Gabriele's Italian Steakhouse, Greenwich
With access to better beef than most of us, state-of-the-art dry-aging rooms and high-tech grilling equipment, steakhouses deliver great steaks—and something more. For want of a better word, let’s call it the steakhouse experience—that pervasive, persuasive, soul-satisfying sense of well-being, abundance and solidity in a shaky world. Its parameters are flexible, but to conjure the mood it shouldn’t look like an ice cream parlor and it shouldn’t serve too much of what my grandfather the restaurateur called “bimply food.” Small plates are okay but fill them with something more substantial than kiwi foam.
And don’t forget glamour. Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse never does. A sumptuous redo of the stately freestanding building that used to house Luca’s, Gabriele’s is a romantic throwback to glittery days of yore when steakhouses looked like palaces, ladies wore furs, gentlemen smoked Havana cigars, and a rip-roaring good time was had by all. Its handsome bar and dining room are large and luxe and so are the steaks, and an entire section of the menu devoted to pasta suits the steakhouse concept to a T-bone. Italian nonnas knew more than a thing or two about cosseting family and friends with food.
We were late for our reservation on a busy night but Gabriele’s suave, spiffily suited major domo, Tony Capasso, was all smiles, sympathizing with us about traffic, ushering us to a table and urging us to relax and enjoy. Looking around we could see (and hear—Gabriele’s is loud) that everyone else was eating, drinking and making merry. Before the evening was out, we were doing likewise, swept up in the conviviality of the crowd.
But we had a job to do—sample the steaks. Appetizers, pasta, desserts, too. We started with a beautiful burrata, which passed the fork test with ease. Pricked with the tines of a fork, it jiggled; cut with the side of a fork, it tenderly gave way. In the mouth it was a creamy delight.
A pear-and-prosciutto appetizer put a nouveau twist on an old favorite. The pear slices were roasted, paired with excellent prosciutto, drizzled with truffle honey, strewn with candied walnuts—all attractively arranged on a square plate. For traditionalists, Gabriele’s house salad, a medley of the usual suspects—lettuce, tomato, black olives, cucumber, onion, Gorgonzola, red wine vinaigrette—would be the way to go.
At this point, pasta from heaven arrived. Plump oversized circles of house-made spinach ravioli—each with a perfect soft poached egg inside. Like the ship in the bottle and the pear in Poire Williams liqueur, it makes you wonder: How the heck do they do that? Knowing the trick (I do and Google probably does) in no way diminishes the deliciousness of the result—in this instance a flood of golden egg yolk combining with truffle butter to bathe tender pasta in a luscious sauce.
Having resisted the likes of Sicilian meatballs, clams oreganata and a seafood tower of chilled lobster, crab, shrimp, oysters and clams, we were in fine fettle and raring to chow down on filet mignon, porterhouse and Wagyu flatiron steak medium-rare.
The amazing thing about the filet mignon was that it was grilled and served on the bone. It’s not often served that way. Thick, juicy, buttery in texture as good filets usually are, Gabriele’s filet mignon was endowed with what is often a missing ingredient—rich, deep, meaty flavor—proof of the old saw, “The sweetest meat is nearest the bone.”
Wagyu beef, notable for hyperbole (“the caviar of beef”), was on offer as flatiron steak, an old-fashioned cut making a trendy comeback. Gabriele’s Wagyu was admirably tender but surprisingly lean, with no fat around the edges and minimally marbled.
As such it might be just the ticket for disciplined eaters who insist on skinless chicken and cut the fat off fatty cuts of meat.
But, out for a splurge, we attacked with gusto a big, fat, bone-in porterhouse, sizzling with char that would have made King Henry VIII himself as happy as, well, a king. Juicy, flavorful, tender. Superlatives fail. Of course, we couldn’t eat it all but we loved every bite and took away enough for lunch another day.
Gabriele’s is not entirely devoted to steak. The house-made pasta, eight gorgeously sauced creations, are worth the trip. Pork, veal and lamb were alternate meat options, along with pan-roasted chicken, which we tried. Marinated with lemon and garlic, it was admirably tender and moist but a sweet sauce or glaze (not mentioned on the menu) gave us pause. Sweet chicken? It’s a matter of taste. If you’re looking for fish, however, you’re out of luck. Only lobster (albeit an impressive looking two-pounder) is on offer.
None of us had room for dessert—until we saw the dessert list. Fruit-flavored sorbets and a mango, orange, mascarpone confection we could resist, but two golden oldies cried out to be tried. Icebox cake made with thin, square chocolate wafers slathered with whipped cream, formed into a loaf, chilled and sliced, elicited high praise and a flurry of reminiscences (“My grandmother made it for her bridge club”). Baked Alaska fell short. Introduced by Delmonico’s in New York in 1876 to commemorate the acquisition of what would become our 49th state, the original version consisted of a block of ice cream on a small wooden plank topped with a cloud of meringue, seared swiftly in a hot oven and rushed to the table as the ice cream began melting. Each forkful was a dual taste sensation—hot on the outside, icy cold inside. Gabriele’s version was less dramatic in the mouth—cool meringue on the outside and a thin slice of a rock-hard ice cream inside, with a layer of chocolate sauce.
But Gabriele’s gave us an amplitude of what we came for: great steaks and pastas, good wine, professional service, plus a double helping of la dolce vita.
Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse
35 Church St., Greenwich (203/622-4223; gabrielesofgreenwich.com)
Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10, Friday and Saturday till 11. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $8 to $14, pastas $18 to $32, entrées $17 to $62, desserts $7 to $14.