Review: Gia Visto

Gia Visto delivers flavorful homemade Italian food in an off-the-beaten-track Monroeville location.

Photos by Laura Petrilla

Gia Visto occupies the space of the former La Cucina Dolce. In fact, the restaurant’s name — meaning “seen again” (or, more loosely, “déjà vu”) — is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the familiarity of the staff and recipes.

Owners Jill Varmecky (also general manager and occasional chef) and Michael “Mac” McKay worked at La Cucina Dolce until it closed in August 2011 — as did executive chef Eric Delliquadri. 

The creation of Gia Visto was a “labor of love,” says Varmecky, with support from families and friends, local business owners, the Monroeville Chamber of Commerce and former La Cucina Dolce staffers and loyal patrons. Together, they remodeled the space and reshaped the menu; as a result, the ethos of Gia Visto is that of a friendly neighborhood eatery.

“We have heart and personality and a good sense of humor,” says Varmecky. “We are happy to be together and promise delicious food and friendly service.”

The restaurant serves traditional Italian fare with a fresh point of view.

“I want all my food to be spot-on and taste great,” says Delliquadri. “I want people to be able to get traditional items, like spaghetti and meatballs, which are delicious — but I also want them to try foods [they] can’t get elsewhere in Monroeville.”

The starters are indeed “spot-on,” and all bread (except the sliced sandwich loaf) is made in-house. Guests at each table receive focaccia (which is excellent) and Italian (which is satisfactory). The grilled asparagus appetizer ($8.95) is perfect, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes, slices of fresh Mozzarella and a drizzle of 25-year aged balsamic vinegar. The beans and greens ($8.95; $3 extra for sausage, salmon, chicken or shrimp) is also delicious — although a little different from the traditional version in that it’s dry, not soupy, and has chunked potatoes. The wedding soup ($3.95, cup; $4.95, bowl) is unusually fresh with homemade meatballs and tender chicken chunks. The house salad ($4.95), featuring roasted hazelnuts, Gorgonzola and raisins, is also a nice treat.

Among the entrées, there are hits and misses. My least favorite is the Romano-crusted chicken over spaghetti with tomato-basil sauce ($17.95); it’s uninspired, with thick chicken and simple flavors. At the other extreme, the fresh bucatini pasta with shrimp alla puttanesca ($20.95), packed with garlic, tomato, olive oil and anchovies, is great.

There’s a nice pasta feature: Choose a type of noodle (penne, spaghetti, bruco and bucatini from Fede and De Cecco — or the housemade ricotta gnocchi), sauce (roasted red-pepper, tomato-basil, aglio olio, Romano cream and vodka) and meat (chicken, sausage, meatballs, salmon and shrimp) to create your own dish.

But you can order various meat and fish meals, too. Among the most popular is the roasted pork shank ($23.95) — tender and meaty, braised for five to six hours, and served with a toothy farro “risotto,” grilled asparagus and a lemon-mint gremolata.

Gia Visto is also open for lunch, offering paninis ($8.95-$9.95), pastas ($7.95-$12.95), entrée-sized salads ($10.95-$13.95) and thin-crust pizzas ($8.50-$9.95).

Most desserts ($5.95) are made in-house — including tiramisu, chocolate fudge cake and banana semifreddo — and are fine, just not remarkable. Assorted (rotating) flavors of Mulberry Street gelato are also available.

Food is served in a convivial environment, full of laughter and bright colors. The interior features hardwood floors, mustard- and red sauce-colored walls, colorful slate tiles, and bright decorative glass pieces. Interestingly, the kitchen is visible from the waiting area, not the dining room, which gives diners a chance to smell the food before being seated.

Because word has spread about this place, dinner reservations are now a must. Fortunately, lunchtime is quieter, as many business folks chat over their meal.

Although the restaurant is BYOB (with a $4 fee per bottle), it offers monthly wine dinners ($65 per person); guests pay for the food and receive complimentary wine. Gia Visto also schedules monthly children’s cooking classes ($50 per child), where kids age 7 to 12 prepare a four-course dinner for four to take home.

In a sea of chain restaurants, Gia Visto is refreshing. It’s good enough to be a destination or simply a nice resting place when you’re in the area.

Eric Delliquadri | Executive Chef, Gia Visto

How did you become a chef?  
I have a degree in psychology and was working at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic getting ready to apply for graduate school [where I intended to study forensic psychology]. Then I [realized] that I really wanted to study cooking. I come from a family of excellent cooks, particularly my grandmothers and mom, and have always loved to cook. So I went to the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts and did my externship in Matthew’s Restaurant in Jacksonville, Fla., with chef Matthew Medure, who has ties to Pittsburgh. That’s where I really developed my point of view.

What other advice did you get from chef Medure?
He told me to try working in as many kitchens as possible to be exposed to different styles of cooking. After [leaving] Florida, I worked at Longue Vue Club [in Penn Hills], where I met [Gia Visto co-owner] Jill. I’ve also worked at Isabela on Grandview, Soba and Casbah — and even at the Nordstrom Café, where I learned a lot about production and purchasing. My last stop before Gia Visto was La Cucina Dolce.

What advice do you have about cooking?
Don’t be intimidated by food or photographs in a book. Get a new mindset. Cooking [is] fun. So what if you screw up? Sometimes, you can make a mistake and end up with something better or different than you had intended. Just keep trying and don’t get worried.

Where do you like to shop for food?
Of course, I love the Strip District, especially when buying cheese. I like Marty’s Market, the Strip’s [relatively] new grocery/restaurant.

What are your favorite cheeses?
My favorites are Tallegio, Reggiano Parmigiano, Pecorino Toscano or Ginepro, and Dolce Gorgonzola. I like to have a cheese platter at the restaurant — but I find that my diners aren’t always that adventurous with cheese, so I try to put a more unusual cheese on the platter so people can try at least one new one. 

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