Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. dinner Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. No credit cards. Reservations.
Food: Homestyle Italian, pure and simple
Style: Unpretentious and efficient
Price: Main dishes at dinner about $7 to $8; pastas about $5. Lunch dishes $1 to $2.50 less.
SOMEWHERE IN THE back of Buon Giorno there must be a giant pyramid of lemons and a tree-high fluff of parsley sprigs which are reduced to scraps by the end of the day. A scent of garlic enriches the air of the dinning room, leaking out of the frint door so that you walk in eager to order "some of that smell." At second whiff, you add a basil pungency to the catalog of odors. Buon Giorno smells - and its food tastes - as if it were situated on an Italian hillside.
Just formal enough to accommodate white tablecloths and gold-rimmed china, with a slightly overzealous red-and-gold flocked wallpaper, Buon Giorno is a clear example of the phrase "pure and simple," the kind of restaurant hundreds of good home cooks dream of opening some day.
It has only a dozen tables. Its menu lists only veal, seafood and one chicken among its main dishes, with a half dozen pasta alternatives. No New York sirloin. No lasagne. Nothing served just because somebody who wandered into an Italian restaurant by mistake might want it. This is a restaurant that seems to have chosen to do what it does best and nothing more.It has five appetizers and two soups and while the soups could use more of the pungency that is in the air and the antipasto is both pedestian and expensive, several of the appetizers are enough to build traffic jams along Norfolk Avenue.The calamari e scampi all'amalfitana, for one, is prettily pink and white seafood flecked with green parsley, tasing light and lemony, oceanside-fresh. It is one of the few squid dishes that suits that seafood as well as batter-frying does. The marinated mushrooms, similarly lemony and parsley-flecked, similarly lightly oiled, are equally refreshing, if less unusual. Mussels are infused with garlic and olive oil, again tinged with parsley and barely cooked (in fact, mine appeared to have been pried open, so little were they cooked). Their sauce can send you dipping through a whole loaf of bread.
Pasta is a problem at Buon Giorno, only because the six choices are all tempting, as are the main dishes, and the kitchen will not serve half portions. Thus, you must juggle with the possibility of ordering trenette alla genovese (noodles with pesto, that garlic and basil you smelled as you arrived plus parmesan and olive oil, a knockout of a dish), or linguine - with clams or with squid and shrimps in a thin tomato sauce profoundly garlicked. Or maybe you want your basil sauce with spicy, meat-stuffed tortellini. Or maybe you want your tortellini with red sauce or cheese-thickened cream sauce. Except for the tortellini, the pasta does not seem to be homemade, but the sauces are so light and fragrant that you are reminded how well dressed a good imported pasta can be. There you are, trying to talk you dinner partner into sharing your choice - if you are, indeed, able to make a choice - so you can go on to veal scallops tingling with lemon and rich with butter and mushrooms.
Even then, you are stuck wavering over the veal with marsala, the mushroom-studded sauce light and thin, its marsala perfuming the fine, moist veal. There are other veal variations: livornese, with marinara sauce and capers; peperonata, with green peppers and wine; or the familiar parmigina. Beyond that, the entrees offer chicken breast with cream and mushrooms; shrimp with wine and garlic; sole with lemon and olive oil; the same mussels served as an appetizer; and - the only disappointment among the main courses, because the fish should have been fresher - trout with lemons, mushrooms, shrimp and mussels, cooked in a foil envelope.
The crunch, the zest, the freshness carry on through the salad and the sesame-crusted bread. The wine to accompany the meal is limited to a choice of five standard Italian imports at $7.95 or a carafe of mediocre California jug brew at $4.95, but pretension is not in Buon Giorno's vocabulary.
Some people can't end an Italian meal without cannoli, and theirs will be a happy finale at Buon Giorno. But they will have missed the semifreddo, and insidiously delicious frozen cream smoothed by eggs yolks and flavored with marsala and lemon peel. It tastes like designer ice cream.
All that is left to ask of a restaurant is good service, and Buon Giorno manages that, too, with well trained dining room help that gets rushed at high-mealtime, but serves the food promptly and paces it comfortably.
The only obvious inconsistency is in the pricing. With main dishes at $6.75 to $8 and pastas around $5, the level is generally moderate. Appetizers, however, range from $3.25 for marinated mushrooms, to $3.95 for antipasto, both of which seem steep, particularly in light of the hefty soups for $1.50, and the unusually good desserts for under $2. Thus, a three-course dinner with wine and tip could range from $20 a couple to $20 a person. But whatever the price, the food is right.