When it comes to Italian restaurants, it seems like they often try to do two seemingly opposite things at once. With its ambience and flavors that either come from or are inspired by the “Old Country,” they want the diner to be able to escape to Italy with every bite. Then again, with a welcoming spirit and hospitality, they also want you to feel less like a guest and more like la famiglia. As far as Italian restaurants in Lexington are concerned, one could argue that Giuseppe’s Ristorante Italiano has built its reputation by doing this better than anyone else in Central Kentucky. Before I proceed, a confession must be made. As TOPS’ resident foodie, I’m sent to plenty of restaurants. Some I’ve been to before. Others are newly opened and/or I’m experiencing for the very first time. Giuseppe’s falls into the latter category, and for some strange reason, I felt guilty because of it. The years I’ve spent off-and-on living in Lexington, I’ve seen the restaurant’s eye-catching billboards with Renaissance art. I read where they have live jazz, a fact that made me even more curious. I’ve even heard good things about the food from friends who have dined there. Yet, I never got the full motivation to seek it out and try it for myself. If anybody has been to Giuseppe’s, saying you have to “seek it out” is a bit of an understatement. The restaurant is discretely tucked away on Nicholasville Road like it’s playing a game of hide-and-seek. This is where owner/chef Steve Olmstead opened the restaurant 19 years ago, when it was called the aptly named Hidden Cove. For nearly two decades, Giuseppe’s wiggled its way into a special place in the hearts of many Lexington diners. With its capacity to seat large parties and its private dining room, it’s where many a special occasion is celebrated. There is even a particular table in the restaurant, Table 5, which is the most reserved spot in the house. It’s a place where marriage proposals are made and then gets reserved down the road to celebrate the couple’s wedding anniversary. Part of Giuseppe’s charm for some is how much the restaurant’s interior hasn’t changed. When it comes to the menu, whether you’re trying one of its most popular dishes or a new item, Olmstead and the other chefs in the kitchen make sure consistency in quality and flavor is key. There was an insistence on trying the restaurant’s calamari fritti. I’ve had my fair share of this appetizer, and Giuseppe’s ranks right up there, with just the right amount of perfectly-fried breading, the tangy heat of sautéed banana peppers and a chunky and hearty marinara dipping sauce whose recipe I’m willing to bribe someone on staff to get. There was plenty I liked about one of the house favorites: Tortellini alla panna e pesto. When it comes to Italian, cheese-filled pasta puts me in a happy place, but it was further enhanced by the salt of Prosciutto ham, sautéed asparagus tips and a wonderful pesto cream sauce topped with the welcome crunch of toasted pine nuts. Despite its winners on the pasta and land-bound protein portions of the menu, Giuseppe’s has taken particular pride of late with the freshness of its seafood. The oven-roasted sea bass with lobster chili butter sauce is quickly starting to gain a legendary status amongst the regulars. This particular evening, I had a pan-seared red snapper special, cooked perfectly with a white wine lemon butter sauce served with sautéed spinach and garnished with bay shrimp. It may be one of the few occasions where I had a pasta-less Italian meal and felt totally content. Finishing things off with the restaurant’s tiramisu certainly isn’t a bad way to cap off the night. This lighter, creamier take on the popular Italian dessert is also popular among Lexington diners. As I was wrestling with saving half of it to take home to my wife or giving in to my primal urge to lick up every last morsel, I could see why. When a restaurant gets it right, it shows in a number of ways. At Giuseppe’s, it shows in the delightful dishes that come from the kitchen and a staff that tries just as hard to make both new guests and old friends feel like they are on equal footing within its walls. I, for one, felt right at home. Grazie. 859.272.4269 | 4456 Old Nicholasville Road |
Posted on 2013-05-01 by