The first thing we see when we set foot inside Giorgo’s on Hennepin – for the first time in years – is a blackboard offering a free bottle of wine to any table that spends at least $30. It’s billed as a celebration of the restaurant’s 17 years in business, and with it is a flyer showing owner Giorgio Cherubini as he looked 17 years ago – or maybe more like 30 years ago. In the photo, he looks a little like Fabio, studly with long dark hair, but the caption is what captures Carol’s attention: it says, “Ahh…to be young and free again…” – and the word free is underlined. “Is Giorgio in an unhappy marriage?” my wife wonders.
Myself, I don’t know anything about Giorgio’s marital status, so I am more inclined to read this as mid-life crisis – a wistful longing for the days when Giorgio presided over a small restaurant empire, with locations on Lake St., and France Ave. as well as his original Hennepin Ave. location. Maybe not exactly carefree, but sitting on top of the local restaurant world. Today, Giorgio seems almost forgotten – on a Tuesday night, the dining room and wine bar are nearly empty, and the energy level is low.
But that’s not a bad thing – low-key and quiet, Giorgio’s feels more romantic than in its noisy heyday, and the free bottle of wine makes dinner for two a bargain. The walls are a dappled and smudged paprika shade of red, decorated with Venetian Carnival masks. It’s not especially stylish, but there is a “loaf of bread, jug of wine and thou” simplicity to the place – that fits with the limited, moderately priced menu: a few starters, a few pastas and three or four entrees, such as chicken saltimbocca or pork tenderloin, supplemented by nightly specials such as duck ravioli and roast leg of lamb, nearly all under $20.
We split a bruschetta of thickly sliced grilled rye topped with roasted artichokes, peppers and melted fontina, and we each ordered a pasta. My fettucine pollo ($12.50) consisted of sauteed chunks of boneless chicken tossed with artichokes, mushrooms and fresh sage in a lightly lemony sauce, while Carol’s ravioli bosco ($15.50) offered homemade pockets stuffed with mushrooms in a light sage cream sauce. Neither was a peak gastronomic experience, but both were quite enjoyable, as were the homemade cannoli ($6) we shared for dessert.
The free bottle of wine is your choice of a Pinot Grigio or a Chianti. We selected the red, which seemed a bit thin, but still quite drinkable. The total tab for the dinner came to $55, including tip, tax, and the free bottle of wine – a terrific value and a delightful low-key romantic evening.