Gabbiano’s crowd-pleasing Italian-American menu is already leading to weekday table waits

Some restaurants are like some people: you know you’re going to love them from the first moment you see them.

Gabbiano and I clicked right away thanks to its warm and lively interior with walls of hand-painted Italian frescoes, a line cook beating chicken breasts for Parm out back, and a “When you’re here” vibe. , you are family. that Olive Garden can only simulate.

And I’m not the only one feeling this love. Open since January and run by Portland restaurant veterans David Sigal and Blake Foster, the Italian-American-inspired space in northeast Portland is already waiting for its reserved spots, even on a sleepy Wednesday. Though decidedly East Coast red sauce in its overall approach, Gabbiano’s menu could appeal to anyone from a picky kid to a picky traditionalist to a picky foodie.

Everyone is talking about the mozzarella cuts ($10), which sell out early every night. Breaded and fried cheese is served in a molded shot glass filled with tangy marinara. They’re more than a gimmick, however, they’re actually great. Bring the 90s back to life and order a drop of limoncello ($12), a much more interesting twist on the sweet original, with homemade saffron limoncello and roasted lemon vodka.

The classics are also composed. For example, the enormous Chicken Parmesan ($20) is a monolith of juicy brined breast breaded and fried to golden brown perfection, then topped with marinara and generous mozzarella. It’s even juicy the next day when reheated in the oven and made into a sandwich. There’s no spaghetti on the menu, but there is chitarra ($14), a thicker and slightly sweeter version of the noodle that comes with marinara and parmesan cheese. Add the meatballs for $7; it’s a mix of pork and beef with just the right amount of breadcrumbs and fat for a dense, succulent bite.

A Caesar ($12) was standard issue but well done – oh so many anchovies on a bed of crispy gem lettuce, and the fries on an order of calamari ($14) were light enough to give the squid the spotlight. Pro tip: ask for a ramekin of red sauce for dipping, as the aioli was just a bit too rich and understated.

There’s also a nod, here and there, to Pacific Northwest ingredients. Girlfriend Pasta ($25) comes with a generous helping of Dungeness crab on squid ink tagliatelle that’s buttered in front, followed by a substantial kick of Calabrian chili. There’s also some mint in the mix, and more herbs and acid would have been a welcome way to make the dish a bit more complex.

Gabbiano’s joins an already impressive food and drink clique on this little stretch of northeast 30th Avenue, including Expatriate and Dame. I am happy to see that he has become an instant member of this club.

TO EAT: Gabbiano’s, 5411 NE 30th Ave., 503-719-4373, gabbianospdx.com. 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.

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