You most certainly “can’t judge a book…..” Who would expect a small, 40-seat restaurant, located in a former warehouse, which is also occupied by a gymnastics center for kids, to dish up fresh, authentic Italian food? Yet, Ristorante Giorgia in Rumson delivers good, home-style cooking in a welcoming space which has been artfully done over to resemble a Tuscan farmhouse, albeit with a tall, open ceiling. This charming little BYO also boasts attentive and helpful service, with our waitperson patiently explaining all the primary ingredients of the nightly specials recited from memory, and offering her opinion in a desire to help us choose among the numerous dishes.
A frequent special appetizer, Grilled Baby Artichokes ($12), was simply served over tangy fresh arugula, and dressed with lemon and olive oil, which allowed the delicious charred flavor of the “chokes” to shine as the center point of the dish. The tender halves were cooked through to a silky texture without being mushy.
A remarkable special of whole, slow-cooked and perfectly tender Braised Baby Octopus ($15), shared the plate with a classic spicy, chunky plum tomato sauce with red pepper flakes and white wine. This was one of our favorite dishes. Note: The heat level of this dish was at the higher range, so feel free to discuss your preference in spiciness with your server.
Even though beefsteak tomato season has not yet come to New Jersey, we were served a very enjoyable special of a large, Whole Roasted Tomato ($15), stuffed with parmigiana/basil risotto, and fresh mozzarella, which definitely had an uncannily credible summery tomato flavor and texture. Not sure where they found the produce, but certainly an excellent way to eat tomatoes in the off-season.
We enjoyed a Squid Ink Pasta ($28) as a middle course. Black, al dente taglioni (similar to tagliatelle but thinner, more delicate cylinders), tossed with clams in the shell, shrimp, bits of calamari and baby zucchini, in a mildly spicy tomato sauce, was quite good.
A deeply flavored tomato sauce covering the Pollo Alla Cacciatora ($22/18) was good enough to eat by itself; the chicken can be ordered either on or off the bone, and is cooked with olive oil, celery, garlic, onions, carrots, white wine and San Marzano tomatoes, and plated with some perfectly roasted potatoes. We opted for off the bone, but were a little disappointed with the use of very thin skinless fillets as they cook quickly and tend to not absorb any of that excellent tomato sauce. It is recommended that bone-in is the best way to order this dish of comfort food.
A moist Bronzino Filet ($36) was coated with herbed breadcrumbs and plated with a creamy spinach and lemon risotto, providing us with a well-cooked, generous portion of fish. A rich and satisfying dish.
A special of Baramundi Involtini style ($38), “small bundles” of meaty white-fleshed fish, native to Australia and Southeast Asia, stuffed with capers, olives, breadcrumbs, and cooked in a white wine sauce was popular enough to sell out the night of our visit; our guests got the last two orders.
Fittingly, we brought and drank two Italian wines. 2015 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Bianco, a white blend of 80 percent Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, 15 percent Cococciola and 5 percent chardonnay, had lively acidity and a floral nose, the palate evoking cut apples and pears. Italian whites are well suited as “food wines” due to their fresh, crisp flavors. It’s worthwhile to resist the temptation to drink the usual pinot grigio and experiment with lesser known grapes and blends. The good-sized red, a fully mature 2005 G.D. Vajra Freisa Langhe Kyè, from Piedmont, is from a less often seen grape – 100 percent Freisa – with its acid, gentle tannins, and black cherry, raspberry-like flavor profile it should please Nebbiolo lovers (Barolo, Barbaresco, etc.).
Homemade Biscotti ($8) served with a dollop of cannoli cream, were firm, but not so much as to be potential tooth breakers, and contained chunks of hazelnuts, which lent their flavor to the cookie.
A signature dessert, Tiramisu ($8) was an excellent finale to the meal. Cool and refreshing, the square of layered moist cake, creamy and properly eggy custard, aromas of coffee, and a dusting of cocoa powder, was both rich and light on its feet at the same time.
You could drive past and miss Ristorante Giorgia unless you know it is there, and that would be a shame. This is honest, home-style Italian cooking, utilizing fresh ingredients, and served in a warm comfortable atmosphere. One would be wise to make reservations as it is quite popular and not a large space. Don’t let the small size of this restaurant dissuade you from visiting; you know what they say about “good things coming in…..”
102 Avenue of the Two Rivers
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the April 27-May 4, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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