This sophisticated Italian steakhouse attracts buzz for its authentic cuisine and hot bar scene
Rack of lamb with a mustard and breadcrumb crust
Picture the scene: a not-to-be-named, popular Greenwich restaurant seems oddly quiet on a Thursday night. A few customers are scattered around the normally buzzing bar, but the room lacks its usual rattle and hum. An impeccably dressed 30-something leans toward her friend and asks in a hushed tone: “Where is everyone?” And her friend whispers back, “They’re at Gabriele’s!”
When a chic, contemporary Italian steakhouse like Gabriele’s opens around the corner from Greenwich Avenue, you expect a cool crowd to follow. Throw into the mix a maitre d’ like the fun-loving personality and trivia master Tony Capasso, formerly of Valbella, and you anticipate an even larger group of patrons. Indeed, Gabriele’s, which has taken the place of Luca’s and is a dream fulfilled for owner Danny Gabriele, is fast becoming the most coveted reservation in town.
After eating several meals here, I can say that there is much to recommend on chef Joseph Giordano’s menu and at the bar, not to mention the this-is-the-place-to-be vibe, created in part by the consulting cb5 Restaurant Group.
Inside the front door, iron gates on either side, the décor makes an elegant statement. To the left is the handsome, wood-paneled bar room, complete with a fireplace flanked by large leather club chairs, a backlit wall of top-shelf bottles, and a Kevin Spacey look-alike bartender who will muddle your gin julep to perfection. Plan to arrive early and join the hedge-funders in sampling one of the house specialty cocktails.
The round dining room features picture windows with a view into the bar.
The round dining room with tray ceiling has interior windows that offer a view to the bar. Tables in the middle of the room are suitable for larger groups—the noise level is naturally a bit higher there—while nooks with upholstered seating around the perimeter of the room allow for more privacy. A few moments after being seated, the waiter brings out a starter of sausage bread stuffed with broccoli rabe, compliments of the chef. Tony stops by to take our wine order and steers me to the Invetro Toscano IGT since I’m having just one glass. (The wine list is substantial and there’s even a wine room, its walls lined with more than 2,000 bottles.)
Though all of the portions here are substantial—save your skinny jeans for another night—the appetizers are not to be skipped. Perhaps the most dramatic is the seafood tower, a tiered layering that includes a half lobster, oysters and clams on the half shell, shrimp, crab meat, and more, all served over a bed of dry ice, emitting a smoky vapor. These seafood delicacies are paired with a trio of dipping sauces, chili mignonette, classic cocktail, and a mustard sauce. As if this isn’t exciting enough, the waiter plucks half the lobster tail from its shell with a fork and places it on my plate—now that’s what I call service. A more modest but equally good seafood specialty here is the clams oreganato, a classic version topped with just the right amount of savory breading. For a hearty starter, try the Sicilian meatballs. Rolled with raisins and pine nuts, the meatballs in slow-roasted tomato sauce have a touch of sweetness to them.
The house salad, tossed in a big wooden bowl tableside, features bright greens, cucumbers, tomato, olives and gorgonzola, and is specked with slices of watermelon radish (love their color and crunch). The heirloom tomato salad with roasted beets and robbiolo cheese, so fresh tasting and lightly dressed, is one of the best salads I’ve tasted in a long time.
The seafood tower is piled with shrimp, lobster, crab and more, set on a dramatically smoky bed of dry ice.
Photograph by Tom McGovern
As you might expect, the pasta course is the real deal. Even if you’re here for the seafood or steaks, it’s worth it to order a pasta dish for the table. A few to consider: the spinach and ricotta ravioli with poached egg and truffle butter sauce (the velvety yolk oozes out and mingles with the sauce); rigatoni “Sunday gravy,” a classic dish with sausage, meatballs and ricotta; luscious lobster spaghetti in a cream sauce laced with white truffle.
The steak and chops selection is enough to please any meat lover. I liked the rich, smoky house-made steak sauce paired with the porterhouse. The filet mignon came out precisely medium-rare, lightly crusty on the outside and beautifully pink inside, paired with sautéed peppers and a truffle-butter sauce (there’s a definite bias toward truffles here). Sides? The baked, stuffed potato is a he-man sized spud with crème-fraiche and bacon; it’s peppery and rich. Mashed potatoes are trumped up with mascarpone.
For non-steak entrees, the Lobster Arragiata is my first pick, a two-pounder cooked in a chile-garlic oil. Or, the brick-pressed, marinated chicken with lemon and porcini mushrooms is juicy and flavorful.
Just when we can’t even fathom the D-word, a menu of pastry chef Leanne Mascolli’s creations is set on the table. There’s nothing more fun than nostalgic desserts, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen icebox cake on a restaurant menu. This refined version of the chocolate wafer cake is coated in a mascarpone vanilla cream (instead of the traditional whipped cream) and partnered with Gran Marnier-soaked strawberries. Amazing. Also worth every calorie is the brownie banana split. The warm brownie over carmelized banana is topped with ice cream and served with mini bowls of irresistible add-ons: salted caramel, chopped nuts and nut brittle, whipped cream, bourbon cherries, and cookie crumbs. I think I’ve died and gone to dessert heaven.
The glamorous-but-fun atmosphere at Gabriele’s may be the initial draw, but the fantastic food and wine are what will keep this restaurant on people’s speed dial.
35 Church St.
Cuisine: Italian Steakhouse
Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
(The bar stays open later.)