Elegant Mediocrity at Garibaldi’s in Savannah, GA

Recommended: Maybe for the experience, but not for the food.

I’d been to Garibaldi’s once before, but I didn’t really have much of a chance to try more than some soup and salad. This time, I had the opportunity to sit down, relax and enjoy the full menu. I think I preferred the soup and salad.

The location of Garibaldi’s is one to be envied: on Congress Street in the heart of downtown Savannah. Making great use of the space, Garibaldi’s has one of the most intimate and sophisticated atmospheres of any restaurant in Savannah. Downstairs, the dim lighting and elegant furnishings set a romantic mood for guests. Upstairs, sophistication rules. High ceilings and a flooding of natural light from the great big windows makes diners feel as they are in a very important place.

Service is equally exceptional. Our waiter was attentive and knowledgeable about the menu, as well as helpful in making decisions about what to order. The manager made rounds throughout the restaurant making sure diners were satisfied. It’s unfortunate that the food doesn’t deserve similar compliments.

I started with a pear and goat cheese salad. The word salad, however, might be a bit of a stress. In reality, it’s a small sprinkling of mixed greens topped by an entire pickled pear sliced and laid on top. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s overpowering. It would be delicious in a small portion, with a bit more of the other ingredients to balance the flavor. They might as well not even mention the goat cheese since the two fritters it comes with are about the size of a quarter.

And then came the mussels. I only tried one, but it was an overpoweringly fishy flavor basted in a (very) lightly flavored broth that was incapable of masking the fishy flavor. The texture was something between slimy and gummy. They would stick to the shell, but once in your mouth had a texture similar to raw oysters. In fact, when we notified the manager, he tried them and agreed: they were bad.

For my main course, I had been between the scallops and the red snapper special. I chose the scallops because I couldn’t resist the orzo. What a mistake. For $22 I got 3 tiny bay scallops atop a lump of average-tasting orzo. The scallops were chewy and overcooked, with very little seasoning. They were probably the most disappointing scallops I’ve ever had, and scallops are my favorite dish. I will say that I tried a bite of the fried shrimp and they were good. Not great, but the batter was light and a bit sweet. And there were more than 3 of them.

I wouldn’t really recommend this restaurant except for the atmosphere. A soup and salad lunch in that romantic atmosphere with a waiter who follows my every command? Yes, please. But I won’t trust them with much more than greens and dressing.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Authentic Italian in Savannah – Leoci’s Trattoria

Recommended: Absolutely.

As all little hole-in-the-wall eateries, Leoci’s Trattoria is a bit off the beaten foodie path, and somewhat hidden to passers-by. But the reward for those who catch a glimpse of the twinkle lights adorning the back patio or the simple, understated sign out front is a delicious slice of authentic Italian cuisine.

I used to be skeptical of Leoci’s because after all, it took the place of one of my favorite restaurants in Savannah – Sweet Leaf Cafe. But I couldn’t help but be attracted to a place with a bocce ball court and a stunning outdoor patio, complete with white tenting and twinkle lights where once was a rubbled BBQ pit. The simple white linen table cloths and black cloth napkins add to the simple sophistication with which this place emanates. Inside, you feel like you are in a quaint, classy cafe; outside, it’s as though you’re at a charming European bistro.

The atmosphere is backed up by attentive service and superb food. The breads and pastas are made in-house, so you know you’re getting a genuine taste of Italy. The cuisine is a combination between authentic Italian classics and inspired Mediterranean cuisine. So what’s on the menu?

The mussels served in a tomato-based broth are a perfect appetizer, and they are masterfully cooked to perfection. I’m quite picky about mussels, both in my own cooking and at restaurants, and these ones achieve the perfect balance of texture and flavor. The broth is also a delicious dipping sauce for bread. If you’re not a fan of tomatoes, the bread is served with olive oil and an aged vinegar which a perfect balance of sweet and tangy.

While most dishes come with the option of ordering a small or large portion, I chose the mushroom lasagna which is only available as a large portion. No matter, it made fantastic leftovers. Not eating meat, I don’t often get to order lasagna at restaurants, especially since I’m not a fan of tomato sauces with vegetables. This lasagna with light and almost crisp, layering pasta, mushrooms, cheese and spinach in an effortless combination. Topped with a cream-based sauce and garnished with a chive, the presentation was almost as delectable as the taste.

My only complaint would have to be the side caesar salad I ordered. A side salad here is $6.50, which I wouldn’t if there was anything worth that much in the salad. It only consisted of a few pieces of lettuce, two or three croutons (which I believe were homemade), and an overly tangy caesar dressing. In fact, it barely tasted like caesar; it was more vinegary than I’ve ever tasted. However, if my only complaint is a small, pricey salad with bad dressing, well, I’ll cut my losses and steer clear of ordering salads here.

Overall, this restaurant is one of my favorite places to eat. Because they offer small and large portions for most of their dishes, it’s possible to have an affordable and delicious lunch – just don’t order a side caesar salad. If you want to bring a larger group, expect to sit outside since the inside is rather small. Otherwise, this is an excellent restaurant for either a romantic evening out or for a special occasion.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Gryphon Tea Room – Savannah, GA

Recommended: Yes – but only for light meals

So I have passed the Gryphon Tea Room a thousand times, and as a Harry Potter fan, I can’t help but think how close the name is to Gryffindor. Frankly, the beautiful historic interior doesn’t disappoint my wizardly expectations. Housed in an old pharmacy, complete with stain glass windows, sky-high ceilings and a tiled floor, there is a grandeur here befitting the dining room at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, the seating is limited indoors, so I dined outdoors at one of the cafe tables lining the surrounding sidewalk.

The menu threw me off a bit at first because it is extremely limited. If you have any dietary restrictions, you would do well to check the menu before settling on this location. I don’t eat meat (I do eat fish,) so my options were further limited. The quiche of the day was fortunately vegetarian, as well as the soups, but neither really tickled my fancy. Another oddity about the menu was the salad selection. The salads that were vegetarian seemed to have, for lack of a better word, odd combinations of vegetables. I’m not a very picky person, but the few things I don’t like happened to show up all over this menu.

Another unfortunate menu mishap: it says they offer fresh squeezed lemonade, but all they had in stock was bottled lemonade. I’m not sure why since lemons don’t exactly go out of season, but it was disappointing.

I chose a sandwich made up of cucumber, fennel and pimento cheese on crustless wheat bread, accompanied by a side salad with homemade bleu cheese dressing. The portion was somewhat small for $9, but I suppose the salad somewhat made up for it. The sandwich was surprisingly delicious. I was skeptical about how the ingredients would taste together, but it was definitely tasty, albeit messy. The salad was disappointing, however, consisting only of a few kinds of greens lightly tossed in a slightly sweet and tangy bleu cheese. It tasted as though it hadn’t been allowed to age properly before being turned into dressing. Although I was comfortably full (read: not stuffed) by the end, I knew I would need to eat something before dinner since the meal wasn’t particularly filling.

My boyfriend tried the trio of scones, which consisted of sandwich-style scones, each filled with something a little different. One had turkey, another had ham and some sort of apple compote perhaps, and the last was filled with a shrimp creation. He told me they were quite good; it seemed as though the turkey was his least favorite. Just like mine, the presentation was lovely, but it left something to be desired in terms of quantity.

Note: He did however tell me he was stuffed afterwards.

Note to that note: He has a small stomach.

Overall, I’ll likely stop here again for a quick bite to eat. Unless they have a quiche or soup that really tickles my fancy, I’ll probably just stick to my cucumber sandwich. This is a pleasant place to stop as long as you don’t have a big appetite.

Overall Rating: 6/10