Gino Vuolo's latest endeavor, which opened last fall across the mezzanine from his flagship ristorante, connects two of Italy's regions.
Vuolo's family hails from Naples, an Italian city known for pizza and wild hand-gesturing, yet he tastefully interprets Tuscan fare at Gino's Grill, a place where black truffles, pesto and assorted squash come into play. Let's not forget the 35-year-old balsamic vinegar that's drizzled on some of the dishes.
The dÃ©cor boasts big murals of dark barrel rooms and gothic cathedrals, unlike the large Mediterranean scenes painted on the walls at its sister restaurant, an olive's throw a way.
The burgundy-colored velvet curtains and blown-glass lamps give the room a sense of elegance.
The wait staff goes out of its way to make sure that diners are given detailed service. One night, we overheard a waiter offering to have the kitchen make a special seafood linguine for the cowboy (Stetson, Wranglers, and all) who dined solo next to us. Later, this country gentleman said it was the best pasta he's ever had.
It's fun to see Nicola, a waiter from Trieste on the Adriatic Sea, describe the food. And, even better yet, open a bottle of wine.
That night, we started with salmon carpaccio ($8.50) and glasses of Zenato pinot grigio ($6).
Soon, a basket of warm focaccia bread arrived, situated next to a glass ramekin of red chili flake and garlic-kicked olive oil.
The carpaccio was super-thin slices of lightly smoked salmon, semi-cured in lemon juice and finished with extra virgin olive oil, capers, scallion and pulverized Reggiano Parmigiano. We just scooped the delicious shaved fish onto slices of crunchy crostini, followed by a sip of semi-dry pinot grigio.
For an intermezzo, we had simple green salads (gratis with entrÃ©es) tossed in vinaigrette and sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles.
In no time, we were staring at a veal chop special ($30.25) and ravioli con aragosta ($20.75), al dente pasta pouches stuffed with briny lobster meat, lemon zest and ricotta cheese, topped with a bright tomato sauce and two sautéed prawns that were slightly overcooked.
Most impressive was the pan-seared veal chop — French-cut, 14 ounces and perfectly cooked to medium-rare — smothered with roasted garlic cloves, grape tomatoes and finely shaved black truffles.
The chop was finished with fresh sage and a buttery pan sauce, positioned atop an earthy mound of black truffle risotto. A glass of Secco Bertani Valpolicella ($7) cut right through the fat.
We had a grand finale of chocolate-marionberry torte ($5.50), a dense wedge of dark and silky cake studded with plump, little berries.
A few nights later, we stopped in for appetizers.
Right away, we were intrigued by the prospect of fresh asparagus in the fall.
Lightly blanched, locally grown asparagus spears ($8.75) were wrapped with salty prosciutto di Parma and dusted with grated Reggiano Parmigiano.
We also enjoyed the pizza Bianca ($11.50), a medium-sized pie simply topped with marinated artichoke hearts, goat cheese, spinach and caramelized onions. The crust offered a sturdy yet light foundation. We ate the pizza Italian-style — with a fork and knife.
The kitchen gladly split a smoked boar shank entrée ($25) for us. A large hind shank was slowly braised — osso buco-style with tomato, red wine, roasted garlic and basil — until the meat barely clung to the bone, served on a bed of pillowy potato gnocchi tossed in a smoky pan sauce.
Vuolo seems to have a firm grasp on Tuscan cuisine. Don't forget to give him a wild hand gesture on the way out.
James Patrick Kelly is The Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at email@example.com. Listen to him at 7 a.m. Saturdays on "Weekend Idaho" on KBOI 670-AM.
Gino's Grill is just across the mezzanine from his other restaurant on 8th street, Gino's Italian Ristorante.