Giardino is a handsome restaurant (with its own parking lot; a plus) where
one goes for Italian food in a very traditional mode. There's no pretense here;
the entire staff are consummate professionals, all smiling, and dedicated to
making the guest feel comfortable. The food ain't bad at all, either, and
is a great value in this age of tiny portions and $60 steaks it's
genuinely hard to find service, quality and value all at one location.
The hamlet of Douglaston, New York (east of Little Neck on Long Island),
although bisected by busy Douglaston Parkway, has always had a charm about it
that the surrounding towns lack. We drove around and noted some changes in the
neighborhood, but the lovely street that Giardino is on hasn't changed. A
Mecca for locals seeking fine Italian food, Giordano's occupies the corner of
a street which in a single block has a very good Italian market, as well as a
great Italian bakery, too.
The Giardino staff, two of whom greeted us like old friends, are part of a dying
breed; restaurant professionals. Captain, waiters, servers and busboys
all work as a team, and are empowered to attend to any of your needs. This is a
fine policy. (At most other restaurants, if one asks a busboy for anything other
than more ice-water or more coffee, they typically run to get the waiter.) Our
waiter on a recent Wednesday evening was amazing. He anticipated our needs,
almost telepathically, after a brief discussion of what we wanted to eat.
The wine list is value priced and contains some very popular (mundane)
selections but also some nicely-priced Italian wines that are very appropriate
and very good. Their house Chianti is surprisingly satisfying. Disappointing is
that there's not a bottle of Amarone to be found anywhere. With food this
good, it'd be nice if they chose to stock that most precious of Italian wines.
An appetizer of Mozzarella en Carozza (hard to find these days -
basically a fancy grilled cheese sandwich with anchovy paste and occasionally
marrow sauce) was superbly prepared, although here a red sauce substitutes for
the usual brown. On another visit a simple Sicilian Salad (like Caesar; add
olives, tomatoes, prosciutto and sharp provolone) was delectable, and not
drowned in dressing. Restraint is one of the kitchen's finer attributes. They
have a shrimp cocktail which includes lump crabmeat as well, and offer, beside
traditional red seafood sauce, a scrumptious lemon zabaglione (not sweet, mind
you) which is like a cloud of Heavenly lemon goodness; a good foil for the
richness of the perfectly-prepared chilled seafood. It's enough for two and is
Pastas are widely varied and a great value. Perfectly-cooked fettucine in
Bolognese sauce was rich and delicious (and abundant;
prepare to take doggie bags home). Another evening the linguine di mare
(linguine with all manner of strictly fresh seafood, including a half lobster)
was a $27 pasta course I would've paid twice that for and been just as happy. I
look forward to being able to try their traditional "Sunday Sauce;" their
version which contains the usual sauteed and then slow-cooked meats in tomato
sauce. However, true to Italian tradition, it's only served Sundays.
On our most recent visit colossal scallops oreganata, (a special highly
recommended by the server) had been broiled with a complex, reduced sauce and
olive oil. The restraint in using strong flavors again was what turned this dish
from "good" to "fabulous." The scallops could not have been more fresh, and
their delectably delicate flavor shone through the simple, light sauce and
dusting of breadcrumbs that topped the scallops. For qualification's sake, I
rarely appreciate oregano as a spice; however I knew from experience with the
restaurant's other dishes that the oregano contained in this dish would be the
fresh kind (the dried spice has no use in my kitchen) and would be used
sparingly. It was perfect.
The delightfully-cooked veal chop was tender and juicy. We felt guilty that
it was only $34. I'm used to paying quite a bit more for a generous, thick,
perfectly cooked chop.
All vegetables are fresh and pristine. You must get the broccoli rabe sauteed with lots of garlic. It's just heaven. They get the
texture and color perfect; not an easy accomplishment.
Lighter fare is available also. We've not tried their brick-oven pizza but
the herbed baked pizza dough in our breadbasket was exquisite. We noticed on
each visit at least one table enjoying the pizza as an appetizer or a meal.
Espresso (with the house anisette; a little sweet for my taste; but
compliments of our server) is done right and whisked to the table. Dessert
offerings were short and sweet (pardon the pun). Homemade tiramisu on one
occasion was just fabulous. We have yet to try the cannolis, also
homemade. Cheescake, well, after a generous meal it's a bit much; perhaps
that's why we found it lackluster but authentic nonetheless.
If pre- or post- dinner cocktails are your bag, the handsome bar is
well-stocked and the staff there genuinely friendly. Drinks are generous and
On one's way out, I guarantee someone (perhaps more than one person) will
genuinely inquire about your satisfaction. On our most recent visit, it was
Michael, the restaurant's general manager.
A word about ambience. Don't come here if you're looking for halogen
lighting, granite tabletops, fashionable linens or sponge-painted wall
treatments. The hand-painted Italian murals on the walls are a little "busy."
Wrought iron decorations abound; the "rustic" feel is emphasized a bit too much
in our opinion. There are even coach light-style wall sconces with amber lamps
in them; harkening back to when many Italian restaurants decorated in
this fashion. It could be a bit darker in the dining room. It's spotlessly
clean, however. The table appointments are fabulous, not clunky. Wineglasses, in particular, are paper-thin and, after a pre-dinner cocktail, somewhat spooky to hold. Our toasts were amazingly restrained, in such horror were we that the lovely wine glasses crack like eggshells when impacted with one another.
Regarding overall quality; suffice it to say that this place is worth a
trip from Manhattan. Each experience has been memorable. Would that more
restaurants paid this much attention to service, quality and tradition.
The restaurant is open 7 days and offers generous hours for those who care to
Because of the convenience of the pastry shop and Italian market; I used to
make a stop for lunch at Giardino's before enduring the long drive out to The Hamptons. It was convenient in that I could buy meats,
cheeses and pastries for my hosts but enjoy a great meal before going food
shopping. I'll not bore you with my own version of what happens to me when I go
food shopping when hungry. Anyone who digs cooking will
be all too familiar with what happens.
The restaurant is owned by the Russo family, of the famous Russo's by the Bay
Catering Hall in Howard Beach, Queens. They have another restaurant, as well,
in Howard Beach.
44-37 Douglaston Parkway
Douglaston, NY 11363
UPDATE 2/23/08: Giordino's manager, Michael, sent a lovely email saying he was grateful for the support. I responded that we'd continue going out of our way to experience this fabulous place. I let them know in another /msg that the noder demographic, you know, so few noders are *anywhere near* this place. This is the kinda place I'd get a car service take me out there and then back to Manhattan, however. Anyone who comes into Kennedy airport, you *must* go farther out on the island first, failure to go a few minutes' out of one's way to this eatery is a sin!
UPDATE 9/17/08: Every Wednesday is now "Pizza Night." For a prix fixe
one gets a pizza, calzone, and a chance to graze among the delights of a cold
appetizer table. Sadly, we opted out of the most incredible deal this restaurant
has ever offered, and stuck to less carbohydrate-based items due to dietary
restrictions on this visit. The mussels in red sauce were pristine and
delightful, as usual. Caesar salad was particularly good, (we could tell the
richness was not from mayonnaise but from egg yolks); they didn't spare the Reggiano
I don't think I bothered to tell you that this pizza and the calzones are
made in a wood-fired oven. We brought home some topping-less pizza ("focaccia")
that my wife enjoyed very much. We also brought back two quarts of their superb
Marinara sauce because the trip to the restaurant is two hours from home in
On the way out, our eyes opened like saucers when we saw all of our favorite
cold appetizers laid out in huge platters on a multi-level serving display,
awaiting the side-dishes of the pizza and calzone lovers. Prosciutto, good
cheeses, fruit, and salads were in abundance.
There's one problem with pizza night. How can we possibly justify eating that
many calories when we could opt, as we did that night, for much lighter seafood
fare? Easy choice right now but we're sure that the pizza, calzones and
attractive array of hors d'oeuvres will be singing its siren song to us soon