This successful, people-pleasing Italian restaurant in Shadyside, friendly and flavorful, won't rest on its laurels (or sunflowers).
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Burrata (fresh mozzarella filled with cream) with heirloom tomatoes.
Photo by Laura Petrilla
The primi are, for the most part, very tempting. The antipasto ($13.95) is a satisfying, albeit predictable, offering. It includes oven-roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, whole artichoke slices, tasty homemade bean spread, Greek olives, fontina and provolone cheeses. The bruschetta ($7.95) is simple, consisting of hearty (grilled) Italian bread that's spread with soft ricotta and topped with chopped, seasoned tomatoes.
A standout appetizer (available seasonally) is the burrata ($9.95), which stars fresh mozzarella cheese made with cream. The outside is firm, but the inside is creamy and almost liquid like a melted brie. A delicious assortment of baby heirloom tomatoes nicely tossed in simple olive-oil vinaigrette complements the burrata.
Each table is provided with a basket of good-quality Breadworks Italian bread, which is accompanied by butter packets and an olive-oil and balsamic-vinegar carafe.
One of Girasole's most popular dishes for lunch and dinner is the excellent house salad. It's built on a heap of mixed greens, which are topped with cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, shaved red onions, Kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, gorgonzola and, of course, sunflower seeds. All ingredients are tossed in the right amount of tangy homemade vinaigrette. Add grilled chicken or sautéd shrimp for a complete, healthful meal.
The pasta dishes, which come in large portions, are flavorful and sometimes very rich. The decadent spinach and ricotta ravioli ($15.95) features large, thick-skinned ravioli filled with ricotta and a minimal hint of spinach; it's topped with a very rich cream sauce punctuated by chunks of tomato.
A disappointing dish is the torcia, a torch-shaped pasta in a white-wine sauce with rapini, fennel, white beans and miniature meatballs ($17.95). The ingredients are promising, but the dish is more pasta than toppings, and the torcia are soggy from the broth.
The potato gnocchi ($14.95) in marinara sauce is respectable. Both the gnocchi and marinara sauce are a bit run-of-the-mill, but the dish is enhanced by small pieces of fresh mozzarella. The parmesan grated on top by servers at the table adds a nice touch.
In the fall menu, the most popular pasta is the pumpkin ravioli ($17.95) in sage-cream sauce; customers start calling in August in anticipation of its arrival. This dish was not on the menu when I dined, but it's definitely something to try.
For non-pasta dishes, choose among the daily chicken, seafood or meat specials. Girasole has a flair with chicken, frequently offering specials ($20 range) that consist of a sautéd chicken breast combined with any number of Mediterranean ingredients such as pasta, feta or greens.
Daily seafood offerings tend to veer away from traditional Italian fare but often with success. One sea-scallop special ($23.95) features six large, perfectly cooked sautéd scallops on a bed of broccoli, pine nuts and red peppers—a light and colorful dish with a nice contrast of flavors and textures. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch chef Corimski's popular signature meat special, osso bucco served alongside traditional risotto with saffron and basil-lemon gremolata—available the last weekend of every month.
Several people inside and outside of the restaurant staff make the homemade desserts. The Italian rum cake is the best dessert that I sampled; although, it does not in any way resemble a traditional Italian rum cake (a layer cake soaked with rum). It's a piece of buttery bundt cake with caramelized-nut topping sitting on a pool of a little too-thick crème anglaise.
Similarly good is the coconut cake, consisting of a large piece of white cake filled with coconut pastry crème and crowned with whipped topping and coconut. The tiramisù is the weakest dessert I tried—it was soaking wet. It's just as well: You may already be too full for dessert.
What's next for Girasole? The family plans to capitalize on the food's popularity by offering catering services; they've already started catering weddings and other events-miraculously doing so out of the existing tiny restaurant kitchen. The Gerasoles intend to add a catering kitchen at a separate location to pursue this new line of business.