A Cucina Antipasto:For Bob Giraldi, It’s all about the FoodBy George De StefanoGigino Trattoria, located on Greenwich Street in downtown Manhattan’s Tribecaneighborhood, offers an appealing southern Italian menu created by a chef from the resorttown of Positano, and a warm, casual ambience inspired by trattorias in Italy. Tribecans, as wellas Italian food lovers from other parts of New York City and beyond, come to Gigino’s to enjoythe inventive but unpretentious cuisine and the convivial atmosphere.But it was the worst disaster in New York City’s history that really showed just howmuch of a neighborhood institution Gigino Trattoria had become since it opened in 1994.On the morning of September 11, 2001, Gigino’s owner Bob Giraldi was working out at anearby health club. He rushed home to his wife and daughter - the Giraldis live a block awayfrom the restaurant - shut the windows, and watched in stunned disbelief as the twin towerscollapsed.Gigino’s, like many buildings in the vicinity of the World Trade Center, was covered insoot and debris. But just a week later, Giraldi re-?opened it to serve free food to police, firemen,and other rescue workers.Cucina Antipasto: Bob GiraldiPage | 2“We were right near the barricades,” Giraldi recalls. “You could go north of Duane Streetbut you couldn’t go below” Greenwich and Duane, where Gigino’s is located. “I would sitoutside and smell that smoke and hear the sirens all day long. Bodies were being removed. Andevery day cops and firemen would come in for lunch. So I would feed them, mostly pizza andpasta. Sometimes they’d applaud.”Giraldi recalls that when word got out that he was feeding 9/11 rescue workers, someuptown restaurateurs followed his lead, hoping to garner similar favorable publicity. One wasJean Georges Vongerichten, a star of New York’s upscale restaurant scene.“But the workers didn’t want uptown French sandwiches from Jean Georges,” Giraldilaughs. “They wanted our food.” The rescue workers were rough-?edged men, mostly from theso-?called outer boroughs of New York City and from New Jersey. Many were blue collar ItalianAmericans. “It was goombah time,” Giraldi says, using the slang term - derived from compare-?-?for a proletarian paisan who maybe lacks refinement but is a solid, salt of the earth kind of guy,a reliable friend and protector. These were the kind of men who were throwing themselves intothe arduous and dangerous rescue work at the World Trade Center, with little concern for theirown safety.Bob Giraldi sat outside Gigino’s with a close friend who once was one of those men, theTeamster turned actor Danny Aiello. “We were having coffee and talking, and workers werecoming up and greeting him, saying how great it was that he was there.”Tribeca has recovered from the trauma of 9/11, which wreaked havoc on the economyof lower Manhattan. It’s now a much more expensive area than in 2001. A construction boomCucina Antipasto: Bob GiraldiPage | 3has spawned luxury high-?rises, there’s a spate of trendy and high-?priced restaurants, andupscale markets like Whole Foods have moved in. But Gigino Trattoria remains a neighborhoodmainstay unchanged by all the new development. It continues to serve delicious andmoderately-?priced southern Italian fare to its loyal customers.The loyalty hardly is surprising given what Gigino’s has to offer. There’s spaghetti delpadrino, a harmonious marriage of sweet (beets), bitter (escarole), and salty (capers) concoctedby chef Luigi Celentano. Cavatelli broccoli rabe e salsiccia -?-? rolled, bullet-?shaped pasta dressedwith sautéed bitter greens, garlic, and homemade veal and pork sausage -?-? evokes the heartyfare of Italian American Sunday family dinners. Zuppa di lenticchie e scarola (lentil and escarolesoup) is southern Italian comfort food, dense and rich with rustic flavor. Celentano’s excellentpizzas, ranging from a basic margherita to the lavish tartufata, with chicken, radicchio, endive,mushrooms, and asiago cheese, are as good as anything one can find in Italy.Gigino Trattoria is one of eleven restaurants that Giraldi owns or has a stake in. Onlytwo others, however, are Italian - Gigino at Wagner Park, a tonier and more expensive cousinto the trattoria, in Battery Park City, and Bread, an informal Tuscan eatery specializing in panini(Italian grilled sandwiches), on the edge of Tribeca and Chinatown. He also owns Mexican,seafood, and burger restaurants.But it is the Italian places that Giraldi loves best.“The only thing I always wanted to dowas open an Italian restaurant,” he says.That’s a surprising admission coming from someone who didn’t begin his professionallife as a restaurateur. A graduate of Pratt Institute, the prestigious Brooklyn art college, GiraldiCucina Antipasto: Bob GiraldiPage
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