Summer traditionally is a precarious time for local restaurants, but Gianna seems perfectly suited for the heat and the dog days in New Orleans.
Gianna, which opened in April on the ground floor of the Kalorama, a new condominium development that’s still under construction in the Warehouse District, straddles the line between beautiful and casual, with wraparound windows overlooking the corner of Magazine and Girod streets and a variety of seating options inside, from cozy booths to cafe tables.
It’s the latest restaurant from chef Donald Link’s restaurant group, which includes nearby Peche, Cochon, Cochon Butcher and Herbsaint. The executive chef here is James Beard Award Foundation winner Rebecca Wilcomb, formerly of Herbsaint. While Gianna is more clearly Italian-influenced, those who love Herbsaint will recognize the same precise hand behind the dishes, which not only are delicious but Instagram-ready.
Gianna, the next restaurant from chef Donald Link's company, is now slated to open Saturday, April 20. The restaurant will serve lunch and din…
Not surprisingly, the pastas are uniformly excellent, with the ricotta lemon ravioli perhaps the best; pretty little house-made flower-shaped pillows stuffed with light cheese and served in a thin tomato broth with ribbons of basil. A linguine with English peas and a bit of guanciale with Parmesan cream is more substantial, as is a campanile dish with grilled greens that call back to New Orleans cuisine and, like collards, taste pleasantly of minerals.
Plenty of online commenters take issue with the price versus the portion size, and they’re not wrong. In New York or Chicago, no one would blink, but in New Orleans it can be startling. An appetizer plate of three petite meatballs was tasty, but not worth $12. Another appetizer of polenta with rich lamb sausage gravy is perhaps the best thing on the starter menu, but $14 for a small dish of polenta is hard to swallow. Antipasti (three for $11, five for $18) are a better deal, with chickpea fritters shaped like home fries and a lively eggplant caponata two delicious choices.
For those with a black AmEx, there’s a wood-roasted rib-eye for $85 that seems way out of whack with the other entrees, none of which top $29. Moreover, those looking for summer lunch specials are out of luck; like Link’s Cochon and Peche, the lunch and dinner menus at Gianna are identical.
Maggie Scales, executive pastry chef for the Link Restaurant Group, has produced desserts that sound decadent but manage to be light and not too sweet, perfect for hot weather. A chocolate amaretto cake is cupcake-sized and Bundt-shaped, with hazelnut toffee and espresso-infused whipped cream, while the pistachio-ricotta cheesecake topped with pistachio crumbles is light and subtle, the opposite of so many gooey-sweet cheesecakes served around town (both $10). Best to order these for the table so everyone can sample, and for those who want a digestif rather than a dessert, house-made Italian sodas in lemon, mint and strawberry all are refreshing.
Gianna is remarkably accomplished for a restaurant just two months old; like the other links in the Link Restaurant Group, it seems here to stay a while.
There’s always something new to try in New Orleans.
Ice, ice baby. Oh, and snowballs.
Summer heat means we're all thinkin' drinkin', whether that's a craft cocktail, a PBR and a shot, a glass of fine wine or just a seltzer or juice.