You say you're looking for a quiet place to have an especially nice meal with your sweetie? You want a place with white tablecloths and maybe a little bit of a view, not real fancy, but certainly a little? Well, bunky, have we got a restaurant for you.
Gio's keeps a low profile with its darkened windows facing Kiener Plaza. On the south side, tables sit on a terrace facing Market Street where the current Busch Stadium is visible beyond a hotel. There's a dining room and a casual bar with tables and televisions, and outdoor seating that faces Market Street so that any fireworks from the ballpark for instance, can be appreciated. We've had acceptable pizza at the bar for lunch, but we're having dinner in the dining room today.
The location, in the heart of downtown, brings plenty of business lunches, and service is zippy. At the dinner hour, though, things calm down. The menu is, in many ways, classic St. Louis Italian, no surprise in this venture by Dominic Galati and John Ruggeri, restaurateurs with excellent credentials from the Hill. And yet there are touches that bring things into the contemporary.
While the excellent mussel appetizer charms with its flavorful olives and a little hit of red pepper, for instance, the Caesar salad is grilled. Yes, grilled. The hearts of romaine lettuce become a little softer and have a wonderful smoky flavor, with a fine, truly Caesarian dressing. This is a knife-and-fork salad, definitely worth the work.
The salume platter brings prosciutto, mortadella and pepperoni, Gorgonzola and two other cheeses we couldn't quite identify, olives and grissini, those extremely slender, crisp and delicious breadsticks. The seafood salad, however, fell short because of a characterless vinaigrette. Such salads are traditionally left to marinate; shrimp and scallops that were limp were not out of line.
This is, perhaps, the time to bring up bread. St. Louis restaurants are serving much better bread in the last couple of decades. The tradition in old-line Italian restaurants was always a soft, close-grained bread sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced thinly, the kind Joe identifies as "Vienna loaf" from his boyhood. We'd like to see something different on the table, a feeling emphasized by Gio's pour of olive oil, and offer of cheese and black pepper. It's extremely tasty, deserving of a sturdier and more interesting mopper-upper.
At lunch, we've also had meatball sliders, far too large to be diminished by the word “sliders.” Single meatballs, very tender, perch on dollar rolls, with cheese and arugula atop the tomato-sauced meatball. (Very Italian with the red, green and white color scheme.)
Pappardelle with Bolognese sauce, available at lunch and dinner, is splendid encouragement for our campaign to encourage people to try the pasta at our high-end Italian restaurants. The pappardelle, we think, was fresh rather than dried, given its excellent, slightly al dente texture. And the sauce was delectable, plenty of coarsely ground meat, not just beef, we believe, and the tomato's acidity balanced by a little cream, a touch beloved by some grandmas. It was the best Bolognese sauce we've had in a good while.
And then there was the veal chop alla Gio. It's a relatively simple preparation, grilled with a bit of pancetta cut up and a handful of mushrooms sauteed in the pan after the pancetta, all seasoned with just a whisper of thyme. About an inch and a half thick, ordered and delivered medium-rare, it was a first-rate, tender piece of meat with a great, light sauce, a standout dish. Instead of grilled squash varieties, we had a fistful of spinach, sauteed just until the spinach had melted to a buttery softness, topped with a generous sprinkle of finely chopped garlic.
An unexpected option for dessert was strawberry bruschetta. New to us. Way not strawberry season, either, but too intriguing to pass up. What arrived was a fine riff on strawberry shortcake, starting with a piece of grilled pound cake. Fresh, too, and with a tender, fine crumb. A scoop of vanilla ice cream perched on top and a generous pour of strawberry sauce, not the goopy thickened stuff drizzled on plates, but the real thing, came next. Halved fresh strawberries reclined luxuriously on pillows of whipped cream. Actually there weren't very many strawberries, but the sauce and the toasted cake were so good that we didn't miss them.
Our service at dinner was as smooth as anyone could wish; the lunch server was considerably more talkative and casual. Lots of window seats to enjoy the view and noontime sun, and it's easy to step over to the bar area and check the score of whatever game you're following.
Gio's Ristorante & Bar
701 Market St.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good