BY JENN BERGIN | PHOTOS BY BRANDON VICK
Nestled in the village of Victor is Giovanni’s Ristorante, a classic Italian restaurant with a “new world” interpretation on “old world” cuisine. And it’s a family affair.
Executive Chef Jim Paulino cultivated his culinary passion as a child, learning from his aunts who owned a small Italian restaurant across the street from Savoia Pastry Shoppe. He gained hands-on experience under award-winning European chefs in Las Vegas and as Executive Chef at several local Italian restaurants. Still, Paulino’s passion and inspiration primarily comes from growing up in a large Italian family, with a father who “could make even a piece of cardboard taste good.”
He opened Giovanni’s Ristorante in 2009 with his cousins, John Gaudu and Michael Paulino. Today, two of his sons work in the kitchen, his daughter is a server – and everyone who walks into the restaurant is welcomed like family, many by name. “Our goal everyday is to make friends,” says Chef Paulino.
Giovanni’s Ristorante is focused on freshness with a seasonal menu that highlights summer features such as grilled steak and seafood paired with vegetables grown in the restaurant’s own garden. The bread is homemade, as are the pastas and desserts. Chef Paulino often heads to the Public Market on Sundays for fresh herbs or produce.
The cousins put as much thought into décor as dining, spending two years renovating part of the old Victor train station into this warm Tuscan-style trattoria. The unique and elegant design is completed with original, hand-painted murals which resemble classic frescos on the textured exposed brick walls. Guests can dine outside on the terrace and listen to the sounds of live music or the bubbling stream which runs through the patio. In addition, private dinner meetings can be held in The Villa Room, which seats 20 and is equipped with audiovisual amenities. Every room offers a new dining experience.
The menu features home-spun, rustic Italian-American favorites, such as eggplant parmesan and chicken marsala – yet Chef Paulino tempts the traditional by adding a twist to his authentic dishes.
A savory starter for one of the first days of summer, jumbo sea scallops wrapped in pancetta are cooked to perfection and glazed with a sweet Asian barbeque sauce. The textural contrast of the sweet Asian glaze and salty pancetta is met with crisp apple almond coleslaw. For the more classic palate, the well-loved arancini di riso, Italian rice balls stuffed with seasoned veal, green peas and romano cheese are served with a fresh and chunky house marinara.
A bright and refreshing tomato salad with market-fresh tomatoes and bocconcini mozzarella is served with homemade focaccia bread for dipping into the marinade of garlic, fresh basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or try the crisp salad Italiano, a generous medley of Italian favorites such as salami, provolone, olives, pepperoncini, roasted peppers, and grilled zucchini – all lightly tossed in Italian dressing to allow for a full-flavor experience.
The extensive wine list includes a crisp and creamy Ca’montini Pinot Grigio and a Ruffino Chianti Tan Label, with a robust cherry aroma and a fresh rosemary finish. Cocktails include a martini infused with homemade raspberry nectar, fresh fruit summer sangria and a margarita made with a refreshing watermelon puree. For a twist on the traditional gin or vodka martini, the smoked martini is served in a chilled glass that is swirled in premium scotch.
For a little something more than your average fish or filet, entrees include a summer fresh Tombo Ahi-Hawaiian tuna with sea salt topped with a sundried tomato pesto tapanade and center-cut, premium quality Hereford filet mignon with melted gorgonzola cheese and mushrooms marsala. For some authentic Italian fare, veal primo is freshly breaded and topped with diced tomatoes, spinach and fontinella cheese and served over jumbo homemade rigatoni. All are perfectly paired with juicy oven roasted peppered tomatoes and grilled zucchini.
An Italian dinner just isn’t complete without dessert. Relaxing while sipping chocolate biscotti dessert wine and cappuccino sprinkled with cinnamon is a treat in itself. White chocolate raspberry cake topped with fresh raspberries, or a homemade flaky cannoli shell freshly filled with light sweet cream mascarpone – makes it perfect.
“I grew up the son of immigrants from the depression era,” says Chef Paulino. “They didn’t have much – food was their gift. It was used to show sympathy, to celebrate – it was a sign of love. And I’m still doing it today.”
Giovanni’s Ristorante is located at 75 Coville Street in the village of Victor. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 4pm-10pm. Available on Sunday and Monday for private parties. For reservations call 585.398.7988.