A downtown mainstay since 1985, the restaurant's most recent redesign successfully conveys a wine cellar feel with brick walls, wine racks, a long corridor of high-backed wooden booths and lots of good source lighting. Goomba's, the bar and lounge in the back of the restaurant, was added in 2001 and the outdoor "Urban Patio" last year, both great spots for an aperitif. And now, the new Sessions Wine Bar and Music Stage just past the entrance is in full swing with live acts every Friday night transforming the front dining area into something resembling a supper club for the over 30 set.
The menu, like Giuseppe's owner Peggy Falcaro, is old-school New York Italian. After a brief foray into more contemporary fare, the line-up is back to tried-and-true favorites like Caesar and caprese salads, antipasto, manicotti, lasagna, ravioli, chicken marsala, crème brûlée. You know the drill. The hitch when you offer preparations that are so traditional is that everything has to be perfectly executed to be successful. The kitchen, on a recent Friday visit, could have benefited from a little more attention to detail, though the place was packed, and the oversight is hopefully attributable to simple growing pains.
This was most felt among the entrees ($12-$23). Veal piccata in a caper, shallot, white wine and beurre blanc sauce served over pasta, would have been a respectable rendition of the dish, but the veal cutlet was noticeably undercooked. The Sambuca prawns suffered from a little too much of its namesake, and it was pretty difficult to taste the perfectly cooked plump shrimp sautéed with pancetta, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and spinach beneath the overpowering anise flavor and sweetness of the liqueur. A special, saltimbocca, which literally translates as "jumps in the mouth," is one of my all-time favorite Italian classics. It was beautiful on the plate sprinkled with parsley leaves and accompanied by bright green broccoli spears that contrasted nicely with the red of the pork cutlets topped with prosciutto. However, the meat had a molasses-like overtone that was distracting from the otherwise well-prepared dish.
On the brighter side, the starters ($11-$14) were solid and so ample that I was already nearly sated by the time the entrees came out. The calamari tempura served with two sauces, marinara and sweet chili sauce, was as light and airy as a deep-fried dish can get, plus it was the equivalent of at least two portions elsewhere. The steamed clams were fresh and small the way I like them and the white wine butter sauce (also available with spicy sweet basil cream sauce) was utterly soppable. The roasted garlic and gorgonzola appetizer was a great concept, a whole clove of roasted garlic and a plate of melted gorgonzola served with warm crusty bread-kind of an Italian fondue. While the cheese didn't stay liquid past the first couple of bites, but it was still pretty delicious.
Dessert was forgone for another bottle of California Zin. And it was time to move the party up front to the small stage where the Quons, a local husband and wife duo, were mid set. It was a nice end to a complete night out without having to travel more than a few yards.Giussepe's Ristorante
932 NW Bond St., 389-8899
Dinner daily at 5 p.m.; happy hour at 4 p.m.