Has it ever occurred to restaurateurs to be grateful for services like Mapquest or Google Maps? It has become so much easier for diners to find restaurants that aren’t on arterial streets, especially in these days of continual construction detours and spread-out suburbs where folks can go for a decade without venturing more than five miles from home–except to go to the airport. No more unfolding maps and squinting to find streets in wee typefaces, only to discover that the destination seems to be on one of the folds where the map has worn down to illegibility.
All this is to point out that it’s easier than ever to get to places like Gian-Tony’s, on a quiet corner of The Hill. (Let us here insert a reminder: This remains primarily a residential area, so rowdy farewells as a party climbs into various vehicles is really declasse.) The downside is that it’s an excellent idea to call in advance, despite the restaurant being larger inside than it would appear from the street. Even if it’s just a half-hour before you plan to arrive, especially on a weekend evening, it can prevent a lengthy wait in a smoky bar.
We have a real soft spot for the eggplant involtini. Basically, slices of eggplant are used instead of pasta and rolled into a pasta-less canneloni, filled with a rich mixture of spinach and ricotta, all topped with a chunky marinara sauce. It’s a fine introduction for the eggplant-reluctant, with the savory filling’s gentleness complemented by the tang of the sauce.
A special appetizer seems about to make it onto the permanent menu, according to owner Tony Catarinicchia. Large mushroom caps are filled with a mixed seafood stuffing, a little cheese drifted over the whole thing, of course, and a little more of that marinara sauce nestled around them. We’ve come across a couple of hundred variations on the stuffed-mushroom theme over the years; these are among the best, with lots of seafood flavoring and a generous hand with the stuffing.
Aficionados of osso buco should keep their fingers crossed when dining here. It’s only available as a special, but it’s a real don’t-miss on those nights. On our last visit it wasn’t offered, but other consolations awaited. Shrimp scampi is one of those dishes everyone does a little differently; Gian-Tony’s is six large shrimp lightly breaded with garlicky crumbs, skewered along with bay leaves and slices of lemon, the whole thing popped under the broiler. No burned crumbs, a suspicion of red pepper, the shrimp not dried out. Just right.
And then there’s pasta. There are some interesting choices here, a number of which are without red meat, if that’s a concern. This time we tried calamari rossi, which was linguini with squid that had been sauteed with capers and black olives, with a little white wine and some tomato sauce tossed in at the end. It’s a remarkable dish, made for those who love big flavors, salty-tart from the capers and olives, a little sweet from the small squid and the tomato. However, an order of pasta con polpette, linguini with meatballs, was a surprising flop. The meatballs were great, large, tender, full of flavor. But the tomato sauce was as bland as we’ve ever had, sucking up salt and cheese like a sponge without any appreciable effect. Either someone was having a seriously off night in the kitchen or it was designed for kiddies and other fearful eaters. It’s the first disappointment we’ve ever had from the pasta section of the menu.
Our shrimp-eating companion splurged calorically on a dessert known as the volcano. It’s a warm brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce, not Italian, certainly, but indulgent and tasty for those who have room left. We split a simple cannoli, the tube freshly filled with the sweetened cheese mixture, its whiteness unsullied by fruit or chocolate chips except for the maraschino cherries at either end.
The wine list is simple, with a handful of higher-priced bottles. Most are fine accompaniments to dinner, with sufficient hearty Italian-style reds from California or the mother country.
Servers know this menu inside-out, for the most part; bus persons fly around, especially on busy nights, and Tony himself is seen in the dining room more often than he used to be, charming the customers.
5356 Daggett Ave.
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Poor