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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Casa Di Giorgio: Impressive Italian in Franklin

Gnocchi, pastas merit a visit

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Walls of concrete block painted in a gold tone don’t make for an overly impressive exterior, but a large awning that marks the entrance to Casa Di Giorgio hints at the promise waiting inside. Indeed, the interior is another matter altogether, and explains the many cars in the parking lot.

The first room in Casa Di Giorgio provides a charming bar, a dining area with several windows and a fireplace. The second room adds more tables and booths, along with décor that hints at an Italian garden—a tad frilly, perhaps, but it provides a soothing aura. Choose a table instead of a booth, as the seats—rattan chairs with curved backs—are more comfortable.

A menu will soon arrive—actually, make that three menus, plus a wine list. The wine list seems small for a restaurant of this type. Still, there are nearly 20 choices by the glass. The first food menu includes the standard items and it alone is quite lengthy. The second consists of specials that change from time to time. The third offers the specials of the day. As the name implies, the bulk of the items at Casa Di Giorgio are Italian, along with a few steaks, king crab and lobster thrown in. In addition to entrees you will find more affordable options in salads, paninis and thin-crust pizzas.

Starters on the standard menu include items like toasted ravioli, calamari and eggplant strips. The specials offer seafood like mussels, oysters and escargot. One visit also found vongole ripiene, stuffed clams sold by the half-dozen ($9.95) or the dozen ($15.95). Cherrystone clams are stuffed with bread crumbs with chopped parsley, garlic and a hint of lemon juice. This is where the kitchen moves into high gear. On the flip side, pass on the complimentary basket of warm bread, as it does not live up to the items on the menus.

Entrees include soup or salad. The soups are good enough, though they are not especially Italian with choices like clam chowder and chicken vegetable. French onion soup on the specials menu costs extra. The house salad is the better pick, offering fresh leaf lettuce and the usual cast of cucumbers, carrots, red onions and a tomato slice. The suitable Italian dressing is prepared with red wine vinegar.

Pastas fare very well here. Wild mushrooms porcini ($13.95) appeared as a lunch special. Restaurants often try to pass off portobello mushrooms as “wild,” but not at Casa Di Giorgio. There are at least five types of mushroom with this homemade porcini pasta, which is similar to linguine. Seasoned with porcini mushroom broth and a few herbs, this makes for a decent dish. But the standard menu goes one better with the gnocchi alla Genovese ($14.25), perfectly cooked potato dumplings. Slices of chicken breast are fully at home here.

Surprisingly, the steak Siciliano ($24.95) could be better. It is served with sautéed mushrooms, tricolor peppers and some grated cheese, but the coating of bread crumbs adds little flavor, especially to overcooked meat. A neighboring table opted for filet mignon ($25.95) and envious eyes saw a thick piece of meat charred on the outside and rare in the middle—a vastly superior choice.

Though the lunch menus are smaller, they are still substantial. Prices can be considerably lower as well—a petite filet is just $9.95.

All in all, Casa Di Giorgio is one of the best Italian restaurants in the area. It merits a visit for the gnocchi alone.

Casa Di Giorgio

3137 W. Rawson Ave., Franklin

(414) 304-0400

$$-$$$

Credit Cards: MC, VS, AX

Smoking: Yes

Handicap Access: Yes