Italian restaurants in Bangkok have started to catch up with the rest of the world and now offer diners two distinctive choices: spaghetti and pasta places with over-priced, low-quality food or the more trendy eateries that entice customers with innovative menus and elegant atmospheres. Gianni's, on Soi Ton Son, falls into the latter category, thankfully, offering diners the chance to partake of some of the best Italian food available in Bangkok. Chef/owner Gianni is a veteran of the city's restaurant scene, probably best known for his stint at Vito's on Soi Ruam Rudee. This, his first restaurant in the City of Angels, is an elegant yet simple little affair highlighted by two glass walls and tasteful, muted furnishings. The marble floors and off-white banquettes lend an air of seriousness to the room while the colorful mural along one wall and the fashionable lamps soften the effect and brighten things up. As is typical of the Italians, design is an integral part of every aspect of Gianni's down to the blue-frosted glassware on each table and the stylish floral arrangements adorning them.
This sense of design carries over to the presentations of the dishes too, the same philosophy that guided the creators of the room having been adopted by Chef Gianni (and, since we didn't ask, they may be one and the same!). In either case, the plates come to the table decorated well short of the point of ostentation which can be annoying in some restaurants that seem to try a little too hard.
Gianni's creations, on the other hand, seem to possess a sense of casual elegance which is both interesting and yet not obtrusive to the dining experience.
The Italian-inspired design of the large plates echoes the nouvelle pretensions of the California school of minimalism but the food speaks an entirely different language, being plentiful and more down-to-earth. Our selections cut a cross-section through the menu, touching on the seafood, meat, appetizer, soup and salad portions of the menu.
Before we had anything to eat, however, Gianni brought a wonderful bottle of Italian Cabernet from the vineyards of Eugenio Collavini. All of the wine here is Italian, actually, covering many of Italy's wine-producing regions such as Tuscany, Friuli, Venezia, Veneto, Piemonte, Lombardia, Campania, Sardinia and Sicily. The list totals about 60 different bottles and represents a good sampling of some of the fine wines that Italy has to offer. Gianni also stocks a good selection of Italian liqueurs too, maybe the biggest in the city, as he offers Sambucca, Galliano, Mirto, Limoncello and several others. Before any of our ordered dishes appeared, a member of the well-trained and knowledgeable wait staff brought us a small plate of bruschetta -- fresh diced tomatoes with olive oil on toasted bread with basil and a sprinkling of garlic flavoring them. The freshness of the tomatoes and the virginity of the olive oil contributed equally to the superb taste of this mini-appetizer and put us into the right frame of mind for the appetizer and soup that were brought shortly after. The soft-shell crab here is deep-fried quickly giving the shell a crispy texture and keeping the in-sides moist and tender, and also avoiding the greasiness that is usually a result of most attempts at sauteing these delectable crustaceans. The accompanying soup, strachiatelli, was flavored with parmesan which gave it a salty taste and added a heartiness that was welcome. Both of these starters were delicious and were a portent of things to come. The salad course that came next was a little heavier than many salads, being full of chunks of Phuket lobster. The dressing was just the right strength, with a healthy basil flavor included, adding to the simple mixture of greens, which included arugula, without overpowering the taste of the lobster. The result was again delicious. The entrees were nicely presented, as were the rest of the dishes, and very simple in execution. The Italian sausage on one plate was grilled and split and laid on a bed of polenta with what were extremely flavorful mushrooms surrounding the whole plate. The pasta dish that made up the other entree consisted of homemade style strozzapreti, which are made by hand, with a lamb meat sauce that was delicate and tasty. Both of these dishes were well-balanced and happened to go perfectly with the Cabernet, an added bonus.
Dessert was tempting but our stomachs were already full, although we would consider going to Gianni's sometime just for desserts and some of the fine coffees and liqueurs, as mentioned above, that are offered. There's also a selection of grappas, adding to the authentic nature of the menu.
Speaking of which, the menu changes on a fairly regular basis and includes a number of specials every day which are generated by what happens to be fresh and available in the daily marketplaces, much the way many European restaurants serve their customers. And, all of the essential Italian ingredients are imported from Italy such as parmesan and other cheeses, wines, olive oils and many spices. Suffice it to say that the menu selection on any given day is always wide enough to accommodate anyone's tastes for Italian food.