Sardinia, though I’ve never been, has always been a place of fascination for me, so I was pleased to hear that a new Italian restaurant would offer dishes hailing from the sun-baked Mediterranean island. The two Sardinian-born owners of Giulio’s Cucina Italiana are presenting plenty of interesting dishes that don’t pander to American notions of Italian food.
Overall, I found Giulio’s uneven on the simple question, “How good does it taste?” But I tended toward the more unusual recipes, and it may be that the chef does a spectacular job on fettuccine Alfredo and lasagna.
The pizza is great, at least the “al pesto” variety that my companion and I ordered. In fact, I’d advise readers to come here when they’re seeking a good pizza pie — it’s far tastier than hitting the local chain, and far cheaper.
Five pizzas are listed as appetizers, but for $6.95 you get a 10” hand-rolled pie. The crust is very thin, and ours featured basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers and big blobs of fresh snow-white ricotta for a sensuous, creamy texture. Other choices are primavera with artichokes; puttanesca with capers, black olives, anchovies and sausage; margherita with fresh tomato and red onion; and bianco, with Alfredo sauce and chicken. No pepperoni, no pineapple.
As to the Sardinian dishes, one of the best courses we ate was the bean soup with wild fennel, “minestra e fagioli.” This dish is not limited to Sardinia, of course, but Giulio’s recipe includes pancetta and thus is extra-rich, the beans far more flavorful than is typical.
Two other Sardinian dishes are gnocchetti pasta with wild boar ragu and pappardelle with walnuts, cream and mint. Wild boar is ubiquitous on menus in Tuscany, I discovered on my last visit. Giulio’s gets theirs from a supplier in Eastern Market.
The gnocchetti tasted more of wine than of pork and included crisp carrot bits. The pappardelle dish is chalky, and the mint tastes out of place. It wasn’t the interesting alternative to basil I had hoped for.
Pasta della nonna (grandmother’s pasta) consists of frilly-edged pasta coated with a light marinara, with calamari, clams, shrimp, scallops and mussels. The calamari were tasteless and a little tough. On the whole the dish was OK, but I wouldn’t order it again.
Ditto for the huge pork chop stuffed with mortadella and provolone. I couldn’t see or taste the mortadella (a smoked sausage), and the lofty chop could have been less dry. The tiramisu was large and decent but didn’t truly “carry me up” (that’s the translation of the name of this sometimes-sublime dessert). There are, on the other hand, some places where Giulio’s shines: • An appetizer special of bocconcini (mozzarella balls), tomato and basil, wrapped in prosciutto and topped with warm pancetta vinaigrette. The sharp dressing over the smooth, creamy mozzarella provides a great contrast of flavors.
• Fine, clear green olive oil to sop bread at the start of your meal. We should all do this at home.
• Minestrone, with each vegetable retaining its distinct taste.
• Housemade Italian sausage with sautéed peppers and onions is a bit greasy, but it’s supposed to be. The sausage is mild and fennel-flavored. It seems a bit much to charge $2.50 extra for hot peppers, though.
Giulio’s also offers four veal dishes — the usual three (Marsala, piccata, saltimbocca) plus a braised veal roast — and a couple of American-sounding steaks — New York strip and filet mignon with zip sauce. In any case, the Sardinians must be doing something right. A clipping on the wall tells of the world’s oldest man, born in Sardinia 112 years ago. He doesn’t look a day over 85.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].