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Gabbiano's Delivers Old-School Italian American Comfort Food – Portland Monthly

Portland Monthly
921 SW Washington Street, Suite 750 Portland, OR 97205
Phone: 503-222-5144 • Fax: 503-227-8777
Restaurant Review
By Katherine Chew Hamilton April 25, 2022
 
Gabbiano’s famed mozzarella shots
Image: Courtesy Nori De Vega
Gabbiano’s feels like a delightful anachronism. Plates of chicken parmesan bigger than your face and fried mozzarella shot glasses, set against a backdrop of a mural featuring painted columns and a patio with a string of light-up grapes, feel like they came from a time before I was born, like a well-worn ’70s red sauce joint. 
A few years ago, I might have passed over Gabbiano’s in favor of a place with hard-to-pronounce pasta names. But right now, coming out of trying times and back into the cheerful buzz of a dining room, Gabbiano’s makes total sense. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, offering playful, though sometimes imperfect, spins on the familiar—while delivering a few stunner dishes and a stellar cocktail menu. 
Co-owners David Sigal (Mian, Sunshine Noodles) and Blake Foster (Zoo Bar) opened Gabbiano’s (5411 Ne 30th Ave) in January 2020 with the goal of creating an Italian restaurant reminiscent of Sigal’s family visits to Italian restaurants in San Francisco’s North Beach growing up. “It was a part of my childhood,” says Sigal. “To me, Italian American food is equated with joyous events.”
You’ve probably heard about the much-Instagrammed fried mozzarella shot glasses stuffed with marinara, so popular that the restaurant often sells out by 7 p.m. Luckily, these creations from chef Daniel Rehbein are pretty much as glorious as they sound. The cup shape means lots of crispy surface area, and it’s much easier to load each bite with marinara when it’s already loaded into the cup rather than dipping a normal mozzarella stick. If I had a gripe, I’d say load it with even more tomato sauce, and let its acidic tang shine a bit more to contrast with the cheese. 
Speaking of shots, the cocktail menu is a banger—you could point at pretty much anything and be pleased. Most are playful spins on classic cocktails. The limoncello drop adds a savory element to the usually one-note lemon drop cocktail with the addition of housemade saffron vodka and a lemon-salt rim. The Seagull Sour is an unexpected riff on a whiskey sour with bourbon, lemon, egg white, oregano oil, and a float of Lambrusco. In warmer weather, we’d go for the bellini slushie, complete with sour peach ring garnish.
The humble Caesar salad reaches perfection here. It’s an umami-packed, garlicky, no-holds-barred ode to the anchovy that even my anchovy-skeptical friend got on board with. It’s balanced with super-crunchy little gem lettuce and lots of lemon, plus plenty of crackly croutons for good measure. 
The duck marsala is a must-order.
Image: Courtesy David Stull
The wonder of the menu is the must-order duck marsala, the meat cooked to a perfect medium rare and nestled in a velvety marsala foie pan sauce. Somehow equally impressive: the confit potatoes cooked to a shattering crisp. Pastas are a bit hit-or-miss: the Girlfriend Pasta, which combines house-made squid ink pasta with Dungeness crab and brown butter with chile, mint, and lemon, was delicately balanced, allowing the sweetness of the crab and the tart citrus to shine. The ricotta gnocchi with confit chicken is a creative take on chicken and dumplings, and while we loved the pillowy gnocchi, all the flavors could be turned up a notch.
The giant chicken parmesan impresses visually—you wonder how any single piece of chicken could create something so massive, and it’s sided by a couple of slices of golden garlic bread. But it falls victim to the same shortcomings as the mozzarella shot glasses. More sauce and more cheese, please! In a perfect world, I’d have a little gravy boat full of red sauce to pour over the crisp, lightly breaded fillet. The meatballs could also use work—maybe a coarser grind for more texture and a bit more browning on the outside to create a crisp crust.
Despite its flaws, Gabbiano’s has a particular charm to it that makes it easy to understand why the restaurant already has a loyal following with wait times to match, even on weekdays. Pretension gets replaced with playfulness, and the buzzy, festive atmosphere makes for a fun friend date or family celebration—something we could definitely use more of right now. 
 
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