If having Italian food your first night in France is wrong, I don't want to be right.
After an overnight flight, checking into our hotel, shopping, and meeting the fellow American wedding guests for drinks, we headed back to our neighborhood in search of dinner.
Earlier in the day we had passed a place called Gambino. It was tucked away beneath scaffolding because the higher levels of the building are under construction. It took a keen eye to notice it and luckily we did!
Gambino's signs are very unassuming. They are simple gray boards with thin red lettering.
As we walked in we turned to each other and said, "Is it shameful we're at an Italian place our first night in Paris? Shouldn't we have something traditionally French?" Once we saw the food start to go by, our guilt diminished.
Gambino has two dining rooms, one on the ground floor and one on the second floor. The host showed us up the stairs to our section.
Gambino's style is very unique. None of the furniture matches. Some chairs are wooden, some chairs are blue, some chairs have purple seats covers. It's very eclectic.
There is one row of tables up against the windows and those overlook the bustling street below. Definitely request one of those spots if you can.
The upstairs dining room seemed to be in various stages of construction. For example, this wall pictured below is part exposed brick, part concrete.
There are a few walls in the upstairs space that are just the wooden frames for where the walls should go, but they've never been filled in.
We were seated at a cozy table for two. The menu was 100 percent in French and we were struggling more than we wanted to admit.
We were able to deduce that there were three houses wines: a red, a white and a rose. I asked what the red was and our lovely waiter answered, "Montepulciano," which is perfect, as that's my favorite kind of red wine! The first of many bonus points for Gambino.
The wine came in these adorable single serving bottles, almost like what you'd get on an airplane.
We couldn't help but notice that our table had quite the array of olive oils, which we couldn't wait to use.
Our very sweet waiter brought a plate of bread. It had three varieties: flatbread crisps, multigrain and the classic French baguette.
We used those olive oils to enjoy the bread and it was a delicious combination. Extra virgin olive oil just tastes lightyears better than other oils.
We were having a tough time deciding what to order, mostly because we didn't understand the French menu. Our waiter seemed to sense our hesitation and so I sheepishly looked up and asked, "Do you speak English?" He smiled warmly, said "yes," and let us fire away questions about five or six items.
Thankfully we did ask, because once we actually knew what we were looking at, our orders became crystal clear.
My dinner date ordered the saffron risotto with scallops. Mixed into the rice was zucchini and eggplant.
After a few bites she said, "This is not the creamiest risotto. I've definitely made better at home. I did love the fresh veggies mixed in, but the scallops were bay scallops and I prefer sea scallops. The best part of the dish was the saffron flavor."
I went for a classic Italian specialty, gnocchi sorrentina. The dish was absolutely perfect. The red sauce was flavorful and every single bite was so cheesy. I had to twirl my spoon several times with each bite just to break the cheese away!
Though we were getting full, we had seen two desserts land on a nearby table and resolved to make the room.
After a quick deliberation (and ignoring our waiter's suggestions) we went with the profiteroles. They arrived as two puff pastries, covered in chocolate and garnished with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The chocolate sauce tasted like chocolate pudding. The pastry beneath was light and flaky, which was lucky because the ice cream was so decadent. We wound up using the cookie garnish to wipe up more chocolate off the plate!
Not only was our meal at Gambino fantastic, but we watched incredible food get delivered to all the tables around us. Their pizzas looked superb and we made a pack to come back on our last night and order that. We also saw a cheesecake and a sorbet dessert float by, both of which looked amazing.
We did try to go back to Gambino on our last night in Paris, but they are closed on Sundays! We were totally bummed.
If you visit Paris, do take a break from the traditional French fare to indulge in some sensational Italian. The food at Gambino is stellar, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and thankfully, the staff speak excellent English.
Visit Gambino at 6 Rue Gamboust, Paris, France 75001.