Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant
When it's Friday night and a pleasant dinner out is on the menu, optimally, it'd be a combination of great food (of course), a fun atmosphere, brisk service, and not having to spend much time trying to figure out where to go. Everyone has that go to place. Mine is Gio's.
You may also know it by its full name Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant or alternatively as The Nose due to the giant, hard-to-miss giant paper mache likeness that stands for a sign. Housed in what used to be a bank, the decor is just as kitschy, with art that's vaguely affiliated with the Italian genre. The high ceilings lend a spacious feel however, distracting from the majority of the tables that come close to touching.
I don't really go for the ambiance, though, which does attract a crowd on the weekends that might be confused with the sort of queue more aptly found in the club district. Think dinner by candlelight that attractively blurs your date, yet makes seeing your plate difficult; plus trying to talk over what could be funky house music.
As with any place I go to, it's for the food. The menu is divided into four courses: antipasti (salads, seafood), primi (pastas), secondi (meats, fish), and side veg. Sometimes you'll get the gregarious guy in the baseball cap who recommends ordering two dishes and some veg to share. If, like me, you always end up wanting what the other person ordered, this is the perfect way to eat. Two of us shared, and thus were able to sample four different things.
Scotty's meatball ($6.95) was the size of a baseball, light as sponge-cake, and doused in a rich, velvety, zingy tomato sauce (the sort that I just can't duplicate at home) and shreds of golden, smoky parm.
The fritto misto ($9.95) were perfectly fried calamari and tiger prawns, plump, moist, with a light yet crisp exterior served with a slick of pesto on one side, and chili-infused olive oil on the other.
Gorgonzola gnocchi ($6.95) tasted of a bacon-esque smoke from the cheese, were paradoxically dense yet airy at once, and dressed just enough in that same rich tomato sauce.
The Involtini ($13.95), cigars of shredded pork stuffed into rib-eye, topped with goat's cheese, is one of those dishes that makes me hesitate going veggie again. Tender beef, with a hint of salivating-inducing char, encases sweet and succulent pork, which is further married by the silky fluff of cheese.
Now, about seven years later, rediscovering Gio's; finding that it's home in Leslieville is just as good or even better than I remembered back when I frequented the Yonge/Eg location, is as satisfying as their gnocchi.