But, we had babysitting and a reservation for lunch at Girasole, so our spirits were far from dampened. For Atlantic City’s Restaurant Week, we had decided to do one dinner and one lunch. After doing a lot of hemming and hawing, and we have a natural talent for hemming and hawing, we finally made up our minds to go to Girasole. We’re picky about Italian, so going to an Italian restaurant is usually not our first choice.
When you think about restaurants in Atlantic City, I’m sure thoughts of glitzy, shiny and schwanky locales come to mind. Well, where Girasole is located has none of that; in fact, the building that houses the restaurant is flat out drab and industrial. Even the front of Girasole itself is muted at best.
Once you open the door, though, everything changes.
Girasole is Italian for sunflower, and bright yellows were certainly present all over the restaurant, along with deep blues and richly patterned fabrics. Tan cloth drapes helped to define different rooms. The space looked and felt bright and relaxing.
We then saw the big brick pizza oven towards the back, and got very excited. But then we saw the gas heat firing up from inside and got a little less excited. Our disappointment would be short-lived; more on that later.
Our wine for the lunch was A Mano Primitivo, a rich yet accommodating red from southern Italy. Deep and full of nice bass tones, a glass of this wine does not battle with your meal for taste supremacy. It plays nice with others.
Even though we were a bit disappointed not to see wood burning in the stove, we still wanted to try pizza for one of our appetizers. Lisa decided to go for the classic pizza margherita. For me, the carpaccio appetizers were speaking my language and I selected their signature carpaccio Girasole. And we were both happy with our selections. Although it may not have been the best pizza we’ve ever had, their pizza margherita was the best we’ve had in a long time. The woman working the pizza oven in the back clearly knew her business; even without the wood, the flavor was definitely brick oven with a nice thin crust and just a few singed spots.
The carpaccio was warm, so it tasted more like really good roast beef than filet mignon. The real attraction was the accompanying talents of asparagus, artichoke, red peppers, truffle oil and parmesan shavings on top.
Onto the entrees, and to where our experience took a major leap from just a good meal to a truly memorable one.
Lisa ordered the farfalle that was served with smoked salmon in a tomato and cream sauce. And oh my, those little smokey bits of salmon were just heavenly. We only wished there could have been a few more smokey bits of salmon love in the sauce. And the tomato and cream combination tasted better than any vodka sauce we could remember.
My dinner entree was the fritto misto – a mix of fried shrimp, calamari, potatoes, carrots and zucchini, served with a side of marinara sauce. When I go to an Italian restaurant for the first time, I almost always order fried calamari. It’s one of those dishes that tells me right away if a place is any good or not. It’s the same way for me with hot and sour soup in Chinese restaurants or pad thai in Thai restaurants; if they can’t do those dishes right, it doesn’t give me hope for the rest of the meal.
So, of course, the first thing I go for on my plate is the calamari. And upon biting down and chewing my first piece, the following phrase came out of my mouth:
Now, I’m not a hyperbole-kind of guy, so for me to say this right off the bat is, in a word, unusual. But it was 100% true. The calamari could not be prepared any better, so very tender with just enough resistance against my teeth to be pleasing. The fried outer covering was light, allowing the calamari flavor to come out.
(Where is the picture of this dish? It was a blurry pic, and a dish this good should not be seen poorly. It deserved better.)
And then there was the accompanying gravy boat of marinara sauce, which was not too thick or cloying, and with no trace of sweetness other than what the tomato itself can offer. And the flavor of garlic was seamlessly blended into the mix. It was good enough to be a beverage; I could have downed a glass of the sauce on its own.
Needless to say, we were really happy dining folk at this point.
Now the desserts. My panna cotta with caramel was very creamy and delicate, as good as or even better than any flan I have had. Lisa was not quite of the same mind – she still preferred to have that burnt sugar bite. Her plate of two profiteroles smothered in chocolate sauce reminded her of the cream puffs her mom makes for Christmas.
Overall, the service was friendly but a bit on the slow side to start. It took a long time to get our glasses of wine, and then another long pause before our appetizers came out. At that point, our waiter realized that we hadn’t received our bread yet, so that came to us after we already had our appetizers. We also noticed that dirty dishes were remaining on empty tables for long periods of time before they were cleared off. From our perspective, it was either a case of not expecting such a busy turnout on a Wednesday for lunch, or, due to economic conditions, the waitstaff was understaffed. One more set of hands would have made a difference – but it certainly wasn’t the kind of thing that would take away from our overall experience. And as the dining room started to empty a bit, the pace of the meal improved greatly.
But please, don’t let these minor service issues keep you from coming to Girasole. We can highly recommend this place – and it is yet another reminder that there is great food to be had in Atlantic City that has nothing to do with the casinos. And as we headed out of the restaurant, and promptly got the back of the hand from a stiff and damp gust of wind, we kept the bright and sunflower-y thoughts of a great meal in our head to help keep us warm.
Girasole – Ocean Club Condos, 3108 Pacific Avenue, Atlantic City. 609.354.5554.