|This Baton Rouge institution stands the test of time|
Editor's note: Our food critic's name may be false, but the credentials are not. This gastronome has studied the history, cultivation, preparation, science and technology of food for more than 30 years.
There are many Italian restaurants in Baton Rouge, but it seems none is more revered than Gino's. Neither my companions nor myself had eaten here in 10 or more years, but we all seemed to have an unexplainable score to settle with this bastion of Italian eats. Our imaginary score cards ready, we entered the legendary lair with trepidation.
When we arrived on a recent Friday, the softly but amply lit restaurant was half full. Quickly after being seated, the restaurant filled to capacity. As restaurants get crowded, the noise level can become unbearably loud. I was fearful that Gino's would be no different, but I needn't have worried, as none of us ever struggled to be heard. Point one: Gino's.
Our waiter, Ricky, arrived quickly at our table. He seemed knowledgeable about the wine list and easily recommended wine for our different tastes. Given his eloquent description, one friend changed from white to the red he described. When taking our orders, Ricky wrote down nothing, which always make me nervous. But Ricky not only delivered all the food to the right diner, he also remembered the special requests of a particularly picky diner. Point two: Gino's.
I had heard talk of the Seafood Arancine, but as it was unavailable that evening, we ordered the regular. After enjoying an ample ball of tasty ground meat, peas, cheese and rice breaded and fried to a delicate crispness and topped with marvelous tangy red sauce, we didn't miss the Seafood Arancine. And the kitchen kindly split it into two servings so each couple could share. Points three and four: Gino's.
In addition to the magnificent Arancine, we ordered minestrone soup and house salads. The soup had a noticeable oil slick on the surface and tasted a little like Campbell's. One friend noted, “It doesn't have any kind of minestrone flavor.” When more was offered, the same friend gave a loud and definitive “No.” Equally disappointing were the house salads. Lacking flavor, they were boring at best. We'll call this round a draw.
On our waiter's entrée recommendation, one companion ordered the lamb and another seafood lasagna. The lasagna was reasonably sized and fantastically flavored, layered with baby shrimp, gooey cheese and al dente noodles and topped with a splash of red sauce. Packing a punch, it yet lacked the heaviness and overt richness of many lasagnas. It was so good I had entrée envy.
The lamb chops were grilled perfectly, phenomenally tender, and well-seasoned with flavors of garlic, rosemary and olive oil. Served with a side of pesto bowtie pasta, it was a filling dish and required a to-go box. In response to the first succulent bite, my companion exclaimed, “This lamb tastes like a steak! Like a filet.” Point whatever: Gino's.
They all sounded too good to pass up, so we ordered three desserts: Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake, Almond Cream Cake and Lemoncello Cake. The cream cake was composed of ethereal layers of luscious cake and mouth-watering cream topped with crunchy almonds. The lemoncello cake was hard to describe with my mouth full of its moist, lighter-than-air cake, delicate lemon cream layers and topping of white chocolate shavings. The house-made cheesecake was rich and decadent with its Oreo cookie crust, but when compared to the others, it fell slightly short. At this point, though, we had stopped keeping score.
Upon leaving, we sheepishly admitted we had not expected much from Gino's. Yet we were all full, satisfied with the experience and completely confused how we had all missed past opportunities to dine here. We vowed to not let our past define our future. Gino's, as the undisputed winner, you have been avenged. We'll be back.
Almond Cream Cake
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