East 7th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A
Giano presents an accomplished melding of style with culinary substance at utterly affordable prices. O.K. I’ll fess up because there’s no use in attempting to restrain myself, I’m in love with this fabulous East Village newcomer. It’s been two weeks since my first visit, but I find myself still rhapsodizing about the outstanding, inspired dishes, the casual, confident warmth of the place and the sheer all-around “expert-hand” feel of this restaurant.
There’s nothing tentative about Giano. It’s excellent and it knows it. The fact that you don’t feel as though it’s trying to impress you is a part of its appeal. It impresses upon you that the conventions are distractions and that what makes a meal enjoyable is not a rigid abidance to convention, but great food, good wine and a gathering of congenial people. And this is precisely the energy that Giano emanates: it’s fun and spirited and evocative of tradition and simpler times. This organic synthesis of bold youth and seasoned mastery captures the the fundamental concept behind Giano, which is Italian for Janus, the dual-faced Roman god, on the threshold of past and future. The Janus principle is present in every aspect of the restaurant. It’s convincing, self-assured and never sophomoric or gimmicky.
The contrasts are stark, but the interpretations of past and future feel new. The contemporary aspects of the decor are playful and exciting. The bar area is sleek and contemporary with a curvy brazenly white laquered bar top. There’s something distinctly Italian about the expressions of the ultramodern because it’s flirtatious and and never heavy or austere. That’s true for the light fixtures, which are also glaringly white in shapes that seemed scissored out of white cellophane. This is juxtaposed by candlelit exposed brick walls and old solid wood tables. Musically, your bound to hear anything from garage trance to Italian rap or remakes of Italian hits from the sixties.
The server hierarchy is never really clear at Giano. Bar tenders double as hosts, waiters and managers, bussers do the work of waiters and vice versa. So if you like clear hierarchical boundaries, it can feel a bit chaotic. But the entire Italian multi-ethnic service staff at Giano, from the water boy to the hyperactive, overfunctioning pony-tailed bohemian manager, shows demonstrable concern that all is well at the table even if it’s delivered with cheeky charm or unsolicited jokes. When you come to Giano, be sure to check any residual stiffness at the door.
While I’ve gone on gushing about Giano’s concept, style and decor, it’s the food that will bewitch you. Here, too past and future confront one another. There is no winner because they mutually enhance one other. The innovation consists in adding color, introducing new flavors and varying textures. For antipasto, I decided to mix past and future. I had insalata mista (past) and the(sformatino di broccoli con brodetto di vongole (broccoli patty in a cherry clam broth). The salad was fresh, zestful and abundant and the sformatino was masterfully executed: perfect texture and delivered a symphonic harmony of flavors. I sampled the pappardelle with lamb ragu. The pasta was tender and the sauce was light and intoxicatingly aromatic. But the truly showstopping dish in my view was the tagliolini al tartuffo. They were so creamy and supple and nearly awakened monogamic urges toward Giano in me. As I savored every bite, I caught myself in a moment of ecstatic exuberance that was saying something to the effect of if I can be allowed a prolongment of this pleasure, I’ll vow to never eat anywhere else again. But of course, I know that such pronouncements would kill any great love affair. I closed the rapturous evening with the remnants of a delicious citrus panna cotta on my tongue and an unspoken promise of imminent return.