La Giara: Above Average Italian in an Unexpected Location
A former resident of Murray Hill, I thanked my lucky stars when I stumbled upon La Giara, a bright spot in an otherwise barren dining neighborhood. A fixture in Murray Hill, this 13 year old Italian restaurant claims inspiration from the rustic regional cuisine of Italian peasants. With remarkable success, La Giara produces comfortable and accessible Italian food in an unpretentious and relaxed environment.
The easy-to-miss storefront just before 34th Street on 3rd Avenue is clustered amongst cookie cutter apartment buildings and inexcusably boring restaurants. The look is cozier than you would typically find in the often-accused cultural wasteland of Murray Hill: exposed brick, wooden ceiling beams, a quiet wooden bar for a glass of wine, kitschy paintings of the Italian country side, a bright front window open in clement weather to the hustle and bustle of 3rd avenue. The vibe is kept traditional with an Italian-speaking staff, stiff white tablecloths, and and a properly effusive maitre’d.
The grub is classic Italian comfort food, offering beloved favorites like bruschetta, beef carpaccio, a caprese salad, linquine with clams, gnocchi pomodoro, fettucine bolognese, and veal ravioli. The magic isn’t derived from originality in construction or presentation but rather from the scrumptious traditional execution. The ingredients used are fresh and high quality; the pastas are all homemade in house, and you can absolutely taste the freshness; the desserts are good enough to make you swoon. For the best experience, stick with familiar basics (read: pasta dishes) and a cheap bottle of red wine.
Recommended dishes include the bufala caprese starter with tangy and slightly sour fresh mozzarella balls, basil and tomatoes, the pappardelle with duck ragout that is delightfully gamey without being overpowering, and the immensely comforting fettucine bolognese. Don’t miss out on the heavenly tiramisu – the perfect end to a satisfying and hearty meal.
La Giara may not be the best Italian in New York or the most well-known; however, it’s a reliable and delicious neighborhood spot for the Murray Hill/Midtown East crowd. Fresh pastas and classic desserts compensate for the less-than-perfect service (on the slow side) and cramped space at peak hours. A relaxed and traditional environment makes it great for a casual dinner with friends or family or for a laidback date night. Not to mention, the open windows in the summer make for great people-watching.