Gio – Fresh and Inviting Fine Dining

My visit to Gio coincided with the first major storm of the winter. The snow and wind raged all day, but when I stepped inside, the warm glow of candles and the fireplace immediately took the edge off of my chill. The greeting was equally warm. My snow-covered winter gear was whisked away and I was seated in a cozy corner by the fireplace within minutes.

Before my meal, I had the opportunity to meet Chef Vince Scigliano and learn more about his vision and aspirations for Gio. Chef Vince started cooking in his teens, having acquired four years of experience in a café that focused on fresh food, made from scratch and local, all before graduating from high school. After pursuing formal education and gaining valuable experience in high-quality kitchens, chef joined Gio about six years ago, working his way up to his current role as Restaurant Chef, where he’s been for a little more than a year.

His plans involve maintaining Gio’s well-deserved four-diamond reputation while broadening the appeal even further.

“I want to make this the most approachable place,” says chef Vince. “Keep the fine dining aspect, but make it fresh and inviting. Something for everybody with a foodie feel – an amazing experience they can’t get anywhere else in Nova Scotia.”

The thriving food scene in Nova Scotia is driven by friendly competition among chef Vince and his peers. The local environment is collegial – it’s still a small world here – meaning everyone works hard to amaze and impress their friends. Nova Scotians benefit by getting an exciting food scene. “Everyone has their competitive edge. There’s a lot of great, smart chefs out there. I love that. It keeps everyone on their A-game.”

After that statement, I was ready to hit the field. My friendly server Jared appeared with a glass of Jost Eagle Tree Muscat and some tasty bread from Boulangerie La Vendeene. Dried apricots, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and pinenuts – and this was just the bread.

The amuse-bouche for the evening was Gio’s take on ginger beef salad. Flat iron steak, slightly crunchy with a bite of ginger, on top of a carrot and daikon salad. It was a delicious introduction to the meal that was coming, but I could have easily eaten a full serving.

The rest of my meal was suggested by chef Vince himself. For the appetizer, I enjoyed the lobster agnolotti. The pasta was firm, stuffed with rich lobster, ricotta cheese and cashews, topped with a creamy sauce and sweet, earthy oyster mushrooms.

After such an intense experience, I was given a palate cleanser of honeydew melon topped with cranberry-balsamic vinegar. It was a perfect break before the headliner of my meal.

Since chef Vince is an East Coast acquisition (a win for us, folks!), we talked about the Nova Scotian food he has encountered that surprised him. “The lamb,” he said, “Like Australian or New Zealand lamb, it has a very distinct flavour. It’s amazing.”

The lamb was delicately prepared sous vide and each bite was delicious. I very slowly worked my way through the lamb with a sweet ragout, carrot and date purée, and roasted seasonal vegetables in including sweet potato and brussel sprouts.

Amazingly enough, I had room for dessert. Chef Vince came out to check on me, so I took the opportunity to seek a dessert recommendation because I simply couldn’t decide among the many fun, unique offerings. His suggestion, “Go Loko for Local” did not disappoint: blueberry and apply crisp, topped with a wild candy design, accompanied by a taste of Jost Vidal ice wine, and sour cream ice cream. Handmade on site, it may be the most perfect ice cream I’ve ever had.

During my meal, I couldn’t help but notice the attentive friendly service. It was such a crazy night outside, and the servers were obviously working hard to ensure every guest simply forgot about the raging storm.

When speaking with Shawn Lewis, Food Services Manager for the Prince George Hotel and Gio, he was quick to point out that the service was all a part of the Gio experience: “We’re trying to accomplish an overall dining experience, from the time you walk in the door to the time you leave, not just food, but service, the interior, the ambience. I want people to walk away feeling a sense of quality.”

Fun fact: the glassware and art that adorns the walls are as Nova Scotian as the food thanks to a partnership with Gallery Page and Strange and the custom glassware and plates from Sharon McNamara’s Kiln Art.

After the brief art break, Shawn continues: “You can have local so easily in your home these days that we try to have a nice blend of foreign cuisine and other items that aren’t as easy to come by. Our kitchen is a melting pot and that’s definitely a part of Gio’s success.” (Seriously, take a minute to check out the team on Gio’s website – they look like have a lot of fun.)

Chef Vince also speaks very highly of his team, “Eight brains working together is better than one, they’re always coming up with great ideas, and we can be really creative every night.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had the good fortune to experience a lot of fun, inventive cooking, but it was clear that the Gio experience set a new, high standard.

As for the future, neither chef Vince nor Shawn would reveal their hand.

However I did learn there are new, fun and inventive menu selections at Gio coming in early 2012. “Stay tuned,” was basically all I could get out of them. They’re clever fellows, I’ve already started organized my gang to go back and see what 2012 holds at Gio.

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