Now home to fine dining at a moderate cost Lemon Grove should be thrilled with its newest edition of restaurants, Giardino Neighborhood Cucina. A dream for the Lemon Grove couple, Karina Kravalis and Marco Provino, both have extensive experience in fine dining in the restaurant industry. Chef Marco trained in his homeland of Sicily and brought his art of Sicilian cooking to America where he met his wife. They decided to utilize their talents in creating a one-of-a-kind family restaurant and could think of no better place than where they lived. Located on Broadway, the couple transformed the former Mexican restaurant into a charming boutique villa, with Provino doing most of the work by hand. With plenty of room inside, and outside patio for the warmer weather and utilizing its bar room, the Chef’s Table, you have the ability for a private party for up to 10 people, eight is perfect in a delightful room set aside from the rest of the restaurant. It is beautifully handcrafted and has a wonderful atmosphere for a small gathering of friends and family for a special occasion. Together, Provino and Kravalis created an alluring atmosphere that is only surpassed by the quality and taste of Chef Marco’s Sicilian-Italian fare.
For a small restaurant, Giardino’s menu is extensive with many Italian favorites along with some wonderful surprises not found in most Italian eateries. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this gives Chef Marco the opportunity to exhibit a wide variety of his talents. As host, server and chef for the afternoon, he displayed his talents with an amazing sampling of what Giardino has to offer.
Giardino has a fine selection of wines from all over the world, beers and champagne, but its House Italian Red is a blend that brings back memories of dining in the family restaurants of Italy. Its organic flavor stands well with any dish. For the afternoon, choosing chef’s choice, Provino provided an exceptional blend of flavors and textures. Garlic bread, baked fresh daily is light served with olive oil in a perfect serving size to get the taste buds wanting more. Using his mother’s recipe, he served Meatball Lollipops made with beef, pork, veal, garlic and spicy pomodoro. Light and loose, these meatballs have just enough sauce to enhance the combination of meats with a burst of flavor that melts in your mouth. With less density than most meatballs, it allows the flavors to flow, with no filler to filter the taste. Eggplant rolls are an essential try, with the delicate taste of eggplant engulfing a three cheese delightful dish. Chef Marco cooked an incredible bruschetta, a recipe of his own, with roasted tomato compote with fine Italian cheese, herbs and spices that challenges any bruschetta I’ve ever tasted. The roasted tomato compote, made with some incredible special ingredients takes five hours to prepare, and worth every minute. For the main course, the Lasagna Rosa is remarkable. With a three cheese blend and béchemel, this lasagna is heavy in flavor and light on the belly unlike many pasta dishes. He allows the sauces to compliment the dishes, never overpowering the tasty ingredients within.
Moving on to a little more decadent portion of the meal, Chef Marco broke out some of his private reserved L’Ecrù Sicilia Passito, a delightfully sweet desert wine. Bringing out his cannoli creation, the shells were crisp and the filling rich and bold. Provino said the secret to the best Italian cannoli is in the cheese that has to come from Italy. And in standing with Lemon Grove, he created a sweet, moist lemon cake that should make the city and its people proud.
With such a wide variety of things to choose from, there is plenty of reason to return to Giardino multiple times. There are several menu items that captured my attention, and after eating there, it made me want more. On my list, is Calamari Fritti, Penne made with Wild Boar Sausage, Ciopino, a seafood bouillabaisse and its pistachio crusted salmon. And for breakfast, it is worth the trip just to try Giardino’s Cannoli Waffle. The name alone intrigues me for a return visit just to sample this self-indulging breakfast item.
Giardino’s is not a restaurant to lie on the sideline of places to go. It is a destination for authentic Italian food and could rival any of its kind in Little Italy or the San Diego’s Gaslamp district. I fully expect this to become an East County staple of great places to eat, and the charm of the restaurant and the food it serves is a reflection of the passion behind Provino and Kravlis’ vision for its new home in Lemon Grove.
Breakfast and lunch is served from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., followed by the dinner menu until 10 p.m. Giardino Neighborhood Cucina is located at 8131 Broadway, Lemon Grove. Visit www.giardinosd.com for full menu, reservations and special occasions. Follow it on Facebook and Instagram (fiardinosd).