The first meal I had when I visited Rome was in a restaurant called “The Cave of the Emperors”, as it was translated into English. The subterranean restaurant was located down a flight of stairs on a side street of the Eternal City. Recently, I visited Girasole Restaurant in Shadyside. Like that Roman restaurant, Girasole is located on a side street, 733 Copeland Street, just a few doors off Walnut Street, and the small dining room is located several stairs below sidewalk level.

Girasole, which means sunflower in Italian, consistently is rated as one of the best Italian restaurants in the area. A family-owned business, Girasole has been around for nearly two decades. We made reservations, but we had to wait 15 minutes for the slowpoke diners lingering at what was to be our table to leave before being seated. But we were in no hurry, and since it was a birthday celebration, we weren’t going to let a minor delay dampen our spirits.

The restaurant is small; I don’t think another table could be shoehorned into the place if they wanted to, and I admired how the attentive wait staff squeezed between tables to serve patrons. Stone walls and copper cover tables gave the dining room a rustic feel, as if we were dining in someone’s wine cellar. It’s cozy and loud, but loud enough that you can’t hear the conversations of other diners. So, in a crazy way, the place seemed very intimate. But if you are looking for hushed voices and tinkling piano keys, you are in the wrong place.

However, if you like reasonably priced, tasty Italian food, you are in the right place. Girasole’s menu changes seasonally. Although it was snowing in April when we visited, the spring menu was featured. We opted for the Bruschetta as an appetizer. The Italian toast was a delicious mixture of artichoke, pine nuts, pesto and roasted grapes—who knew what essentially were raisins could taste so delicious? We both selected the salad with Girasole’s onion gorgonzola dressing, which was delightfully light and flavorful. My companion opted for the Orecchiette, which combined the small cup-like pasta with rapini and sausage in an aglio e olio sauce. He was very pleased with his selection. I chose the Tortelloni, which featured the pasta in a light cream sauce, with peas and prosciutto. The prosciutto was nicely done and not too rubbery. The peas were tender and fresh. And the cream sauce—it’s cream—had to be good, which it was. The bread that accompanied the meal was crusty and hearty. Our only complaint was that we couldn’t find room for dessert because the confections passing our table on the way to other diners looked delectable.

We enjoyed our meal and our trip to Girasole and would highly recommend it to others.

By Janice Palko