Get ready to plan your meal backwards at Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse—start by putting in an order for a dessert soufflé for the end of the evening. Are soufflés Italian? Not really, but they are luxurious, and Gabriele’s is all about upscale luxury. Gabriele’s, formerly of Greenwich, has reopened in Westport next to the Westport Country Playhouse. It has reconfigured and renovated the space, replacing the country feel of wood walls for millwork. The rooms are brighter and fancier, tables set with white linens before cozy banquettes and chandeliers overhead. A glass wall between the clubby, dark-wood bar and front dining room is great for people watching on both sides.
The old Gabriele’s in Greenwich was hedge fund heaven, known for the expensive cars that pulled up to valet parking. The new Gabriele’s continues the affluent theme. On a recent evening, as guests of the restaurant, we sampled a parade of dishes. It was a Wednesday, and the restaurant was buzzing. A group of women gathered to celebrate a birthday at the big, carved wood table in the center of the room warmed by the new slate-surfaced fireplace.
Gabriele’s menu features steak, seafood, pasta and desserts. That’s why you’ll want to plan your meal backward. Because you have to try the desserts. There’s a pastry chef in the kitchen updating the classics, baking, whipping and assembling ethereal Napoleons, whose flakey puff pastry crackles into layers of sweet whipped cream and caramelized toasted almonds. Cheese cake is draped in bourbon caramel sauce (with a hint of salt), scattered with toasted pecans and topped with a scoop of homemade gelato. Plates are decorated with caramelized sugar shapes that absolutely should be eaten, and quenelle-shaped scoops of homemade gelato and sorbet.
Steaks (including boneless and bone-in filet mignon and Tomahawk rib eye) are aged twenty-eight days, and the chef will fire it up anyway you want it. I recommend putting yourself in the hands of the chef for a pink, juicy medium rare. But if you want them to cook it medium, they will. If you’re splurging, you can add on a lobster tail to your steak, or have it Oscar style, with crab, asparagus and hollandaise. For us, a grilled porterhouse, with its combination of filet and strip, was enough. There’s a choice of four sauces, including classic peppercorn and a more contemporary truffle butter. For sides, we went for mascarpone mashed potatoes over the extra, extra large baked stuffed potato, which a friend says is the biggest baked potato she’s ever seen. Spinach gratin, baked in a cast-iron pan and topped with breadcrumbs, lacked a creaminess we associate with steakhouse spinach. Broccoli rabe, sautéed with garlic, is a better option if you’re trying to make a stab at something healthful.
Main courses for seafood lovers include a thick filet of Chilean sea bass over seafood risotto with lobster, clams and mussels. For vegetarians, there’s a roasted cauliflower steak served with carrot-ginger purée, succotash and toasted pine nuts. Of the pastas, cavetelli with broccoli rabe and sausage, topped with a deep-fried basil leaf, was our favorite. Bolognese was tossed with papparadelle, and the wide, tender noodles caught the rich, meaty sauce and melting Parmesan.
Starters (remember, we’re working backward) include classic clams oreganata. Grilled octopus seemed lost on a fussy plate decorated with dots of aioli and chimichurri, along with potatoes, beans, chorizo, capers and charred lemon for squeezing over the octopus (the nicest touch on the plate). Salads are substantial and good for sharing. We passed on the classic iceberg, blue cheese and bacon salad for a more healthful and colorful beet salad with strawberries, pistachios and goat cheese croquette.
At the end of the meal, after an espresso, the long-awaited moment arrived. The server placed the soufflé before us. It had been hard to choose. Chocolate? Pistachio? Grand Marnier? It seemed that the orange brandy flavor would end the meal on a cloud. The waiter poured a shot of Grand Marnier cream sauce into the center of the soufflé. Our spoons hovered.