizza, encased in a crust that had just the right bite and dressed with slightly sweet sauce. It was a bargain, too; a medium was just $13.90.
Our plates were cleared and we asked about dessert. There was no tiramisu, but Gerardo mentioned blueberry pie and a chocolate cake, both house-made, so we ordered one of each. I had time at that point to wander around the dining room, which has a hallway leading to the bar area where dimmed lighting made for a more intimate atmosphere; two TVs were on in the background.
The chocolate cake was among the moister cakes I’ve ever had. A little dense, and dressed up with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.
The blueberry pie, however, confused me as it, too, was served with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. It had a shortbread-like crust and was sprinkled with icing sugar and cocoa powder but somehow lacked flavour.
We had to get going, and I asked for the bill as we finished the desserts.
I couldn’t wait to eat the leftover pasta.
The tagliatelle was the star of the plate, accompanied by lamb and beef meatballs.
The dining room is done in lighter shades; yellow curtains were open to let in bright early evening sun.
Stracciatella came with soft puffs of egg and two delicate, delicious ricotta ravioli.
Marinated vegetables added zest to the simply prepared Insalata Italiana.