If the 14th Street strip is primed for an Italian invasion, then consider Ghibellina its Amerigo Vespucci. The 114-seat osteria officially opened this week, preceding six soon-to-open Italian spots including Etto from the Standard folks, international pizza chain Piola, Bar di Bari by the Drafting Table crew, and G, Mike Isabella’s sandwich joint that pops up at Graffiato this week. Ghibellina co-owners Ari Gejdenson and Ralph Lee are currently paving the way with their Tuscan-inspired spot offering everything from piatti piccoli (small plates) to a hefty porterhouse steak big enough for a group.
Gejdenson and Lee’s first neighborhood joint, Acqua Al 2, is a branch of an original Florentine restaurant; Ghibellina is closely inspired by another. Gejdenson says he traveled with chef Jonathan Copeland (formerly of Palena and Society Fair) to work in the kitchen at Trattoria Mario, one of Gejdenson’s favorite restaurants while living in the ancient city. There, they practiced making the rustic Tuscan dishes that fill the menu—items such as ribollita, a cannellini bean soup thickened with bread, and potato-stuffed ravioli with hearty beef ragu. You might make a meal of smaller portions of pasta, meat, and seafood, mixing rich offerings like white wine-braised beef pot roast stracotto and ricotta-and-spinach-stuffed girelle pasta with lighter dishes such as citrusy pesto-dressed arugula salad and wood-roasted artichokes tossed with lemon and mint. Larger plates arrive in the form of shellfish stew or a splurge of a steak (depending on how many friends are willing to share): the bistecca alla Fiorentina that clocks in at more than 3 pounds for $85. More in a casual sharing mood? Pizzas get a light char in the wood-fired oven, and are topped with both traditional ingredients—tomato, basil, and buffalo mozzarella, for instance—and more creative combinations such as pea shoots and culatello salumi.
The lofty dining room is designed with both eating and drinking (or waiting) in mind. Leather banquettes and wooden tables are part of the rustic atmosphere, as are two marble-topped bars: one where you can order the full menu, and a circular version that’s reserved solely for sipping wines, beers, and cocktails like the white peach “Ghib-Bellini.” A third place to perch is by the front window, overlooking what’ll eventually be a small outdoor patio. Plans for the circa-1900 building are far from complete. While currently the entry-level floor is the only open, it’ll eventually be joined by two more: a top level that might become a more traditional dining room, and a basement that channels the former occupant, jazz club HR-57, with live music. Stay tuned for more details as they emerge.