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By John S. Long and Joe Crea, The Plain Dealer

Diamonds are falling in Cleveland.

Not the precious stones, though to some these diamonds may be just as valuable. These are the diamonds bestowed upon Cleveland restaurants by AAA Ohio Motorists Association.

Two years ago, Cleveland had five Four Diamond winners. Now, with the city’s restaurant renaissance in full bloom, Northeast Ohio has been reduced to two Four Diamond winners – the Baricelli Inn in Cleveland and Ristorante Giovanni in Beachwood.

Both were presented their awards before a five-course celebratory dinner Thursday night in Giovanni’s newly renovated dining room.

But three previous Four Diamond restaurants either lost that status or are no longer in business.

Classics, the popular restaurant at the Omni International Hotel at the Cleveland Clinic, closed in November 1999. The Riverview Room at Ritz Carlton Cleveland closed in March 2000, during AAA’s annual inspection period.

Sans Souci, the flagship dining room at the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, was reduced to Three Diamond status during AAA’s annual review of area restaurants and lodgings.

“It’s AAA policy not to discuss particulars as to why a particular restaurant or lodging did or did not meet expectations,” says Brian Newbacher, director of public affairs for the Ohio Motorists Association in Independence. The organization does provide such information to the contenders.

“Like any industry, if you’re not on top of [everything], you fall back,” says Ali Alidoospi, manager of Sans Souci. “We’ve been getting [Four Diamonds] all these years, and we’ve been working hard for it. I’m disapointed – but I try to see it as a learning lesson.”

Four area hotels were counted among the Four Diamond winners. Two are newcomers: Georgian Manor Inn of Norwalk and Walden Country Inn & Stables of Aurora. They join Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, a 20-year Four Diamond veteran, and Ritz-Carlton Cleveland, a 10-year Four Diamond holder.

No Cleveland-area restaurant or hotel has ever earned the association’s highest mark, five diamonds. Maisonette restaurant in Cincinnati is the only Ohio restaurant to receive that recognition.

By Andrea Cohen

Carl Quagliata, owner of Ristorante Giovanni, is pleased that the restaurant has met all of the award’s lofty qualifications. In fact, the restaurant has won the award eight years running.

Maitre d’ Pierre Gregori adds that the restaurant was recognized because it strives to give diners old-fashioned elegance: “Modern restaurants are too informal. People want to be pampered when they’re eating.”

Quagliata’s favorite dish is the veal chop ($33), a lean loin served either broiled and breaded, with angelhair pasta and fresh tomato-basil sauce, or chargrilled with a veal reduction sauce, potatoes au gratin and spinach and portabella mushrooms.

– Andrea Cohen, Gourmet Guide

By Michael von Glahn, Cleveland Magazine

The first time in three weeks I was gonna play golf and look what happens,” restaurateur Carl Quagliata says, gesturing at the pouring rain outside and shaking his head. “Never fails.”

Because of the foul weather, Quagliata has had to fall back on his usual routine this Monday morning. Before 9:30 a.m., he is installed at his Ristorante Giovanni’s in Beachwood, answering early calls for dinner reservations and checking on the progress of a cleaner at work on a spill from Saturday night’s full house. A tub of fresh daffodils rests on a cart by the foyer, waiting to be artfully dispersed among the day’s floral arrangements.

In the course of the next hour, executive chef Jim Markusic, maitre d’ Pier-Luigi “Pierre” Gregori and the servers on duty for lunch – black-tie formalwear on hangers over their shoulders – all troop in, say their quiet good mornings and set to work.

This is the start of Quagliata’s day, six days a week. He spends a couple of hours at home in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner, but often he won’t leave the restaurant until after closing. Personal involvement is his management style. “You know, if you don’t have a lot of brains, you have to work hard,” he chuckles. “So that’s my problem.”

Despite his well-known modesty, credit Quagliata for both effort and smarts in the solid success of Giovanni’s, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. The continental restaurant is a repeat winner (nine times so far) of Four Diamonds from the AAA Ohio Motorists Association, one of only three eateries in Northeast Ohio to earn the honor this year. Giovanni’s also repeated for a Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence.

For dinner, our party was seated in the Taproom, a small space of two booths, one table and a fireplace set between the bar and main dining room (this is the former Mantel Room). The only disadvantage – and one of the few cavils we have about our experience -was cigar smoke that drifted through from the bar later in our meal. Even then, the ventilation system seemed to keep the fumes to an undertone (and, luckily, in keeping with Giovanni’s clientele, it was at least a quality cigar, not a 20-cent La Stinkadora).

The restaurant underwent remodeling 12 years ago, and Quagliata started another renovation early in 1997 that never got past a test phase in the back room. Last fall, he brought in interior designer Paula Boykin, and she got it right.

The dining room is handsome with wheat-colored walls accented by touches of cream, gold and dark olive. Wine racks cover the front wall and the space is suffused with subdued, warm light and wafting notes of opera. There is less crystal overhead, so the space doesn’t feel as intimidating as it could in the old days.

There is seating for 24 in the bar, 90 in the main room. The wood-paneled back portion, known as the Picasso Room, can be closed off by glass doors to accommodate parties of 20 to 30.

Giovanni’s legendary service is apparent the moment you step through the thick, ornately carved wooden doors. Even with every table filled, a fresh warm ciabatta roll is on hand the moment the first is eaten, water glasses are constantly replenished, and all questions are answered politely and knowledgeably.

On one visit, we had the leisure to watch three staffers prep and serve soup and pasta entrees for three different tables from a single cart. These gentlemen and ladies are the restaurant equivalent of the Cleveland Orchestra, their motions precise and fluid, with the apparent effortlessness that only comes from long, earnest practice.

For dinner, we started with a bottle of 1995 Barolo Cannubi ($100) from Giovanni’s award-winning wine list. “Love in a bottle” is how one companion aptly described this robust Italian red. It suited our diverse array of appetizers admirably, from a daily special of tender lamb ravioli with portobello mushroom, rosemary and goat-cheese cream ($13.95) to a hearty, autumnal beef, mushroom and barley soup ($6.95).

Quality tells, and it was evident in an app of beef carpaccio in a mild, creamy aioli with crisp frisee ($11). Beforehand, we might have wished for a more garlicky aioli or a sharp mustard, but Quagliata and chef Markusic know what they’re doing. The flavor of good carpaccio is so subtle that it would be easy to overwhelm – and what then would be the point?

“I think when somebody orders something they should taste what they’re ordering,” Quagliata explains. “The product itself is so fantastic, I don’t wanna camouflage it.”

Salads are a la carte and the arrival of our choices set off a flurry of sharing around the table. Meaty grilled portobello slices on mesclun greens with a vibrant port vinaigrette ($9.50) are heavenly. Giovanni’s Caesar ($7.50) is a classic, if lacking in the salty anchovies that many feel make or break a Caesar.

Caesars are prepared tableside for groups, though Quagliata says he’ll do it himself if an individual diner requests the show biz.

He has scaled back the amount of tableside prep because the practice tended to stretch meals beyond four hours, as well as blocking aisles and breaking up smooth service. It’s one of many lessons he has amassed in almost 35 years in the restaurant trade.

Despite studying engineering at John Carroll University and a stint working as a draftsman for the city of Cleveland in his 20s, Quagliata knew all along that the food biz was where he belonged.

“As a 10-year-old kid, I always wanted a restaurant,” he remembers. “That’s all I thought about.” He’s not sure where the urge originated, since it wasn’t the family business: Quagliata’s father, Angelo, ran a grocery store on Cleveland’s East Side.

But Carl’s love of food isn’t hard to trace. His mother, Dorothy (“Dora”), hailed from the Campobasso region south of Naples, a cradle of great chefs. His father’s family came from Sicily and for them, everything revolved around cooking and eating.

Quagliata credits his mother, aunts and particularly his Sicilian grandmother, Josephine, for his own culinary skills. “It was like through osmosis,” he says, “because they were always cooking.” Most of Giovanni’s sauces, stocks and demiglazes are based on family recipes.

“If I like something, I ask for the recipe. That’s how I learned,” he says. “I never went to school, I never went to cooking school, I never worked in a restaurant.”

His first business foray was opening Quagliata’s White House restaurant in Mentor in 1967. Offering a blend of gourmet Italian fare and more typical spaghetti-house dishes, the White House lasted into the mid-1980s, when Quagliata says he had to close it because he didn’t have a lease on the property.

The fact that another restaurant was now closer to his heart probably had a hand in the decision, too. In 1976, Quagliata went into business with a cousin, Luke Manfredi, to open a fine-dining restaurant. After Quagliata had examined sites all around Cleveland, Manfredi brought him in to look at a ground-floor space in the Beachwood building where he had his office.

Quagliata liked what he saw, and Ristorante Giovanni’s (named for his favorite uncle) was born.

Giovanni’s is a family affair. Quagliata’s brother John works in the office, and their mother, at 87, still bakes about 300 pounds of pizzelles and other Italian cookies every week for Giovanni’s and Quagliata’s Tuscany restaurant at Eton Collection in Woodmere.

Quagliata himself only “plays around in the kitchen a little bit” these days, leaving the top spot in the skilled hands of Markusic, who cooked in Giovanni’s kitchen for 9 1/2 years, then vaulted to the Shoreby Club for six years before returning to Giovanni’s in 2000. “He’s got the old-fashioned ethic,” Quagliata says of his executive chef.

“He’s just a hard-working guy. This business is all hard work . … It’s just day and night. It’s 100 percent of your body, your mind, your soul, everything . … And [Markusic] fits that; he has those qualifications.”

Back in the White House days, a hired chef initially ran the kitchen, but difficulties quickly ensued and Quagliata had to take over. He recalls, “The chef said, `We can’t do this’ and `We can’t do that’ and `We can’t do this. And I said, `My God, I better get back there myself and see what we can do and what we can’t do.’ ” Quagliata discovered that he had absorbed more than he realized from all those generations of Italian women. Cooking “came very easily” to him.

Three of the four in our party flocked to the special list, which changes daily. The menu presents each dish in lengthy Italian with a simple English translation beneath for those who would rather wrap their tongues around rabbitand sweetbread-stuffed pasta than Tortelloni di Animelle a Coniglio in Sugo Naturale al Infuso di Allow.

Pan-roasted swordfish fillet alla Diavolo ($29.95) was a winner. Laden with crushed red pepper, shrimp, rings of calamari, sliced squash and organic romano beans, the fillet was at least 3 inches thick, with flavor to rival a fine beefsteak.

Also from the specials, seared salmon fillet ($28.95) topped by lump blue-crab meat and napped with a citrus-scented bearnaise sauce proved a treat. The salmon was of excellent quality and, again, portioned very generously. Roasted new potatoes made for an addictive side.

Though mightily tempted by roast Canadian duck with wild risotto, red currants and orange demi-sauce ($24.50), we opted for a classic beef dish from the regular menu to weigh against all the seafood at the table: char-grilled filet mignon with herb-roasted potatoes ($33). We ordered it at the far rare end of medium-rare and our server advised us that this was a good choice, since the kitchen “likes to undercook.” The aged filet, tender enough to cut with a sharp glance, arrived prepared perfectly to order. Lolling plumply atop a Chianti reduction, its flavor was nothing short of superb. If anyone spotted a tear in our eye after the last bite, it wasn’t the wailing of Pagliacci that caused it.

The hard menu only gets a makeover every couple of years. “Not too often,” Quagliata says. “We don’t want to confuse the guests.” He also doesn’t want them looking for a favorite dish only to find it gone.

But he’d still like to trim the number of offerings, and he and his staff have been working on a new fall menu for months. He’s already trotted out a new lunch menu. Among the additions are four sandwiches ($10.95 to $12) and a resurrected Parmigiano and egg-battered chicken entree that was known as “chicken a la Giovanni” when it debuted 25 years ago.

On our lunch visit, we could hardly help but race through tender lobster ravioli with shiitake mushrooms and tomato in a lobster bisque-butter sauce ($15.95). It’s not often one can describe pasta as “melt in your mouth,” but each bite of this came as close as we’ve ever found. The slightly apple crispness of a glass of 1999 Boscaini pinot grigio ($7) made a nice counterpoint to the lobster’s sweet tones.

Anna Selvaggio, who makes all of Giovanni’s pastas, has been with the restaurant since its opening. “She’s overqualified for the job,” Quagliata says, noting that Selvaggio was a head chef before the restaurant where she worked burned down. Her misfortune was Giovanni’s windfall. As expected for a place with such strong Italian roots, pasta is done right at Giovanni’s. All pastas are dished from a sauté pan kept covered over a warming flame on the serving cart.

Despite the primo pasta and the Italian verbiage on the menu, Quagliata says that Giovanni’s “is not as Italian as everybody thinks it is. I tried to make it very Italian initially, and that first menu lasted maybe a year and a half . … Then we changed to a more cosmopolitan menu, basically the same type of menu we have right now.”

He has branched out in other directions at other restaurants, including Tuscany at Eton Collection, the short-lived Tuscany 55 on Public Square in partnership with the owners of nearby John Q’s Steakhouse, and Posto Vecchio at Great Northern Mall. One of his greatest coups was Piccolo Mondo, the popular corner restaurant that many credit with solidifying the Warehouse District as a dining and nightlife destination in the ’90s.

But in the past couple of years, Quagliata has begun consolidating, backing off. Posto Vecchio, in North Olmsted, was too far away for him to personally shepherd its growth, so he shut it down. Then he sold off Piccolo to the owners of the Hyde Park chain.

“I tried opening other kinds of restaurants … but I just feel like this is my niche,” he says of Giovanni’s. “I enjoy this better than the others. I enjoy the others, but I enjoy this much better.”

We enjoyed it, too. For dessert ($8.95 each), we tried a chocolate truffle cake sided by a scoop of dolce de leche ice cream in a tuile nest, along with jumbo blackberries, currants, raspberries. The cake was firm and slightly bittersweet, with a center of molten chocolate. Tiramisu arrived fluffy, moist and light, as is proper though we might have wished for a heavier hand when adding the Marsala and espresso, for a bit more of a flavor kick.

Service paced the meal nicely, allowing relaxed conversation between courses.

“I think service is more important than the food,” states Quagliata. “I mean, you have to have good food anyway, otherwise you won’t exist. But I think service is more important than the food ’cause bad service can turn your mind against the food, can make the food taste different.”

The hosts who set the tone for service at Giovanni’s have been Pierre Gregori, who has been in the restaurant biz since he was 14, and the much-beloved Jacques Laumier, 86, who is finally facing up to retirement.

Quagliata first encountered Laumier at the old Leonello’s at Chagrin Boulevard and Lee Road. When the restaurant closed in the late ’70s, Laumier and most of the other Leonello’s waiters came to Giovanni’s. “He’s been here ever since,” Quagliata says. “He’s like a fixture. People come to see him.”

Service may be black-tie, but, contrary to common perception, Giovanni’s rescinded its jackets-required policy about a dozen years ago.

In 1976, the week Giovanni’s opened, Quagliata learned just how much enforcing proper attire rubbed some people the wrong way. He politely and apologetically informed two men in a group of eight of the jackets-required rule for the dining room. The men grew loudly belligerent and refused the offer of loaner jackets. After storming out, they set fire to the shrubbery by the building’s entrance.

Fireworks of a gentler sort may be in evidence later this month when Quagliata says Giovanni’s will stage a weeklong celebration to mark its anniversary.

Since he only has room for 150 at a time, Quagliata might need to block out more than a week to accommodate all the diners who will want to salute the treasure that is Giovanni’s.

-Michael von Glahn

After twenty-five years, Giovanni’s is still making magic in Beachwood

By Benjamin Gleisser

You don’t go to Ristorante Giovanni’s when you want Italian food. You go when you desire enchanting fine dining.

Even owner Carl Quagliata admits his Beachwood restaurant’s main competition are upscale downtown heavy hitters: “Sans Souci and Johnny’s are the closest to what we do. Our niche is very small – we cater to the one-tenth of 1 percent of the population who come in for the ambiance and expect magical things.”

In terms of magic, don’t expect Quagliata to pull a rarebit out of a hat, or any other cups and sorcery. The closest Giovanni’s gets to sleight of hand is when servers appear at just the right time to take your plates or refill your wineglass.

This attentiveness to service earned Giovanni’s an unprecedented ninth straight Four Diamond Award from the American Automobile Association. This designation of excellence is noted in AAA guidebooks, which point travelers toward spots that are guaranteed to provide a top-notch dining experience. The only other eatery in northeast Ohio to win a Four Diamond last year was the Baricelli Inn in Cleveland (fifth straight award).

“My philosophy is `Treat every customer as if that person is only going to visit us once,’ ” Quagliata says. “I preach precision and perfection. We’re only as good as what we did today.”

And the staff practices what he preaches. On the day we visited, an August afternoon so hot even the devil was begging a glass of water, we found Giovanni’s cool environment of earthy browns perfect for a dinner prepared with kitchen wizardry and presented with impeccable service.

THE CONCRETE BUNKER-LIKE building at Chagrin Boulevard and Richmond Road housing Giovanni’s resembles a place you’d seek shelter in during a nuclear attack. Only a small sign on the southeast corner of the intersection (the restaurant is negotiating with Beachwood for bigger signage) announces Giovanni’s location.

When you enter the building, look for the burnished-brown wood double doors with large buttons for handles. Pull open the doors and enter another world, a curious yet imaginative place that invites you to peel away a few layers of reality and relax.

Interior designer Paula Jo Boykin renovated the restaurant last year, and she clothed the dining room in layers of tan fabrics, leatherette seats and shimmery drapes. Alabaster half-dome ceiling fixtures and frosted sconces on the tan walls create an elegant, golden glow. A second dining room, behind the main area, is a wood-paneled room with Cubist Picasso prints and a grand fireplace. During special occasions and power lunches, glass doors can separate the space from the rest of the restaurant.

Most nights, you’re greeted at the maitre d’s desk by Pier Luigi Gregori, a slender, bubbly fellow who seems so happy to see you, you expect him to give you a kiss. Eschewing a pre-dinner drink in the lounge – a small, square room with a chic, black granite-topped bar (we loved the gilded gold-colored frame around the television over the top shelf of liquors: TV as art) – our party of three entered the dining room.

We began with appetizers off the day’s specials list: a savory bowl of mushroom beef barley soup ($6.50) and escargot topped with puff pastry ($12.95) in a delicate garlic butter and parsley Chardonnay wine sauce. The hearty broth was comforting, and tender, fresh beef chunks were a portent of what was to come. After finishing the plump escargot, we sopped up the sauce with our bread. Had we not been in a classy restaurant, we might have fought over who got to lick the plate.

Quagliata says he prefers a traditional menu – in fact, many of the dishes prepared by executive chef Jim Markusic (who returned to Giovanni’s in 2000 after seven years at the Shoreby Club) are based on recipes concocted by Quagliata’s grandmother. At the same time, Quagliata constantly works to fine-tune the offerings: A new menu is due this fall.

“Young cooks today shy away from structure, which is so important in food preparation and presentation,” Quagliata says. “We try to do a little fusion, but we want to be as authentic as possible. We cook from a woman’s point of view.”

Well, mamma mia, it works. The ten-ounce char-grilled filet mignon ($33) cooked rare was perfect. The tall cut of butter-knife-tender beef was served with herb-roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables in a chianti reduction. To achieve its delectable texture, the meat ages for three weeks in the refrigerator in a Cryovac, an airtight plastic bag. The rack of lamb (market price; $42 on our visit) ages similarly. The domestic double French-cut lamb chops – which we requested mediumrare, but came rare – were accompanied by a brick of flavorful scalloped potatoes and mixed vegetables. The hearty chops were topped by caramelized onions, which gave the dish a zesty zing, and served in a shallot reduction.

And what’s an Italian restaurant without pasta? Chef Anna Salvaggio has been making perfect pasta at Giovanni’s for twenty-five years. Tender and fresh, and with just the right amount of chew, the linguine that accompanied the mix of lobster, shrimp, clams and mussels ($24.95) was heavenly. Pasta dishes at Giovanni’s are begun in the oven, then finished sauté-style tableside so the dish won’t sit for even a moment under a heat lamp. Tableside cooking also enabled the distinctive flavors of the seafood to meld with the pasta’s lightly spicy tomato-thyme sauce.

For dessert, we shared a tuile ($8.95) tower made of caramelized custard, filled with raspberry sorbet and garnished with fresh berries, and a creme brûlée ($8.95) so satiny smooth, you could’ve sucked it up through a straw. We just wish that, given the tableside cooking service, the brûlée had been brought to the table flambé.

One final note: The service was excellent. We grilled our server on each dish and he knew the ingredients, his wine recommendations (we drink by the glass) fit our respective entrees, he checked during each course to see if we were pleased and he kept an unobtrusive eye on us from various spots in the dining room.

Quagliata wouldn’t have it any other way: “The hardest part of running a restaurant is motivating younger waiters. You can never become arrogant or feel invincible because you’re having a good night. Waiters have to read every table, and they should talk to their people. People who don’t say anything don’t return.”

By Diane DiPiero, Northern Ohio Live

When Carl Quagliata, owner of the newly renovated Giovanni’s Ristorante, opened his restaurant twenty-five years ago, the place was busy. “But for the last ten years, there wasn’t much growth. We weren’t drawing in younger people,” Quagliata says.

Quagliata, who also owns Tuscany, an Italian restau- rant at Eaton Place, was certain Giovanni’s decor was at the heart of the matter. “It looked like an old-fashioned restaurant,” he says. “It was time for a change.”

Located in an office building in Beachwood, the restaurant’s original interior was boxy – the entrance contained a small foyer, interrupted by a coatroom. Elements like a massive chandelier in the middle of the dining area accentuated the space’s low ceilings.

Designer Paula Jo Boykin, ASID, IIDA, of Cleveland’s Spectrum Design Services, and her design team, Kelli Gamertsfelder, ASID, and design-architect Curt Smock, envisioned a restaurant steeped in Italian tradition but in tempo with current trends, like ultra-comfortable seating, ambient lighting and options for formal and casual dining.

“It’s Tuscan 2001,” Boykin says.

This sophisticated look begins when patrons open the newly installed burnished-brown door that, with its ornate dings, calls to mind a venerable home on a narrow cobblestone street in Florence. Standing in the entrance, diners find themselves bathed in elegant tones of gold, basil and sage.

Poured concrete columns frame the two primary areas: the bar (which also has seating for dinner) on the left and the dining room on the right. Behind the maitre d’s desk, a massive brass cappuccino maker is surrounded by a wall of built-in niches holding wine from the restaurant’s collection. Luscious textures abound – from the velvet draperies at the entrance to the leatherette seats in the main dining area. Alabaster half-dome light fixtures on the ceiling and frosted wall sconces add to the warm golden glow. Rows of built-in wine racks line the walls above the long banquette in the main dining room, creating visual appeal and functionality.

“We added wood beams on the ceiling to give the room a different expanse,” Bov_ kin says. “It’s like you’re sitting in a great wine cellar.” The walls are covered in a seamless vinyl that oozes weathered hues of gold and ocher. “It offers tons of texture. Plus the vinyl is very practical in a restaurant setting.” Boykin adds.

Options for private dining were an important consideration in the renovation. A cozy nook between the bar and main dining room can be cordoned off with lush velvet draperies. An existing space at the far end of the restaurant has glass doors to separate it from the rest of the space while still offering an open atmosphere.

The room’s richly paneled walls are decorated with Picasso prints, mostly from his Cubist period. “He’s an Italian hero, so he fits in well in an Italian restaurant,” Boykin says.

In the more casual bar area, reproductions of European posters set a whimsical mood above commodious U-shaped booths. Animal-print stools outline the bar, which boasts a sleek and seductive black granite top and carved corbels with a grape motif.

Even a bar in an upscale restaurant must have a television. (How else would Indians, Browns or Cavs fans know how their team was faring?) But Boykin blended it in with the decor, framing it in one of the same gilded frames used for the Picasso prints in the private dining room.

Boykin also opened up the bar area and used elements such as green velvet upholstery to tie it in with the rest of the restaurant. “You can come in dressed casually and feel very comfortable sitting here,” she says. “And you can still feel part of what’s going on in the main dining room.”

Sandy Mitchell, About Cleveland

Giovanni’s, in the ground level of an office building at Chagrin and Richmond Roads, offers an excellent dining experience, whether it’s for a special occasion, a business dinner, or a weeknight treat. The extensive norther Italian menu starts with selections such as paper-thin carpaccio or seafood, including clams, escargot, and oysters.

Pasta courses include the traditional capellini d’Angelo, topped with fresh plum tomatoes (ripe even in the dead of winter), garlic, and capers. Entrees include several veal and beef dishes, Dover sole, and fresh daily fish selections. There’s even a Chateaubriand for two.Desserts are luscious and rich. The tiramisu is one of the best I’ve ever had.

The award-winning wine list contains over 500 selections and is one of the best in the city, if not the country. After dinner, there’s a tempting cart of cordials, brandies, Grappa, and Armagnacs. Be careful; some of the selections can run over $50 per glass.

Giovanni’s is a charming, relaxed, and elegant eatery. In a world of fast-paced, interchangeable restaurants, Giovanni’s offers an unforgettable and delicious meal each time you visit.

John Kappes, Cleveland.com

Before Cleveland’s chef revolution, there were a few white-tablecloth restaurants where you could celebrate a graduation, a promotion or an engagement in high style. Giovanni’s, tucked away in a nondescript Beachwood office building, has carried on that tradition since 1976 — and with the kind of top-tier menu we’ve come to expect from our new food stars. The offerings are classic Italian, exquisitely prepared to taste and generous in portions. A Carpaccio di Manza appetizer is a dream of thinly sliced sirloin on a bed of chicory, drizzled in mustard cream, while the entrees range from a majestic veal chop marbled with the perfect proportion of fat to a luscious scallopine bursting with the flavors of marsala and mushrooms. There is also a generous selection of seafood, from tuna steak to clams casino, and pasta dishes. Sides, or contorni, include a wood-grilled asparagus that will forever banish the memories of holiday dinners gone awry. The luxury here is not cheap, but you’ll search for new occasions to lean back and splurge.