I finally made it to Gio's Chicken Amalfitano last Friday. The new restaurant is from Giovanni di Palma, already famous for Antico Pizza, which most critics believe serves the best pizza in town. Now, many are saying the same about di Palma's participation in the latest food fad - roasted chicken.
I avoided the restaurant its first month, because it was takeout-only and attracting crowds. Now, it has opened a roomy dining room of wooden communal tables lit by overhead henhouse lamps. There's another less-decorated, large dining room in the rear. It wasn't in use the night I visited with four friends.
The building's exterior itself, next door to Antico, is about as inconspicuous as it could be. Imagine you've stumbled onto a hideaway where the terrorists are web-footed. But don't worry. Once you're past the windowless brick facade and the uniformed guard in the parking lot, you'll find a friendly staff taking orders at a counter just inside the door.
The chicken ($15-$17) is just plain shockingly good.
The restaurant prepares six different styles (plus a Sunday-only one). I ordered the Scarpiello, served in a huge bowl like everything else here. The hacked, browned and juicy chicken is accompanied by a mound of sausage chunks, along with sweet but piquant little red peppers, cippolini, wedges of potatoes, and red-wine vinegar. The flavors bounce around the palate and the sauce at the bottom of the bowl, more layered than wine, brings them all together. God.
My friend Frank ordered an equally delicious Sorrento-style - lemony and garlicky with olive oil and wild oregano. The menu says the dish features "Amalfi-style lemons." Amalfi, a coastal town near Naples, is famous for its lemons and is the original home of Limoncello.
When my three other friends' dishes came to the table following the complimentary salad, I basically pitched a fit. They had all ordered from the menu of four maccheroni Napoletani. WTF? "We're in a restaurant already famous for its roasted chicken and you ordered pasta?" They claimed I had not suggested they order chicken. I called bullshit and reminded them of the restaurant's name, anyway. Then, while Frank and I devoured our chicken, Bobby and Jay whined and barely touched their enormous portions of the al forno maccheroni, served in the same huge bowls as the chicken. Ryan, however, emptied his bowl of arrabbiata.
A reasonable alternative could be for the table to share one bowl of the pasta, but the restaurant does not permit sharing. I'm not surprised, really, because even a serving of the chicken is enough to feed two less-gluttonous eaters. There are also, by the way, family-size portions available for takeout.
I made an embarrassing error, typical of my oblivious style, at the restaurant. I asked for water only and was handed a tiny plastic cup. I carried it with me to the table, unable to find a water tap. I asked the server if she provided it and she said I needed to go through the door in the rear to get it myself.
I looked around and saw only the kitchen door.
"Are you kidding?" I asked.
"No, you have to get it yourself."
I headed through the kitchen door. A sink was immediately inside and I tried unsuccessfully to turn on the tap. I looked up and the entire staff was staring at me. "You cannot be in here!" someone yelled. "You are not allowed! You must leave!"
It turned out the water tap was in a gloomy corner of the adjacent dining room. I find this a bit punitive for not ordering a bottled drink, but, hey, I'd walk to a well outside if I had to. The payoff is the best chicken I've eaten in our city.
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