- Christina Melander
- Portland Tribune - Features
Italian eatery in the Pearl District has great food and a head chef with superior skills
Giorgio's, a Northern-Italy-meets-Northwest restaurant, has hovered under the radar screen since it opened two years ago, and it's difficult to say why. The warm bistro ambiance is entirely inviting, the service crisp, the food sublime and it's even located in the Pearl District. But for some reason, this isn't a restaurant that gets people talking. It should.
Giorgio's sweet potato ravioli beautifully illustrates the kitchen staff's skill. Typically, this inescapable autumn dish is made with butternut squash that's a little on the dry side, packaged in thick pasta pouches. The sauce will be creamy and spiked with sage or a basic olive oil and garlic job. But at Giorgio's, the scalloped-edge raviolis are rice-paper thin, so lacy that the mound of sweet potato filling is visible through the pasta.
And it's not just pasta that's on your plate. This version is topped by perfect slices of prosciutto, fresh sugar snap peas and sage that is fried to better release its flavor.
It is deft technique and careful consideration that sets this entrŽe apart from so many other variations. And so it is with much of the menu. Homemade gnocchi for once are petite, the size of bullets, and browned on the outside, providing a bit of welcome texture contrast to the dumplings' cushiony interior. Again, the starchy dish is complemented by a little something extra Ñ in this case, firm prawns, fresh chopped artichoke hearts and aromatic truffle oil.
Pappardelle with braised, shredded boar meat, fennel and tomatoes Ñ a terrific trio of tastes for this time of year Ñ also makes clear the advantages of homemade pasta. The wide ribbons are light, al dente and foot-long.
But chef Michael Clancy (owner Giorgio Kawas oversees as executive chef) is brilliant with more than pasta. A mushroom strudel appetizer made with phyllo is disguised as a spring roll, cut on the diagonal. It is earthy and nutty, but the real treat is a few wonderfully dry duck slices on the side. A velvety soup of wild mushrooms gets an unexpected kick from star anise.
Another starter, clean and cool Dungeness crab salad, packs a generous amount of crab into a tall fez formation encased by slivers of marinated zucchini.
The theme running throughout is a delicate touch that coaxes big flavors. If chef Clancy can concoct gnocchi that comes across as near-wispy, it seems that he could do anything. His halibut is one more special achievement. A malleable fish, halibut is presented with a zillion accompaniments, from lemon and butter to heirloom tomatoes, but tasting it with horseradish oil and a pale green scallion compote is something totally new and delicious.
All in all, Giorgio's is a classy package. Butter walls, brocade booths, black-and-white checkerboard tile floors, low lighting and gorgeous lily bouquets create a comfortable, elegant environment.
There's a nice list of house cocktails, including the emergent Negroni and a spruced-up Bellini. Desserts such as poached pear with homemade butterscotch ice cream and heady espresso crme bržlŽe with biscotti are far more interesting than your usual Italian lineup.
Giorgio's does draw a steady dinner crowd, who mostly appear enraptured by their meals. If anything has prevented Giorgio's from becoming a buzz restaurant, it may be the prices that average around $20 per entrŽe and the rather quiet vibe that probably appeals to an older clientele. But it deserves to be a must-stop on the food lover's circuit. Tell your friends.