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Gnocchi on the Nile

Strada introduces Italian to Giza’s Four Seasons Cairo at First Residence
By Kate Durham
Going to eat at the Four Seasons Cairo at First Residence is a journey. It’s not so much about getting to the stately hotel in Giza overlooking the Nile, but that longwalk down that elegantly appointed third-floor hallway to the restaurants. Each corner we rounded took us farther from the traffic and noise of the city, until finally our journey ended in Italy — at Strada, the Four Seasons’ newest venue.

The warm yellows and oranges of the dining room and the flagstone tiles give the space an airy villa-like feel, soothing after the dark winter night we’d left at the hotel’s door. My companion, who had just returned from Rome, vouched for Italian street scenes featured in the poster-sized photos on the walls.

It’s a relaxing setting for perusing the menu, which offers five courses from antipasti to desserts, and six or seven options for every course. Our first decision was made easy with the Strada antipasti per due persone (LE 165), a two-person sampler of six starters alongside a bulb of roasted garlic still hot from the oven. Of the array, my favorites were the Olive all Ascolana, fried green olives stuffed with minced meat, and Parmigiana di Melanzane, a mini-eggplant parmesan atop a disk of light bread.

Skipping the soups, we moved to the primi piatti, or first course. My companion ordered the Risotto con rapa, caprino e germogli (LE 100), a rather Christmassy-looking dish with the rice stained reddish pink by beetroot and accented with green wispy sprigs of cress. The strong tastes from the chunks of sharp goat cheese and tangy diced beets were offset by their creamy bed of risotto.

I took my cue from Strada’s Chef Riccardo Parisse, who claims the Gnocchi Croccanti in salsa di parmigiano (LE 120) as his favorite dish. When in Rome, as they say. An excellent choice: traditional gnocchi can sometimes be mushy, but when fried, these dumplings take on a slightly crunchy texture well suited for the shallow layer of parmesan fondue they rested in. The slices of porcini mushrooms added an earthy accent to an otherwise mild dish.

Light eaters could easily stop at the primi piatti and still call it a delightful night, but we were taking the ‘food is love’ culture through all its courses. For a main dish, I ordered the Tagliata di Tonno (LE180), cuts of tuna steak with a lemony yogurt sauce and vegetables steamed al dente amid dollops of pesto. It’s light and healthy, the type of meal you fantasize abouton a bright summer day next to the Mediterranean Sea.

My companion ordered the Involtino di Pollo (LE 130), a hearty winter dish of baked chicken stuffed with smoked mozzarella, spinach and red peppers. It’s similar to a cordon bleu, but without the breading; instead, the chicken cutlet is bathed in a rich, smoky pepper sauce. The menu tags this dish as spicy, but it’s not zingy in the least. The wedges of roasted potato make this a great comfort meal during a cold snap.

I would love to say we ended with a festival of tiramisu, panna cotte and cannolo for dessert, but in truth, we had no room. Fortunately, Strada has a selection of coffees that are desserts unto themselves. My companion’s Cappuccino Ghiacciato (LE 55) was a cool concoction of Espresso, sugar, hazelnut syrup, milk and vanilla ice cream blended together, while my Caffe Speziato Con Cannella Panna Montata (LE 85) featured spiced Espresso with sugar, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, amaretto liqueur and cream.

While Strada’s menu has some exotic variations (Quail Carbonara, anyone?) on Italian cuisine, there’s also a good selection of familiar favorites to comfort less adventurous palates. It’s more than enough to fortify you for that long walk back to Cairo, waiting patiently for you just outside the Four Season’s front lobby. et

Strada • Four Seasons Cairo at First Res- idence • 35 El Giza Street, Giza • Tel: (02) 35671600 • Open for dinner from 6pm-12am; breakfast buffet starts at 6am.

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