Dear Friends & Readers,
once upon a time there was a girl who lived in Italy and she loved tortellini. But her Region of Italy, Campania, wasn’t really big on tortellini. She could have pizza until her face was blue but good tortellini were difficult to find. Then one day she saw a warm and inviting face on TV: it was a commercial where a chubby and cheerful grandpa was teaching his grandchildren how to make tortellini. That man on TV was (and still is) Giovanni Rana, the first man to become a brand in Italy. Putting one’s face on a product (literally) was venturing into an unexplored marketing territory in the 90s in Italy. But the commercials became an instant hit (along with the great product) and Giovanni Rana became an household name (and face) in Italy selling tortellini, cappelletti, ravioli and all sorts of stuffed pasta. A solid product and smart advertisement had created a phenomenon.
Recently I heard of the brand expansion in the United States and was delighted to hear that Giovanni Rana (the brand) had opened Giovanni Rana (the restaurant) in the Chelsea Market. One of my coworkers, who knows what he is talking about when it comes to pasta, suggested that I visit. And visit we did! Five times to be precise, for brunch, lunch and dinner. My meal partners in crime? My culinary adventurous and slightly picky husband, known on this blog as the “Pirate”, my Fellow Blogger Holly from Random Cravings, a Californian Friend and a lovely Canadian couple you probably remember from this. I even met the culinary master, the man behind the tortellini, Chef Giancarlo Perbellini! We bonded over the common passion for the traditions of his area, in Verona.
First let’s talk about the location: Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina is located in the Chelsea Market, next door to Buddakan, in a space that once was a Nicole Fahri (a British fashion brand) Store and Cafe’. The way they have revamped the space is absolutely superb. There is a rustic and homey feel to the copper pans and the wooden tables, but the brick wall screams New York City. The restaurant is modern yet inviting and also kid friendly. Every child at the table gets a sheet of pasta and molds to play with different shapes.
In the far side of the restaurant there is the are where pasta is for sale. For those who don’t want to bother with pots and pans (and in NYC there’s many) you can have your pasta cooked on the spot for you and dressed with freshly made sauces. The Pirate and I bought some chili pepper and garlic pappardelle that I cooked with a simple cherry tomato sauce. It was to die for!
And now for the food… As you probably know stuffed pasta, especially when it is commercialized and distributed, can at times be a mixed pot. Fortunately at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina the standards are very high. Every dish maintains the highest level of integrity with respect to the honed pasta making tradition. But is you are thinking that a) Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina is all about pasta and b) your grandma can cook just as well, you are certainly wrong. Along with perfectly executed dishes of pasta there are some amazing appetizers and entrees. These are the pastas I have tasted so far: ricotta and spinach girasole (ricotta and spinach ravioli served in a bowl of parmigiano), artichoke and smoked mozzarella ravioli, gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar triangles, the lobster ravioli, squid ink spaghetti with sea urchin. The appetizers were equally delicious: taleggio stuffed artichokes, polenta fries, a carasau (sardinian flatbread) and burrata salad, trio of crostini. The Pirate once had the maialino (a juicy and tender piece of pork with crunchy skin that would put porchetta to shame). Finally the desserts are not to be missed although by the time the dessert menu arrives you are probably in carb coma already… but how can you say no to fried chocolate ravioli?
Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina is a great restaurant with a laid back yet modern feel to it, great service and impeccable food. For anyone living in, or visiting, New York it is an absolute must try!
(pictures courtesy of Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, Holly @ Random Cravings, Serena Palumbo)