Girasole: Atlantic City’s Little Sunflower

For over two decades, Girasole has been a favored locale for authentic Italian cuisine in Atlantic City.

By Frank Gabriel
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 19, 2011

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One of the best things about dining regionally in these darker months of the year is that many fine restaurants, typically booked solid during the summer season, are readily available.

Such was the case during a recent weekend visit to Atlantic City’s respected Italian operation Girasole. Open for nearly two decades on Pacific Avenue, at the foot of the Ocean Club Condominiums, Girasole (or “sunflower” in Italian) has earned a solid reputation with visitors and locals alike. In fact, it’s a favored locale for casino hosts to send preferred customers who opt to dine off-site when visiting Atlantic City.

The staff, warm and congenial, graciously greeted us immediately upon entry — a great first impression on a frosty, midwinter evening.

Perusing the lengthy menu, we began our meal with a signature item, Carpaccio Girasole. From a list of 10 raw or very rare proteins, this featured thin, nearly translucent squares of filet. Served on a warmed plate, the pink beef was accompanied by a central saute of artichokes with tiny pencil-point asparagus, topped by shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of truffle oil.

The confluence of those elements nearly melted into the prime meat, producing both a lovely aroma as well as deep, resonant flavors. Our dining partner went the vegetable route, selecting the insalata tropicale. This brought a gorgeous plate with three slices each of green apple, avocado, grapefruit and mango ringing its four corners. Within the middle, fresh crisp greens were tossed with a mildly sweet raspberry vinaigrette.

Taking advantage of our server’s suggestion, we opted for a pairing of pastas as a middle course. Pappardelle, broad, house-made handcrafted noodles, were blended with whole shiitake and porcini mushrooms. The sauce, finished with butter, created a silky sheen to coat the simple, beautiful ingredients.

Our other choice, carbonara, brought that bacon-and-eggy blend tossed with thin spaghetti. Strips of Proscuitto blended throughout provided just the right amount of salty kick and tasty chew.

As a main course, our companion went with another house specialty, Pollo Girasole. This composition mirrored the appearance of an actual sunflower. Chicken breast, sliced and layered with two cheeses — mozzarella and fontina — pancetta and a colorful dice of red and yellow peppers.

Fanned artistically across the plate in a semicircle, the vivid colors and varied textures turned simple chicken into something truly memorable.

Highlighting our visit was a nightly addition, from more than a half dozen recited by our server at the beginning of the evening. Langoustine are spiny lobsters whose habitat spreads from the waters of the North Sea down Europe to the Adriatic. Commonly referred to by Spaniards and Italians as “scampi,” they are the crustaceans of choice for that traditional preparation.

Pink-orange in color, langoustines possess an incredibly sweet essence. Their chunky white meat, easily overcooked, was treated with extraordinary care by Girasole’s kitchen. Lightly seasoned and breaded, four whole lobsters — imagine bigger than the largest shrimp — were split and arrayed across a wide serving plate. The eight pieces of sizzling seafood were eye-catching and juicy. Hints of an almost floral essence filled the air and our palates. This, my food friends, is as good as it gets.

We should also add that Girasole is one of less than half-dozen restaurants we know of hereabouts that ever feature langoustine on their bill of fare (keeping in mind it was a nightly addition; we’d suggest you call in advance to inquire about availability).

Desserts, true to Italian sensibilities, showed restraint coupled with creativity. Like purse-shaped apple tart, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, both floating in a pool of pretty, pale caramel. Or my zuccotto — a chocolate/hazelnut ice cream cake, presented with potent, bittersweet chocolate sauce.

E-mail Frank Gabriel at

Address: 3108 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City
Hours: Open for lunch Mon.-Fri. noon-2:30pm; dinner Sun.-Thurs. 5:30-10pm, Fri. & Sat. 5:30-11pm.
Bar, major credit cards
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