A few months ago, while serially visiting Giuseppe's Ritrovo in Bexley for review, I remember noticing regulars there and thinking, "What lucky spaghetti-slurping stiffs to have such a terrific Italian restaurant sitting right in their own backyard."
Well, the dining-room tables have turned now that Giorgio's has spun into to my own unsuburban Clintonville neck of the woods.
Giorgio's is run by a local triumvirate of resume-rich restaurant pros, including Giuseppe Mangano, the chef and owner of Giuseppe's, Aladdin's impresario George Tanchevski and John Skaggs, formerly of Northstar and L'Antibes.
These three wise men have overhauled the former R Bar space. For starters, they gave its brick facade a light whitewash so that it now rhymes with its nearby fraternal twin brother, Aladdin's.
But the biggest changes are inside. There, a grapevine mural and faux-distressed ochre painted walls convey a commemorative Italian feel — call it instant ancient. Giorgio's also sports a fine utilitarian wooden plank floor, fragrant potted herbs (which get used!) in the front windows and a biggish wooden round table with plush purple chairs that takes pride of place in the single dining room.
Otherwise, there are serviceable rectangular tables with metallic silver chairs, a little bar in a small antechamber, and a nifty set of "space-stretching" trompe l'oeil mirrors above a burgundy and gold banquette.
But the really significant trick of the eye happened when I spied Giorgio's menu — I thought I was back in Bexley. That's because most of its items were identical to those of Giuseppe's. While shooting to be a Giuseppe's Jr. is perfectly fine — even commendable — with all of Giorgio's talent, I was hoping it might aim for something more.
Maybe it is, but it's just going to take some time. No problem, I can wait. Because even as is, this premium pasta place is a great addition to the neighborhood.
And so is its Antipasto Misto ($12) — an outsize selection of delectable Italian deli items. Three mammoth mounds of ruffle-folded meat — prosciutto (not too salty), salami (mild) and bresaola (air-cured beef and the platter's star) anchor a lineup that includes a mini caprese salad, fontina cubes, artichoke hearts and olives.
Salads have been fresh and bright-tasting, too — especially the bold and highly recommended Di Rucola ($6). An aggressive, lemony dressing holds its own against spicy, pristine arugula, perfectly toasted almonds, accents of gorgonzola and thin shavings of parmesan. This salad's one of my current favorites.
Entree-wise, the Braciole Alla Casalinga ($19) was four tender-enough veal bundles enveloping spinach and pine nuts and dominated by a brash red sauce that was spicy, herb-inflected and redolent of wine. A tangle of spaghetti provided a vehicle for sauce-sopping.
OK gnocchi ($13) was on the very firm side and sauced with a meaty gravy that was chunky with sauteed fresh fennel (love it) and slices of sausage peppered with red chili flakes. One time I got it, the complex and creamy sauce was brown and seemed absent its vodka, on another occasion it was red and had the hooch (you know, like at a new restaurant).
Giorgio's luscious and nice-priced Lasagne alla Bolognese ($11) might've been designed by an unapologetic sensualist. Its attractively browned bechamel cap was heavily nutmegged, and beneath that were silky pasta sheets slathered with an indulgently rich meat sauce.
At Giorgio's, an honest plate of spaghetti with a long-cooked, thick and meaty tomato sauce plus four big, dense, herb-inflected meatballs will only set you back $10 — just like at Giuseppe's.
A few off-menu specials showed Giorgio's might well be trying to slowly grow its own personality. I loved the pert pink-tinted lemon, wine, feta cheese, tomato and garlic sauce on a shrimp starter ($7) and one night a tilapia filet was expertly pan-seared and draped over linguini in a copiously capered puttanesca-like tomato sauce ($18).
Overall, I like this place and expect to return often, hoping to watch it mature and thrive. In the meanwhile, like any kid brother, maybe Giorgio could use some advice.
Kitchen timing could be improved — on some evenings I felt like an unintentional part of the slow-food movement. Outdoor seating would be great, too, especially on packed weekends. And how about a group of pre-ordained nightly specials to go with the nice surprises? Do this and add some alluring food and wine happy hour enticements, and Giorgio's will need to install a stool with my name on it — because I'll be a regular.