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Giovanni’s takes you to Italy

by Brian Clarey

We’ve long since exhausted the lunch options near our Adams Farm offices and for some of us the noonday meal has become as mundane and mechanical a thing as an oil change.

But occasionally we venture away from gas station hot dogs, pizza and delivery subs and wander into eateries a bit more… luncheonly.

Such was the case late last week when a trio of staffers descended upon Giovanni’s, the Italian eatery that’s just around the corner and down High Point Road.

It’s a quaint place, larger on the inside than it looks from the street, with white linen tablecloths, mirrored walls, appropriate artwork and, generally, some Sinatra coming from the speakers. There is also a sleek barroom which fills up in the late afternoons with a rollicking crowd of drinkers and schmoozers from the neighborhood.

Giovanni’s has received its share of kudos from local food writers for its traditional Italian dinner fare, but at lunch things take a slightly more casual turn. The midday menu features pannini sandwiches and salads for those who require a quick turnaround – the insalata Caprese, constructed from real Buffalo milk mozzarella medallions, sliced tomatoes and fresh basil can be ready in minutes – and more intricate dishes suitable for those for whom time and money are not restricting factors.

There is a homemade lasagne, for example, and stuffed manicotti, fettucine Alfredo and angel hair with mushroom marinara. There is veal parmesan and a traditional saltimbocca, with veal and prosciutto (saltimbocca, by the way, is Italian for “jumps in the mouth). There is eggplant or chicken parmesan, as well as a chicken fricassee. Pasta and seafood are paired in dishes like the shrimp linguine or the house special, linguine al Giovanni, with shrimp, mussels, clams and scallops (linguine gets its name, which translates into “little tongue”, because it is flat, though not as broad as fettucine).

No more language lessons. I promise.

Before the food arrived the waiter, who was pulling triple duty as chef and bartender as well, brought out an appealing basket of toasted bread with a dipping sauce of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh garlic and parsley, Romano cheese, crushed red and ground black peppers. It’s pretty standard fare, the only real variable being the quality of the oil and vinegar, both of which were decent, and the amount of garlic which can be overwhelming in the hands of an inexperienced server. Our bread dip was perfect.

We also ordered a couple bowls of the pasta e fagioli, a bean and noodle soup that my Italian grandmother (and great-grandmother) used to cook for days in a big pot on the stove. Giovanni’s soups, the busy server told me, are each prepared to order – an interesting concept.

This pasta e fagioli differed from my family recipe in a couple ways. For one, the pasta was bowtie – farfalle to my Italian friends – while Grandma always used tubettini. Always.

It also was based around a thin tomato broth, likely a result of fresh preparation – cooking the soup all day allows the beans to break down a bit and thicken the stock.

Still it was flavorful, particularly the finish which contained a good bit of heat, something Grandma didn’t do.

My lunch companions opted for pannini sandwiches, toasty little numbers with romaine lettuce, sliced Roma tomatoes, prosciutto (on the Italian version, anyway) and a mustard sauce that they assured me was more savory than pungent.

I went for the lobster ravioli. Why not?

Lobster ravs are tricky. Strong-flavored sauce can

obscure the delicacy of the lobster meat, but the rich langosto deserves something more than just butter. Giovanni’s lobster ravioli, made in-house, came with a tomato cream sauce and a dusting of Romano. Simple. Flavorful. Delicious.

In Italy lunch is a grand affair – the biggest meal of the day with several courses and, pretty much always, wine. Here in North Carolina it’s a bit different, but Giovanni’s certainly accomplishes a Mediterranean flair in their service of the midday meal.

To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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