Most people don’t expect to find great Italian food in the South. As a New Yorker, I, too, was surprised by the high quality restaurants in Durham and the triangle area. Gocciolina, however, stands out to me as one of – if not the – best near Duke.

The average passerby would likely not notice Gocciolina, as it sits off to the side of Guess Road. However, if you take the opportunity to make a reservation (or go in with the hopes of being seated as a walk-in) you will not be disappointed.

When I first tried contacting the restaurant, I was unable to reach the maître’d and had to leave a message. Fortunately, the woman called me back a day later, and I was able to schedule a time to dine. About a week ago, however, Gocciolina began offering online reservations, so it should hopefully be easier for customers to schedule time to visit the restaurant.

Once my friends and I arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted by a homey, authentic Italian atmosphere. Almost every table (as well as the bar) was filled, the lights were dimmed, and candles were placed throughout the main room.

The Options

coffee, tea, pizza
Jennifer Schnadig

Within minutes of sitting down, the waitress asked us if we wanted anything to drink, and then proceeded to explain the various specials offered that evening. Gocciolina is a restaurant that constantly provides its guests with a variety of specials and shared plates. As the waitress shared the list for the night with us, I followed along on the blackboard that listed them as well.

Everything sounded so appealing. There was a cacio e pepe risotto that I knew we had to order, grilled butternut squash with pesto, parmigiano reggiano with aged balsamic, and so much more.

The waitress left us to alone, leaving us to discuss how we could possibly decide which dishes to order. After minutes of debate, we concluded that we would all share the parmigiano, the risotto, the squash, and the brussels sprouts. For our mains, one of my friends ordered the baked gnocchi with tomato and mozzarella, while my other friend and I ordered the spinach and parmesan ravioli.

The Appetizers

Jennifer Schnadig

Within twenty minutes of ordering, plate after plate of appetizers began coming out of the kitchen. Before we knew it, all four plates were fighting for space on our table. My first bite was of the cacio e pepe risotto, the dish I was most looking forward to trying.

And boy, was I impressed. The chef managed to find the exact ratio of pepper to cheese to cream, and the risotto almost melted on my tongue. The drizzle of olive oil on the top of the risotto added both additional flavor and texture to the dish.

Next, I tried the grilled butternut squash with pesto. Normally, I’m not the biggest squash fan, but I couldn’t have been happier to be a little more adventurous than usual and try the squash. I never would have thought that pesto could complement the vegetable as well as it did, but the combination was impeccable.
Jennifer Schnadig

Next, I had a few bites of the parmigiano cheese with the balsamic drizzle. I’m a sucker for almost any kind of cheese, so tasting freshly carved cheese from the wheel couldn’t have been a better addition to the meal.

Jennifer Schnadig

The Brussels sprouts followed shortly after. Usually, I prefer my sprouts extra crispy, and at first, I was a little disappointed that these were sautéed. However, after a second sprout, I was able to taste the chili flakes, lemon, and garlic.

The Entrées

Jennifer Schnadig

Despite feeling almost full from the plethora of appetizers, I was excited for the next course. With only a short break in between the appetizers and the entrées, I was presented with four large pieces of green ravioli filled with cheese and spinach, doused in tomato sauce, and sprinkled with shaved parmesan cheese.

After taking my first bite, I knew I had made the right ordering choice. It was clear the ravioli was homemade and I could clearly discern the spinach and cheese flavors within the pasta. The only downsides of the course were that the raviolis got pretty cold, relatively quickly, and the tomato sauce was a bit watery on the sides. However, because the pasta was cooked slightly al dente, it did not make the dish soggy. My friend who ordered the same dish felt similarly to me as well.

Jennifer Schnadig

Although I did not get to try the gnocchi, it smelled, looked, and, as my friend told me, was quite tasty. The dish was presented in a skillet, because it was not a typical gnocchi that had been prepared on the stove; instead it had been baked in the oven with layers of tomato sauce and stracchino cheese on top of the pasta.

The Dessert

Jennifer Schnadig

After quickly devouring our mains, our server presented us with the dessert menu. The first item that stood out to me were the cannolis. How could we possibly have an Italian dinner and not order a classic Italian dessert? My friends decided to order chocolate almond torte with torched whipped cream, which they loved.

The two cannolis had crushed pistachios on one end and chocolate chips on the other. The shell was crunchy and sweet, and the ricotta filling was tangy but paired nicely with the chocolate chips throughout.

Jennifer Schnadig

Not only was the entire meal delightful, but also the prices are extremely reasonable. As a college student on a budget, going to Gocciolina provided high quality food for a low cost: exactly what a college student could want in a restaurant.