Gino's Italian Ristorante 

On the plate of reviewer No. 1

When the owners of Gino's decided to move to the outskirts of Meridian from their longtime home in downtown Boise, they were gambling that their customers would follow.

And while moving into a not-yet-filled strip mall in a not-yet-built development on the edge of Meridian was iffy, the folks at Gino's were right to bet on their devoted diners.

But that sort of devotion isn't a one-way street. Gino's has a proven record of keeping customers happy. So happy in fact, that they're willing to trek across the valley to partake of a meal in a slightly odd location. Gino's has embraced its new home--even the bottom of the receipt reads "Welcome to our Pleasantville"--while continuing the tradition of authentic Italian food, quality ingredients and expert preparation.

The dining area fills a large open space, with a tiled floor and rich earth tones. While the lighting is soft, the bold purple and yellow table linens keep diners from feeling like they wandered into a national chain.

For those uninitiated in the ways of Gino's, here's the first thing to remember: It's called slow food for a reason. Don't expect to rush in and out. Diners observe the old Italian tradition of lingering over wine and food.

Second, the bread dipping sauce alone is worth the drive. Gino Vuolo keeps his family recipe a secret, but the herb-infused, red-pepper-spiked oil is amazing (and sold in the lobby for those who need to take it home).

Since first visiting Gino's, I've habitually returned to the ravioli con zucca ($17)--pasta filled with a delicate balance of butternut squash and mascarpone, then sauteed in brown butter and whole sage leaves.

This time around, though, I boldly ordered the lasagna ($14) and wasn't disappointed. When done right, lasagna is art. This version combined salami, ham and roast chuck for a unique textural and flavor combination, due largely to the tender chunks of the roast chuck that stood out from the meat pack. It was an ideal accompaniment for the glass of Primitivo Puglia ($7) I savored through the meal.

One of my dining companions also chose to forego his favorite entree--the lamb shank ($25) served with gnocchi--for the vitello e peperoni ($20), which was a lightly breaded veal cutlet topped with thick slices of roasted red pepper, gaeta olives and generous slices of fresh mozzarella. While he proclaimed not to remember what was on it, the speed at which it disappeared attested to his feelings about the dish.

Our other diner forayed onto the pizza menu and was thrilled with her Mediterranean pizza ($12). The thin crust came covered in salami, red peppers and a daunting amount of artichoke hearts.

We couldn't turn down the flourless chocolate torte ($6.50), which disappeared as if in a vacuum thanks to the timeless blend of rich dark chocolate and marionberry puree injected throughout the dessert.

Sure we ate our slow food fast, but that left more time to talk.

--Deanna Darr loves any excuse to slow down.

Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Gino's Italian Ristorante.

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