Sometimes I just want classic Italian food.
Not that I don’t appreciate the New Age twists on Italian cuisine found at many local restaurants, but there are times I crave simple spaghetti and meatballs or cheese raviolis with a hearty green salad.
When I get those cravings, I often wander down to Gina’s Italian Cuisine restaurant in the Village of Arroyo Grande.
The 20-year-old eatery doesn’t boast any of the modern design elements found at some other local Italian bistros, but it evokes comfort and charm with its clutter of linen-covered tables, wooden chairs, delicate china displays on the walls and vases of fresh flowers on each table.
Owner Hilary Kuphal is celebrating her 10th year as the restaurant’s owner with her husband, Steve.
The menu at Gina’s is simple and straightforward, changing slightly between lunch and dinner. Daily specials are written on a white board, as are the local wines by the glass and homemade desserts. Wines are fairly priced, with a glass hovering around $5 and bottles costing $20 to $40.
I was immediately intrigued by the goat cheese ravioli daily special, but so were my two guests, and we couldn’t all have the same thing, after all.
Instead, I focused on the available appetizers, which included classic tomato and basil bruschetta and beef carpaccio.
The delicate, raw meat was so thinly sliced, it was practically translucent. It was hidden under a pile of spinach, Kalamata olives, capers and a tangle of red onion rings. All were tossed with balsamic vinegar and drizzled with Dijon mustard resulting in refreshing albeit acidic dish. It was also an ample serving, nearly too much for an appetizer, but we gladly finished it off.
Carpaccio is a little more exotic than the rest of the dishes offered at Gina’s, and I appreciated the variation in appetizer choices.
Salad or soup can be paired with any lunch for $2.50 so we enjoyed Caesar and garden salads with the carpaccio until the pastas arrived. Sandwiches, calzones and pizzas are also available, but pasta is king here — especially any of the house-made ravioli dishes.
The goat cheese and spinach ravioli ($8.95) was a plate of delicate ravioli stuffed with rich and pungent goat cheese and a dash of spinach. A creamy marinara sauce covered the delicious pasta, which was obviously homemade.
The linguine con pollo ($8.95) mixed perfectly al dente-cooked noodles with mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, basil and garlic, coated in a light white wine sauce. The garlic and mushroom flavors married well, and this, too, was an outstanding dish.
Meals are served with bowls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a nice touch, as is the complimentary bread and tomato bruschetta that arrived shortly after we were seated.
The service at Gina’s was ideal. Our server was charming, knowledgeable and attentive, but did not hover.
Desserts are $5 and many sounded delectable, including the cannolis, crème brulée and chocolate cake. We opted for the Milky Way cheesecake and were quickly consumed by its rich and creamy mocha flavoring. Split three ways, it was the perfect sweet ending to a delicious Italian lunch.
Gina’s isn’t following any new culinary trends, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a welcoming bistro serving fresh ingredients at fair prices. That recipe for success has worked for the past 20 years, I see no reason it shouldn’t work for another 20.