The tagline on the sign outside Girasole promises “Exquisite Italian.”
The restaurant opened late last summer in the handsome old-style brick commercial strip at the intersection of Wax and Sullivan roads in Central. The location looks appealing, and with the restaurant website describing “casual dining in an elegant atmosphere,” I was excited to try a new Italian restaurant.
The name “Girasole” is Italian for sunflower, and the interior of the restaurant extends the theme beyond the name, with artificial flowers decorating the divider between the bar area and the main dining room. A verdant tapestry of artificial vines envelops the wall behind the bar.
After scanning the restaurant website and menu — the majority of entrees run more than $20 — my wife and I made reservations for 6:30 p.m. on a Friday. When we arrived we found two talented musicians playing steel guitar and keyboard and a sleepy spot with no need for reservations.
Sitting at a table next to the bar, we perused the menu while a server brought a basket of fluffy, warm sliced bread to our table along with whipped butter and herbs and a dish of olive oil for dipping. The restaurant seemed to be awakening from a slumber, and it took until almost 7 p.m. for things to get moving. While we waited for our waitress, we settled on an appetizer, the arancini balls ($10), which the menu describes as “Italian boudin.”
Stuffed with arborio rice, sausage and herbs and spices and then deep fried, the arancini did share some similarities with a Cajun boudin ball, but the Italian herbs and the tomato sauce for dipping set it apart. Our order of eight was inconsistent, as a few carried strong hints of herbs like oregano or thyme but others tasted more frozen and less fresh.
Before ordering our entrees, we listened to two employees standing at the bar a few feet away discuss their shifts for the weekend and the goings-on at the restaurant — not the kind of behind-the-scenes access we expected.
For our entrees I chose the involtini de mare ($28), lasagna rolled with herbs, spices and a light, spongy cheese and also covered with a creamy cheese sauce, shrimp and shredded crab. I loved every bite of the lasagna and the mild, creamy cheese stuffed within, but I scraped much of the superfluous, overly creamy sauce off the dish. While the shrimp were meaty and plump, and the crab tasted fresh, the seasoning dusted on the seafood was too salty.
My wife chose the breaded eggplant parmesan ($18) on a bed of linguine with red sauce. The eggplant medallions were crispy around the edges and soft in the center, but the sauce did not interest her. It was neither sweet nor salty nor spicy. Instead, the flavor was mostly acidic.
During our meal, a man eating at the bar came over to introduce himself as the owner. He asked if this was our first time at the restaurant, and we nodded in the affirmative. “Want to buy it?” he asked. We laughed off the comment, and the conversation trailed off as he left to chat elsewhere, but the encounter compounded the awkwardness we felt while listening to the staff earlier.
For dessert we took the advice of our waitress and tried the berry mascarpone cake ($7 per slice). Served cold with a lemon garnish, the moist, solid treat was made up of two layers of blueberry-dotted cake with citrusy, creamy mascarpone between the layers. We ate nearly every bite, and it was the highlight of our meal.
On my next trip to Girasole, I ordered a to-go plate of the tortellini rustica ($24), tortellini shells covered with olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, roasted garlic and capers and grilled chicken. While the chicken was too chewy, the pasta and vegetables were excellent, tasting of pungent garlic and the sharp sweet flavor of sun-dried tomatoes. I would order it again, but I felt it was a bit expensive considering the quality of the poultry.
Each dish we tried at Girasole contains promise. But the atmosphere and culinary missteps do not live up to the “exquisite” experience promised on the exterior.
14350 Wax Road, Suite 112, Central
3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
(225) 302-5302; girasoleitalian.com
Pros: Tortellini rustica; berry marscapone cake; bread
Cons: Atmosphere; quality of sauces; prices