Gioco restaurant participated in Mondo Lambrusco 2012

Do you remember Lambrusco? 

Lambrusco wineThroughout the 1970s and 1980s, Lambrusco was the biggest selling import wine in the United States.  For those of you who either (1) don’t remember or (2) haven’t tried it, Lambrusco is an effervescent red wine full of dark berry flavors and hints of earthiness red wine originating in Emilia-Romagna, a region in Northern Italy.  

To be honest, I hadn’t tasted a sip of Lambrusco since the mid-1980s until I had the good fortune to be asked to cover an event on Thursday, May 17 at Gioco, a restaurant in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood.

Last week, Gioco Chef Gaetano Ascione was one of thirty-five chefs around the world and one of just twelve in the United States participating in Mondo Lambrusco 2012 to celebrate the re-launch of quality Italian-made Lambrusco.   During the week of May 14, these special chefs were asked to serve dishes that pair well with Lambrusco.  Chef Gaetano chose to celebrate the re-launch of Lambrusco by creating three amazing dishes: Five Spices Braised Suckling Pig Belly served with shrimp salad, followed by a pear poached in red wine and cinnamon served on a bed of custard.

What a happy surprise!

Braised pork belly at GiocoThe fine Lambrusco we sampled was nothing like my memory.  This time, I found it to be a delightfully effervescent but full-bodied wine that is tremendously versatile in pairing possibilities.  The effervescence and full fruit flavors were a perfect complement to the richness of the pork belly.  Surprisingly, the shrimp was not at all overpowered by the wine.  The rich dessert, braised in the wine already, was also perfectly offset by the sparkly taste of the wine.  Overall, I left the event as both a new fan of Gioco and a newly renewed fan of this versatile and intriguing wine – Lambrusco.


BONUS:  For all the adventurous foodies out there, I have included two of the recipes at the end of this blog, courtesy of Chef Ascione.      

Interior of GiocoGioco pioneered the retail development of the South Loop when it opened in September of 1999.  The restaurant has been a mainstay in the neighborhood as other restaurants and stores have opened up over the years.  Gioco is located in an historic building built in 1890 and is one of the few remaining buildings in Chicago from that era.  The Gioco space features the original old brick and plaster walls, an old wooden walk-in cooler and a walk-in safe built into the wall, used by the Chicago gangsters (Al Capone, Frank Nitti, George “Bugs” Moran and Earl “Hymie” Weiss ) for one of the gambling and/or brothel houses that dominated the area in the early 1900s.  Designer Jerry Kleiner designed Gioco restaurant to retain these old world elements and to feature them in his modernization of the space.

Chef Gaetano Ascione is a native of Naples, Italy and his culinary career began when he was awarded a Master’s Degree in Hotel Training from Istituto Alberghiero di Stato in Salerno, Italy.  He began working as Chef de Partie in Italy, Germany, the UK, and the Bahamas and is fluent in five languages, including Italian, English, Spanish, German and French.  Chef Gaetano is a colorful, highly energetic person.  His personality is bold and strong like the flavors of his dishes from his native country.  While he has cooked for the powerful and famous over his long career, he comes from a humble background in Naples, Italy. He feels it is important to connect personally with the guests so he tries to get into the dining room to talk directly with the customers, which is made easier for him by Gioco’s open kitchen.

Gioco is most definitely worth a visit.  While you’re there, be sure to stop by the bar to visit one of the fantastic mixologists . . . and be sure to ask for Chef Ascione.  He will likely come out of the kitchen and entertain you with energized conversation while you are enjoying his superb food.

Speaking of his food, here are those two remarkably recipes from last Thursday’s event.  Buon appetito!

5 Spices Braised Suckling Pig belly served with Shrimp Salad



•                     4lb of Berkshire pork belly skin-off, cut in four share

•                     2 lb. of diced carrots, celery and onion

•                     2 oz. of five spices powder

•                     2 cup of red wine

•                     2 qt. of veal stock

•                     2 qt. of vegetables stock

•                     2oz sliced garlic

•                     salt and pepper


Ingredients (for the shrimp salad)

•                     6 large boiled shrimps, diced and dressed with Italian parsley

•                     sliced basil

•                     extra virgin olive oil



1.                  In a large pan roast the pork belly, skin down until it´s nicely brown and excess fat is released, turn it over and let it color evenly.

2.                  Remove the pork from the fire and let it rest until it reaches room temperature.

3.                  Cover both sides of the belly with the spices.

4.                  In the same pan add the diced vegetables and the garlic, let them cook for a few minutes then add the pork and deglaze with the wine; let it evaporate completely.

5.                  Add the two stocks and bring to a boil.

6.                  Let it braise in an oven at 375 degrees for at least one hour or until the pork is quite soft.

7.                  Remove the meat, strain the sauce and discard the vegetables.

8.                  Let the sauce reduce further to a glace.

9.                  Slices the pork horizontally and serve on top of your favorite risotto or old fashioned mash potatoes, cover with the sauce and on the side of the serving plate, add the shrimp salad and pour the Lambrusco.


Gioco is located at 1312 S Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60605.  You can reach them at 312.939.3870, visit their website at, or follow them on Twitter.


NOTE:  All photos courtesy of Blast! Marketing & PR






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