Big Deals

Chef Alessio Giannuzzi originally hails from Italy, and brings Old World sensibilities to the dishes he crafts at Giorgio’s in Oldtown Salinas.

Giorgio’s Italian restaurant, Salinas’ newest and poshest dining spot, makes a small-town boy feel worldly. Ultra-high ceilings, neo-classical beams and columns, arched doorways, an illuminated green onyx bar, high-backed leather upholstered booths, show kitchen, stone slab flooring and a couple thousand square feet of outdoor dining with fire pits all impress from the first moment.

It’s obvious molto denaro was invested to restore this two-story 1890s architectural gem to its deserved luster, turning it into one of the most upscale restaurants the area has seen. Previously a bank building, it sat empty 15 years.

As part of the 201 complex, other restaurant and wine-bar pieces arriving at the end of May or early June are Citracada Spanish Tapas Restaurant and Grapes of Eden Wine Bar. In the basement below Giorgio’s, the Exchange Night Club is slated to open some time in 2016. Ticino Coffee Shop & Deli is up and running, offering lighter fare like panini, soups and salads. Big events like wedding receptions and a New Year’s Eve party and fundraisers have been held in the 350-capacity banquet room upstairs.

My first visit was a Thursday, dinner hour. Eating at the bar seemed a good way to get a feel for the place.

When trying an Italian restaurant I have a rule: If they have it, order the osso buco. They did. Bartender Kathy Cusson seconded the motion. Her other recommendation was the capelini al pomodoro ($11), angel hair pasta with garlic, basil, olive oil and tomato. Chicken, shrimp or salmon can be added to any pasta dish for $3, $5 and $5 respectively. Giorgio’s osso buco d’agnello ($22) brings on lamb shank osso buco style, with mashed potato and green garlic spinach. Not really osso buco in the traditional sense, as in veal shank, center bone (osso), hole in the bone (bucco) where the exquisite marrow lies. But lamb shank is another favorite of mine so I went with it. It had that tender, fall-off-the-bone succulence. The sauce, as with many reductions, was slightly salty for my liking.

Offering preliminary tastes, Cusson (who I’m told is an accomplished opera singer), scored points for her wine pairing. To go with the burrata e prosciutto antipasto ($13) was a 2013 Luneau Papin Muscadet ($10). For the lamb shank, 2013 Frescobaldi Chianti ($9).

A fellow patron at the bar raved about Cusson’s margaritas, so despite a tempting lineup of housemade sweets ($7 each) – tiramisu, panna cotta, zabaione and tortino a cioccolato – I made my dessert a Cazadores reposado margarita ($10). A half lime and half lemon pressed into a shaker, a splash of orange juice, triple sec, a pour of tequila over ice and a shake. None of the syrupy stuff.

Next night, a Friday, dinner hour, earlyish, every seat at the bar occupied, dining room about half. My stomach growling, everything looked good. After consulting with the server and the sommelier, who provided excellent service, I chose from the list of six specials the pollo al mattone ($19), deboned chicken marinated in rosemary and garlic, cooked on the grill under a brick and served with Tuscan white beans and sauteed spinach.

Eight times out of 10, restaurant-made roasted or grilled half chicken dishes don’t completely satisfy me. But sometimes I take the risk because, when they do, they really do. This did. Give it a 10. What made it so good was the crispy outer skin, the tender and juicy meat inside and the marinade. There is no way I will not order it again.

Alessio Giannuzzi (10 years at Pine Inn in Carmel) later explained the key is deboning and cooking the chicken on a flat grill, to order. Sommelier Elias Cuevas nailed the pairing with a glass of dry, white Tiefenbrunne ($10).

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My dining partner, not a wine drinker, ordered the spaghetti all’aragosta ($22), also from the list of specials. Judging from her lackadaisical I-would-not-order-it-again comment, her level of satisfaction did not match mine.

Visually, the homemade spaghetti, tossed with lobster sauce, salmon, shrimp, mussels and half Maine lobster, was picture perfect. Her main issue was the strong flavor of the mussels overpowered the dish. I thought it was quite tasty and priced reasonably at $22. By the way, she didn’t leave a morsel on her plate.

Our piatto de la casa ($15) appetizer was an artfully laid out display of Tuscan pecorino, porchetta, prosciutto, olives, artichoke hearts and crochette. A nice set of flavor contrasts to prime the palate.

The pizza proved tasty, too. While not quite on the same level as Patria’s artisan pies across Main Street, on a lunch visit I tried the salsiccia e funghi pizza ($14). I savored it as much then as I did finishing the last few pieces at home later, loving the lean, mildly spiced housemade sausage and firm textures of the oyster, shiitake and button mushrooms.

Giorgio’s and the 201 complex represent a huge endeavor. Is it too big? Some of the pricing can be – $5 toast at brunch. But the atmosphere and great food means the restaurant itself is not.

GIORGIO’S 201 Main St., Salinas. Lunch: Tues-Fri 11am-2:30pm. Dinner: Tues-Thurs, Sun 5-10pm; Fri, Sat 5-10pm. Brunch: Sat 11am-2:30pm; Sun 8am-2:30pm. Happy hour 2-6pm daily. 831-800-7573. www.201complex.com

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