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Girasole delightful as ever

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007

Many of us tend to get so carried away with the novelty of the new -- myself included -- that we forget what's right under our noses.

Under my nose right now is a steaming bowl of leftover pasta from Girasole, still better than almost everybody else's even after several days in the fridge. Girasole is ancient by Shadyside standards. I haven't been there in five or six years, so I was curious to see whether it was as good as I remember.

Oh, yes, it is.

Better, actually.

Girasole means "sunflower" in Italian, which is a little ironic, because it's in a dark little cave of a restaurant, below street level on Copeland Street. The walls are rough, exposed stone, which makes Girasole seem like a rustic wine cellar back in the Old Country -- but the front end opens seamlessly into an outdoor patio, with tables at street level and a short staircase below.

Even the simplest things seem to be given a ridiculous amount of care here. The Caprese ($9.95) salad couldn't be fresher if they sliced the tomatoes right in front of you, in an arrangement alternating a few big basil leaves and fresh mozzarella so perfect that it might possibly pass muster in Tuscany. You can apply your own oil and vinegar, which is nice.

The Spinach Spaghetti ($18.95) relies upon green spinach noodles, pefectly al dente, with more of that amazing mozzarella and crunchy kernels of corn fresh off the cobb. Interestingly, it's served at room temperature. I'm not sure why -- maybe it's to keep the flavors and textures distinct instead of all melting together.

Girasole features a fairly unique presentation of Polenta ($10) -- a perfectly baked, chewy-but-not-overcooked base of polenta in a pool of a very light tomato sauce. It's topped with mozzarella, white cannellini beans and perfectly cooked escarole, which isn't too bitter.

Squid Ink Linguine ($18.95) contrasts its signature dark black noodles with a creamy "beurre blanc" sauce and large pieces of lobster.

For dessert, even the Lemon Cake ($6) exceeded our expectations. It was light and lemony and topped with something fluffy, flavorful and lighter than pastry cream. There were large blackberries and strawberries camped out on the side.

Girasole's close quarters might be its only (occasional) drawback. It's cozy and intimate when quiet, but our last two visits featured covens of constantly cackling female customers a few tables over. With the small space and stone walls, they sounded like they were sitting in our laps.

Indoor voices, people.

I didn't get to try ...

Potato Gnocchi is really hard to beat -- when it's bitter cold outside, and you need something heavy and warm in your belly. Oh, but those days are coming. Additional Information:

Girasole

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 4-9 p.m. Sun.

Address: 733 Copeland St., Shadyside

Phone: 412-682-2130

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