Girasole

Reviews

Review by Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post

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GOOD

The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2016 Spring Dining Guide.

Girasole is the friend you haven’t seen in forever but know you can count on even after a long absence (six years, in my case). The same things I appreciated about the two-story, family-run hunt country retreat back then are the details I applaud now: pastas made in-house, neighborly service and a main dining room that pulls the outdoors in with the help of streams of light and paintings of rolling hills. The fritto misto is terrific: sweet scallops, shrimp, parsley and more in the barest of batters. Soups (rustic white bean with shaved Parmesan) have the edge over salads (arugula with sliced pear and gorgonzola is over-dressed). Specials are exactly that, and if you hear about lamb “three ways,” seize the opportunity to enjoy a chop, sausage and supple ravioli stuffed with the headliner. By all means, finish with the bright orange cake, one of many temptations on the dessert tray. In Italian, the name of the restaurant translates to both “sunflower” and “surrounded by the sun.” In reality, Girasole radiates warmth — and suggests you drop by more often.unspecifiedunspecified-1 unspecified-2unspecified-3

12 Noteworthy Small Bites Restaurants in Virginia

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A sunflower blooms in The Plains

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Selecting a restaurant’s name could be a challenge. But for Lydia and Louis Patierno, the setting inspired their choice: Girasole, Italian for “sunflower.” This cheerful restaurant in The Plains measures up to its name: bright and sunny, thanks to the expansive windows that wrap around the dining room, lush with outdoor foliage in warm weather and colorful with huge vases of vibrant flowers indoors – including, of course, sunflowers. The restaurant’s name, said Mr. Patierno, also connotes both “country” and Tuscany, where sunflowers grow abundantly.

Opening up Girasole nine years ago while still operating their now-sold Manassas restaurant, Panino, the Patiernos consider their finding this location a stroke of divine luck. “I used to come out between lunch and dinner from Manassas for trout fishing,” said Mr. Patierno. “I would drive around and see this corner building, and I would think that this is where I would like to be. If I were out here, I wouldn’t need to drive around looking for a place to fish.”

When the former owner put Girasole up for sale, the couple decided to make the move and to open a country place that features exquisite, from-scratch and traditional Italian cooking – that means breads, pastas, sauces, cured meats and pastries made on the premises by Mr. Patierno, the head chef. It helps, of course, that both grew up in Italian families, where honest home cooking prevailed – although Mrs. Patierno’s mother was Polish. “My uncle had an Italian provision import business,” she said. “I had a chance to work for him, and that sparked my interest in food.”

As for Mr. Patierno, as a college student he spent time in Ravena, in the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. “That is a very culinary region,” he said. “So, without realizing it, I was absorbing a lot of food knowledge.”

It also helps that both Patiernos are dedicated foodies, having degrees from the Culinary Institute of America and having held assorted chef and management jobs in numerous restaurants, including one very prestigious D.C. restaurant. “I worked at the late Tiberio restaurant in Washington,” Mr. Patierno said about this very high-end destination. “I worked with a lot of great people, mostly Europeans who learned kitchen skills from the bottom up.”

His wife, on the other hand, interned for famed chef Hubert Schmeider after cooking school, then worked in kitchens in Iowa and Indianapolis before returning to D.C. In those days, she discovered, few women were hired to cook in the District, so she worked in hotel management, invaluable training for knowing how to run the couple’s future restaurants.

Now that they focus solely on Girasole, the Patiernos can concentrate full time on structuring a menu that includes such Italian entrée specialties as fritto misto (crisply fried squid, scallops, sole, shrimp, mussels and zucchini) and scaloppini di vitello saltimbocca (veal scaloppini with sautéed onions, roasted red peppers and light tomato sauce). Appetizers include mozzarella fritti (fried mozzarella with a light lemon anchovy sauce). And don’t bypass the pasta. Who could resist pappardella alla Bolognese (wide pasta ribbons with a classic meat sauce)? Delicate pastries and cups of espresso wind up the meal.

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Fritto Misto - Girasole - The Plains, VA

GoingOutGuide – In pursuit of good Italian?

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Editorial Review

In pursuit of good Italian?
Stop at Girasole, in Virginia’s hunt country
By Tom Sietsema
September 26, 2010

For the past five years, and always on my way to other restaurants, I’ve been driving past Girasole in Virginia’s hunt country. Such a handsome spread, I thought as my eyes took in a two-story dwelling in the tiny Fauquier County town of The Plains. Such happy-looking faces leaving the place, I mentally noted. Such rustic background music, I observed at least once, when a train rumbled by mere yards from the setting, near where I was idling.

Then off I’d go, to someplace I figured was more important.

Prompted by a fan of the Italian restaurant, I made Girasole my destination rather than my drive-by this summer. What I found was a place that reflects the family that cares for it, and breads, pastas and desserts with a personal touch (most are made in-house).

The menu doesn’t immediately register as anything special. White bean soup, linguine with clams and veal scalloppine aren’t exactly a siren call to book a table in the countryside. Girasole’s chef and owner, Louis Patierno, acknowledges as much when he says the choices are mostly “the generic things people expect to see” at an Italian restaurant.

They might sound simple on paper, but some of those dishes are alluring. Little did I know, for instance, that one of the best fritto mistos in recent memory is about 60 minutes from downtown Washington, at a place that takes its name from the Italian word for sunflower. Even a half-order of the entree delivers enough lightly fried scallops, shrimp, mussels and zucchini for two to share. Just squeeze on some lemon juice, and you have yourself a golden feast. Proof that not all fried mozzarella is created equal is Girasole’s lightly breaded appetizer, which breaks open to a rush of white lava. Fried parsley leaves and anchovy butter are just the jolts to kick-start the dish. Patierno smokes his own local trout, presented with minced onions and briny capers, and although it’s billed as a first course, it could stand in as a light (and winning) entree. If you trawled for your meal only from the fish and seafood choices, you could be happy; clams with linguine are pleasantly garlicky and zippy with red pepper flakes, while baby octopus is bright with lemon juice and heartier with chickpeas. But thin slices of sauteed veal, fragrant with sage and served on a nest of tasty spinach, provide a delicious reason to go aground. (Too bad there’s but a single dauphine potato gracing the entree.)

That said, what also endears Girasole to me is its many specials, which are described by the servers. Amazingly, none of the staff reads off notes — no small feat when there typically are a dozen specials to talk up.

Veering from the standing script might reward diners with floppy ravioli stuffed with chunks of tender lamb, cloaked in a dusky yellow curry sauce and sprinkled with golden raisins. Or tube-shaped, tomato-sauced cannelloni hiding soft ground veal in their centers. If trout is on the spoken menu, go fish. You might get lucky, as I did recently, with a skin-on sauteed trout splayed on its plate with crisp green beans and a bite of boiled potato. A dusting of crushed pistachios and splashes of lemon-butter sauce embellish the fish.

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