I have always envied Italians. Their gelatos and Lavazza, their passion for pizza, their knack for long, extended lunches. If you are like me, you must also be familiar with that nagging hunger for a good Italian meal. My friends, suffer no longer. Girasole, taking its name from the Italian word for Sunflower, beckons diners off the streets of the Upper East Side much like an Italian mother. Its warm, bustling dining room is adorned with watercolors and Art Nouveau, and sings with a kind of conversation that only arises over food. Upon entering, we are quickly greeted by Zoren, the amiable owner of the restaurant and swept away to a generous table at the back. Zoren knows just about every table by name and keeps watch with a studied pedantic eye lest anyone is feeling left out.
The Italians do many things marvelously: amore, frescoes and of course cheese and wine. The wine list at Girasole remains loyal to Italy with the exception of a few budding California selections. Our host brings us a beautiful bottle of Italian red trio, accompanied by meaty pieces of Parmesan. The heavy pours start things off well as the waiter whisks out a hot bread basket. Girasole prides itself in the healthy offerings of fresh focaccia and warm house-made breadsticks, which are rolled in a generous crust of Parmesan.
We delight in the Bruschetta – hearty slices of bread are spread thickly with a marriage of tomatoes and olive oil, as well as a heavy dose of basil. The Spiedino di Mozzarella quickly follows; they are an elegant alliance of flavor. The sweetness of the roasted mozzarella and the bitter endives are accompanied by roasted peppers and prosciutto. Perfecto!
The Veal comes out on a piping plate, flattered by bold red peppers and olives. The olives are perfect – brined to a smooth faint saltiness. Silky roasted red peppers swam in a sea of creamy basted veal sauce. The elegant melt-in-your-mouth delicacy of this dish is in the thin, perfectly sauced cuts of meat, and the colorful fan of vegetables that hold their flavor despite their magnificently meaty neighbor.
The house-made Gnocchi du jour features spinach and goat cheese on this particular night, with fresh Mozzarella and a light tomato sauce. The tender pasta holds a buoyancy that comes alive in your mouth. The marriage of goat cheese and hearty potato flavor swallows any hint of the spinach, although the green cast provides a feast for the eyes.
As we wrap scarves around our necks and shuffle our feet in the shiver of fall, the craving for a cold lick of ice cream trades itself in for a spoonful of warm pumpkin pie or a spicy mulled wine. Straddling the seasons is an art, and Girasole profits from this balance with a glorious Pumpkin Gelato. Warming spices enfold the rich creamy scoops of pumpkin based sorbet. It is an unsullied offering to the coming cold and this indulgence is, of course, best accompanied by Girasole’s refreshing Limoncello.
Course after course had appeared at our table, glasses had been refilled and we found ourselves among the last few scattered tables of patrons dawdling and revelling in our sated condition. The servers had taken a load off at a table nearby, but no one was hustling us and, like family, we finish the meal together, humbly appreciative. When you book a reservation at Girasole, make sure you give yourself plenty of time, because in this family, Zoren and his tremendous staff will make sure you don’t leave discontented.