There's certainly no shortage of great Italian food in St. Louis. But while the field may be crowded, there always seems to be room for another top-notch Italian eatery like Giovanni's Kitchen, the new place from the folks behind Creve Coeur favorite Il Bel Lago.

Located in Ladue’s Colonial Marketplace shopping center, the exterior of the restaurant may be nondescript, but the interior is anything but. The deep red walls and intricate light fixtures contribute to an atmosphere that's inviting and comfortable, as well as stylish. The name is a nod to owners Frank and Carmelo Gabriele's father, the eponymous force behind the venerable Giovanni's On The Hill.

We started off with a couple of classic appetizers that were on either side of the flavor and texture spectrums. The Prosciutto E Melone ($10) featured large chunks of mild, juicy melon wrapped in prosciutto, while the Polpettine ($8) was a plate of savory meatballs with tomato sauce on the side and topped with shaved Parmigiano. As a prelude to the main event, we also dug into the Burrata Al Pomodoro ($9), a fresh and delicious combo of mozzarella, tomato and olive oil—truly the epitome of the summer salad.

The menu has a solid assortment of entrees featuring veal, pork, chicken and seafood. But we were especially interested in the array of house-made pasta dishes offered, especially the fact that each was available in a small, shareable size. We went big and ordered the petite versions of the Gnocchi Di Ricotta ($9), the Casoncelli ($9), and the Pappardelle Alla Bolognese ($9). Real made-from-scratch pasta is one of the finer things you can put in your mouth, and all of these varied versions were as good as you'll find anywhere around town. The ricotta gnocchi was melt-in-your-mouth perfection; and the casoncelli (small ravioli-like pasta) and the pappadelle were both tender but with just the right firmness so as not to be flabby. Just as the pastas were perfectly crafted, so, too, were the sauces. The standout of the three was the Bolognese sauce that ensconced the papardelle. Deep, dark and rich, thanks to generous amounts of Chianti, it was a complex amalgam of flavors; and the wide noodles proved to be the perfect delivery method for them.

We finished up with a dessert sampler, the Panna Cotta Trio ($8), which consisted of three versions of this traditional Italian treat: Madagascar vanilla bean, bourbon and fresh orange, and semi-sweet chocolate. While the base panna cotta on its own had a great consistency and flavor, the chocolate version really stood out.

Price-wise, Giovanni's Kitchen is extremely affordable, especially considering all of the scratch-made goodness available. With a culinary pedigree like that of the Gabrieles’, we had a feeling Giovanni's Kitchen was going to be good—and we weren't disappointed!

-- 8831 Ladue Road, 721-4100

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