The long-awaited, American South-inspired Italian restaurant debuts in New Orleans on April 20, paying tribute to Louisiana's Creole-Italian cooking heritage.
“The Italian food of Southern Italy is a simple style of country cooking based on fresh ingredients,” begins Donald Link, the prolific Louisiana-based chef and restaurateur behind some of New Orleans’ most beloved restaurants, including Cochon and Pêche. And up next, Link’s newest act, Gianna––which debuts Saturday––embraces the American South just as much as it does Italy; “I find the styles of country cooking have similar souls,” continues the chef.
At Gianna, Link, along with longtime chef and collaborator Rebecca Wilcomb––who spent the last decade at Link’s iconic Southern-inflected New American restaurant Herbsaint, moving up from line chef to chef de cuisine––will meld the two cuisines.
“We, of course, will be cooking with local ingredients here just as the first immigrants from Italy did when they moved here in the 1800s,” says Link, explaining the origin of Louisiana’s Creole-Italian cooking heritage.
However, the chef adds that most of New Orleans’ Creole-Italian restaurants are rooted in the Sicilian and American style of red sauces. In contract, to offer the city a fresh perspective, “Gianna will spotlight a different, lighter version of this amazing cuisine,” adds Link.
Gianna, which claims the ground floor of a five-story building in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, encompasses approximately 6,000 square feet, offering 160 seats, plus another 20 at a horseshow-shaped bar in the dining room’s center. “All but one of our spots are in the Warehouse District,” says Link, adding that he also picked the locale because the neighborhood “has been growing for years now.” With large windows enabling ample natural light, the restaurant’s neutral white and beige color palette plus zinc-topped bar convey a sense of airiness, which match Gianna’s lighter-style seasonal menu.
Named after Wilcomb’s grandmother Giannina, who still resides in Northern Italy’s Veneto regions, Gianna hinges on rustic, produce-driven dishes, which mesh influences from both Louisiana and Italy. The concise menu ranges from antipasti like tuna-stuffed peppers and chickpea fritters, to appetizers like chicken and rice stew. Garlic and rosemary Gulf shrimp, and steak Florentine represent larger plates, while a separate menu section pays tribute to rice and pasta via tummala of rice, chicken, and sausage, and one of Wilcomb’s signature dishes: tortellini in brodo.
"Tortellini in brodo … [is] the first thing I eat when I get off the plane and go to my Nonna's house in Trecenta,” says Wilcomb. “For me, it’s synonymous with Italy, my childhood, and family love,” the chef explains of her decision to add the dish to Gianna’s menu.
By way of beverages, Gianna continues to honor Italy via a wine list built of small producers, 80 percent of which hail from Italy, in addition to aperitivo cocktails. Link Restaurant Group beverage director Cary Palmer built the program, focusing on lighter-style spritzers, like The Rossini, a blend of Lambrusco and local strawberry purée.
Says Link of his decision to partner with Wilcomb, “I knew Rebecca was an amazing talent that I wanted to do a project with.”
Gianna, 700 Magazine St., 504-399-0816.