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The French Quarter is rife with fine dining establishments and cozy cocktail lounges, and Cafe Giovanni (117 Decatur St., 529-2154; www.cafegiovanni.com) has offered patrons both options at one address since its 2004 addition of the Belli Baci Lounge, which features wine specials, martinis and cocktails made with fresh juices.
"It's a great place for guests to relax, watch sports (and) hang out in a sophisticated but comfortable environment," manager Nial George says of the lounge, where brick walls, red draperies and plush leather chairs lend warmth. Customers can sample the cocktail and tapas menus before ordering a full meal in the dining room. On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings, dinner is sonorously accompanied by Cafe Giovanni's salute to its Italian roots: opera singers performing around the restaurant's white-clothed tables.
"(The music) is perfect for the romantic ambience," George says.
Cafe Giovanni was founded in 1991 by chef Duke LoCicero, a New Orleans native who takes pride in his creative interpretations of traditional American, Creole and Italian cuisines. Classic Italian dishes like veal Marsala, cannelloni and pasta bolognese are interspersed with selections featuring native flavors, like the Southern-Style Louisiana Voodoo shrimp and fried oysters Giovanni.
Adept at multiple styles of cooking, LoCicero's use of bold flavors and versatility as a chef have been key to Café Giovanni's longevity and success, George says. Twenty years in the business haven't stifled the inventive qualities of LoCicero's menu. "The specials change almost every day," George says.
Specials include a ladies' night dinner-and-drink deal and a daily happy hour. "It's exciting to welcome people and be able to offer them so many choices," he adds.
The restaurant's large space is available for private parties and events. LoCicero uses the restaurant's size to its full advantage when he hosts an annual fundraiser for his Chef Duke Foundation for Kids. Established in 1992, the organization benefits children at area hospitals by providing funding for medical supplies.
Cafe Giovanni features American, Creole and Italian cuisine.