The first time I may have heard of Gio Rana's was way back when Christine Cushing Live still existed on the Food Network as a new show. But then again, it could've been when I was 16 and read Toronto Life's little red restaurant review book before I went to sleep at night, as if it were the best page-turning thriller novel of my life.
No matter because I will always remember the first time I actually visited and, more importantly, ate at Gio Rana's: this past Saturday night with three great, food-loving university girlfriends.
I love eating, but the experience of eating is so wonderfully enhanced when the people you're with love to share food, drink wine, talk loudly, laugh inappropriately, and don't fuss over how to split the bill when it arrives.
For appetizers, we went for grilled calamari (how could we not? $7.95), prosciutto with fig and goat cheese (so simple but tasty $6.95), and the mother of all meatballs (easily bigger than my fist yet somehow perfectly cooked inside-through-out $7.95). For main, I had bites of osso buco (sticky, sweet, warm and comforting $15.95), veal parm (saucy, meaty, hearty $??) and ordered a whole grilled seabass ($19.95) all to myself. I'm greedy, I know.
I love whole fish. This seabass was paper-thin crispy (like Korean fried chicken!) on the outside, and flaky and moist on the inside. There were some parts that were a little dry but for $20, it's hard to go wrong; especially considering the other whole fish I've had were more in the $30 range (Vertical and my regular Italian spot, Sapori at Yonge&Lawrence).
I drank a merlot and had a great cappaccino -- it's been a long time since I've had great coffee. We ended it all with a chocolate brownie in caramel sauce and berries ($7.95?), and a goat cheese cheesecake with a keylime sauce ($7.95?). I've grown away from chocolate desserts (although I still love them) and am so drawn to citrusy flavours now. So I pretty much devoured the cheesecake. I wasn't sure how I would like the goat-cheesiness, and I loved.
Service was amicable and attentive enough (except with the bill, but we were okay to linger). Place was busy, loud, conversational, dim with candlelight and all woods. Table too small for all of our foodiness.
I'm still having dreams about the meal.