Primo pasta on The Hill

We’ve lived in our South City neighborhood – which borders The Hill – for six years. In that time, we’ve eaten at restaurants on The Hill exactly twice. No slight intended; we love The Hill. But we’re so often cooking Italian that the thought of going out for Italian just never hits us. Yet once in a while we owe it to ourselves to go out, if for no other reason than to discover some new dishes to bring back to cucina nostra. That’s what got us over to Gian-Tony’s.

Brendan and Duncan were excited by the short drive; nothing makes waiting to eat worse than having to endure a long trip to the restaurant. They scrambled into their seats and whipped open their menus. Before Kathy or I could make any recommendations, Brendan, showing off his developing reading skills, found ravioli on the menu and declared it his choice. The immediate echo from the other side of the table meant we could concentrate on picking our own entrées; Kathy ordered seafood ravioli, and I chose Pasta alla Roma – penne in a cream sauce with pine nuts and Gorgonzola.

The wait for our orders seemed to take a while; then again, when there’s not a lot to distract the kids outside of your own imagination, sometimes seconds can seem like an eternity. But soon bread arrived, followed in short order by salads all around. Once the boys had something to chew on, spirits improved and time sped up again.

The boys’ order – an entrée portion, split – seemed like just the right size, and they took little time in gobbling down the plump, meaty pillows. Kathy gave them each a bite of her ravioli, which was covered in a light tomato and white-wine sauce, but it still wasn’t enough for Brendan, the 6-year-old with a 16-year-old’s appetite. Unlike everyone else’s ravioli, however, my penne came in an abundant mound. The creamy, tangy sauce demanded moderation, so rather than trying to polish it off, I pushed my plate to Brendan to see if he could make a dent in it.

When Brendan finally pushed the remnants back, I was ready to call it a night. But then our server mentioned dessert. Brendan managed to put away a chocolate crème brûlée, while Kathy and Duncan made short work of their tiramisu. I just shook my head in wonder; if I’d had even a smidgen more room, I’d’ve eaten more of that tasty penne.

On our second trip, I suggested to the boys that they try the cannelloni – an egg crêpe stuffed with veal, veggies and cheese. Having skimmed Gian-Tony’s online menu, I’d already locked onto the Fettucine alla Gian-Tony’s – a traditional Alfredo sauce with shrimp and mushrooms added. Kathy went for the Vitello alla Parmigiana, which pumped up the usual veal Parmesan with an added layer of sliced eggplant.

Kathy and I were both pretty pleased with our meals. I wouldn’t have minded if the shrimp had been a little larger, but the Alfredo sauce was creamy bliss. The boys, though, weren’t so enthused by their cannelloni. In truth, it was hard to find the cannelloni itself under the blanket of sauce, and the broiled mozzarella made it tough for them to cut through. The crêpe fell to mush, rather than standing as an elegant tube. Brendan worked through at least half of his, and I tried to get Duncan to sop everything up on slices of bread, but he was reluctant to work that hard. They both settled for bites off my plate to make up the difference.

So long as there are salumerias and bakeries on The Hill, we’ll still tend to visit primarily for the markets. But after our trips to Gian-Tony’s, we’ve agreed that sometimes it’s good to indulge and let the pros pamper us. Two big and two little forks up, and twirled with pasta!