For the ninth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2015."
A much beloved Milwaukee restaurant has returned, and a first look at the new Giovanni’s, 1033 N. Old World 3rd St., harbors promise that the new location will live up to its reputation for delicious Italian food and warm personalized service.
Giovanni Safina came to America from Trapani, Sicily, when he was 23. After helping his brother to run the Italian Village in Madison, followed by another Italian restaurant in Milwaukee, Safina broke out on his own, opening a restaurant that would become legendary in the minds of Milwaukeeans.
That was 40 years ago. Over time, Safina’s three sons, Sal, David and Joey, joined the family business, mastering long-held family traditions and recipes, which include unique interpretations of classic Italian dishes accented by twists from Safina’s Sicilian heritage.
The original restaurant, which once stood at 1681 N. Van Buren St., has settled into its new home on one of Milwaukee’s most historic streets. And it brings with it the same family-style Italian feel for which the former Giovanni’s was known.
The restaurant is intimate, sporting comfortable seating, most of which is located along the north wall and nestled into the intimate upstairs loft. Classic white tablecloths adorn tables, which are outfitted simply with candles and fresh flowers. Meanwhile, family photos hang on the walls, giving the space an intimate feel.
One of the first things we noted as we entered the restaurant, was the warmness of the space. A pleasant bustle ensued, filled with animated chatter from seated guests, whose laughter echoed throughout the dining room.
Our friendly server guided us through the menu, offering helpful hints and recommendations, which we happily accepted.
We began our meal with an antipasti of charred octopus and mascarpone ($13.95), one of a variety of choices including house-made fennel sausage, Alaskan king crab, crisp fried eggplant and baked mozzarella.
The octopus was tender and sweet, and made unctuous by the sweet richness of the mascarpone cheese. Crisp fingerling potatoes soaked up the flavorful sauce, and pickled onions strewn among fresh greens balanced the decadent dish, which took flavor from a toasted fennel vinaigrette.
Our second course included house-made cannelloni ($19.95), which featured two six-inch rolls of thin, delicate pasta filled with veal ragu, served atop a bed of celeriac puree with burnt thyme butter and caramelized garlic. A shaving of fresh Wisconsin parmesan offered just the right amount of salty umami flavor.
Our first entree was chicken vesuvio ($22.95) featuring Sicilian breaded chicken breast sered atop roasted fingerling potatoes with English peas and a lemon herb reduction. Despite wanting more of the lemony sauce – which added depth and brightness to the dish – we found it to be solid and satisfying.
Veal piccatta ($32.95) was tender and fresh tasting, thanks to a sauce of white wine, lemons and capers. The thin medallions of Strauss veal were served over a lemon herb risotto, which soaked up the delicious sauce from the veal, making it even more delicious.
Other options included the Rosa combination ($42.95) featuring stuffed filet, scamponi shrimp and tagliatelle tossed in king crab alfredo, Sicilian grilled pork chops ($23.95) with Calabrian peppers and roasted potatoes, speidini with roasted vegetables and
Despite being filled to the brim, we couldn’t resist a chance to try the house-made tiramisu ($7), which featured a generous portion of soaked ladyfingers surrounded by layers of mascarpone cream.
Both the veal and seafood seemed to be strengths of the relatively diverse menu. And we’ll be back soon to enjoy dishes like the tagliatelle and crab ($18.95), shrimp scamponi ($27.95) and veal scalloppini marsala ($32.95), served with button mushrooms, sweet marsala and parmesan risotto.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.