Ristorante Gioia: Amazing Italian Food

During the course of our dinner conversation at Gioia, we debated about whether or not I should write a review.  Being that writing about food and restaurants is my thing… Why would I miss an opportunity to share my experiences?  Well, I am aware that my readership is modest and what I write might not have people flocking to my suggested destination, but there must be some reason that one of the best (if not the best) Italian restaurant in Sofia, which has been around for about 10 years, has managed to stay so low profile.  There is a certain allure to knowing about this place, so why would I want to shatter that mystique? As a food lover, a find this good is worth sharing.
If you are judging by the facade alone, the place doesn’t really stand out.  It is situated on a small quiet street could easily be a mistake for a run of the mill “bulgarized” Italian restaurant.  The interior reminds me of a nonna’s dining room, complete with pink walls, maroon curtains and assorted knickknacks and tchotchkes lining shelves and a curio cabinet tucked in the corner.
I was early for my impromptu dinner, so I took a moment to absorb my surroundings and chat with some British tourist, who happened to stumble upon Gioia on route to their hotel the night before. The only reason I remember the encounter was the fact they said some rude things to me and my friends about the outcome of the Group C final matches, so… Ha!!! Who is laughing now? 

Now that I am done being petty.  I had done a little foodie recon earlier in the day and visited Le Fontane, the shop where the chef/restauranteur prepares the majority of the food, which is served in the restaurant: pasta, marinated artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta, tiramisu etc…  That little excursion helped me to anticipate what I was going to order for dinner.

Once everyone arrived, tomato bruschetta was placed on the table, the real stuff, not the soggy toast with tomatoes we were served at The Olive Garden. We started with antipasti, so we could sample a variety of cured meats, mozzarella and marinated artichokes. Everything was delicious.  It was so refreshing to be able to enjoy homemade mozzarella, not some plastic tasting cheese from a bag that is available in almost any grocery store.  The artichokes were an amazing treat that I rarely get to enjoy in Bulgaria.
When it came time to ordering our meal, we had to go with the pasta, which ranged in price from 14 – 45 leva. Between us we ordered three different pasta dishes and shared, but unfortunately, I forgot to take a beauty shot of our dishes… everything was that good.
Tortellini with Prosciutto and Cream
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Ragu Sauce
Gnocchi with Four Cheese Sauce

The prices were high, but the quality corresponded to the prices and the portions were large.  Each pasta dish ranged from 300-400g, which is close to a pound of food per person.  The idea of dessert had loomed in our minds and our waiter was persuasive with his animated descriptions.  But we wanted to try a little bit of everything.  Even though it wasn’t on the menu, we had a sample of the cannoli and tiramiju, which was like tiramisu, but a ricotta ice cream version.  Then to top it off a plate of fried dough swimming in rum.
Cannoli & Tiramiju
You can see the pool of rum!
The tiramiju was heavenly bordering on orgasmic.  Maybe it was the 3 bottles of wine we finished during the meal, but the creamy goodness was melting on my tongue.  The rum dough balls were good, but it seemed merely a vessel for sponging up rum, which I have no problem with. The cannolis were good, but I like New York Style ones better, but these could grow on me… easily.  

The meal did not end there… finally a large bottle of frosty limoncello was placed on the table to finish off the meal.  
I know some of you are reading this review and wondering where are my “nit-picky” criticisms… well, we talked about what we didn’t like about the place: 1.) After tasting the prosecco, Jason’s glass wasn’t topped off. 2.) They were out of the meat filled Ravioli’s that Bill originally wanted 3.) One of the bottles of red we ordered was corked, but it happens and they took it back and 4.) The menu is only in Italian and Bulgaria, but the wait staff speaks English.  Overall, when you see “Tony Soprano” types huddled in a corner jabbering away in Italian, you know’ve you found something special.  I can’t wait to go back, but I am going to skip lunch and maybe breakfast too!

Ristorante Gioia: 60 Tzar Samuil Street (Stamboliski Blvd. & Todor Aleksandrov Blvd.) Tel: +359 2 986 0854

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Author: caseyangelova

Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria www.caseyangelova.com

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