Giada’s Italian Cucina offers something special

The kitchen staff at Giada’s Italian Cucina in Henderson are so skilled, they can even make escarole taste good.

Oh, save your e-mails. I’m sure your sainted mother made excellent escarole — just as I’m equally sure the escarole everyone else’s mother made was lifeless and soggy and cooked to the point where it was bitter. Am I right?

For that reason I almost didn’t order the Pappardelle Rustico ($13.95) at Giada’s, but see, I’m a sucker for pappardelle. I love those broad, velvety ribbons of pasta that so softly slide around the plate and across the palate, acting as vehicles for light sauces and textural contrast for chunky items, both of which characterized this dish. Fresh, slightly crunchy chunks of escarole — so right-from-the-garden good that they seemed to have a very, very light hint of anise — were tossed, along with chunks of tomato and slices of finely grained Italian sausage, in a mixture of garlic and olive oil. The dish was "rustico" indeed, a reflection of the simple goodness of country-style cooking, in Italy as elsewhere.

Which is not to take away from the far more citified chicken Gorgonzola ($16.95), which was a special that evening. A large breast of chicken had been rolled around a filling that seemed to consist almost solely of Gorgonzola cheese and wrapped in bacon. It might sound like sodium overload but it wasn’t, since the chicken was equal to the task of neutralizing the saltiness of the other two and their assertiveness played well off of the bland meat. And the crunchy bacon was a great textural contrast.

Dinners at Giada’s include the house salad — there’s something you don’t see so much anymore — and this one was quite nice, with mixed greens and tomatoes and olives and pepperoncini for zip. I’m not big on oil-and-vinegar dressings and that’s what this was, but it was well balanced and complemented the salad so well that I was almost a believer.

There was plenty of zip, as well, in our starter of Italian Nachos ($7.95), which had their own complement of pepperoncini, as well as more of that finely grained sausage (cut julienne this time), plus pepperoni and mozzarella and a spirited marinara. We’d had Italian takes on nachos before, and they usually involved a base of fried pasta squares or something. In a border-bending touch this one was piled atop corn tortilla chips, which seemed a little incongruous at first although we eventually decided we liked it, especially with the kicky peppers.

And we liked the olive-oil-and-red-pepper spread that was served with our mini-loaf of bread, piping hot out of the pizza oven.

And the service was team-style, even though this is a small, family-owned place. A guy we took to be the owner did much of the serving. He seemed a little melancholy on the evening of our visit, as he wandered through the quiet place.

Giada’s simply has yet to be discovered. With quality like this, he should be melancholy no more.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@reviewjournal.com.

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