I don't normally do restaurant reviews, and I don't plan on making it a habit here, but I had such an exquisite meal this past week at Trattoria Grappolo that I can't resist telling you about it. Plus, I got a few great photos so I really should share them, right?
Months ago, some friends and I had a wonderful, leisurely 4-hour meal at Grappolo, and when my birthday came around this year, I thought it would be the perfect place to go for a little celebration. So my parents and I headed over to the valley (the Santa Ynez Valley, that is), and settled in on the restaurant porch for a gorgeous, multi-course meal.
We started off with Carpaccio di Bue, a traditional antipasto of paper-thin sliced raw beef. The combination of ingredients was fantastic--salty shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh and green arugula, tangy capers, earthy hints from the beef, and drizzles of lemon juice and olive oil--and the delicate structure of each component created a perfect balance of flavors and textures.
In the Italian fashion, we decided not to order our courses all at once, but rather to savor each one, and only after fully tasting and eating one course would we order the next. After some consultation with our taste buds and negotiation amongst ourselves, we settled on two primi.
The Tortelloni Burro e Salvia, homemade "ravioli" plumply stuffed with spinach, ricotta, and Parmigiano and resting in a sage butter sauce, had caught my eye on their way to a neighboring table, and the pasta special of the night, homemade ravioli stuffed with sea bass and served with a spicy tomato sauce, also intrigued us.
While I love tomato sauce and generally eschew butter, I was captivated by the tortelloni. I just loved how cute and plump with filling they were, and the soft and creamy texture of the spinach and ricotta was well matched by the delicate pasta clinging round it. And the velvety butter sauce, so fragrant with sage, made each bite pure bliss.
Not without its own merits, the ravioli special had a generous amount of sea bass, but in the end I found the filling to be somewhat dry and rather curious, consisting of what appeared to be just flaked sea bass and minced broccoli. The tomato sauce was delicious, though, and the heat of the spice was pleasantly warm without being overpowering.
After our delicious primi, we sat back at our table on the porch and let the moment sink in, enjoying the balmy warm summer air, sipping our Chardonnay, and taking in the beautiful views of the valley. We were so content with our meal up to that point that we slowly began consulting the dessert menu.
At length, however, (and much to our server's surprise, I'm sure!) we decided that instead of dessert, we did in fact want to order the New York strip steak special. It was superbly aged and tender (chef Leonardo Curti superintends the aging process in-house; and on a side note, I hear he's making his own prosciuttos, as well!), perfectly grilled with a deep pink and juicy center. The steak was topped with a creamy sauce hinting of melted Gorgonzola and more of that heavenly sage, and it was accompanied by roasted potatoes, sauteed carrots, and some of the best sauteed spinach I have ever tasted.
Having had a preview of the dessert card, we couldn't resist ending with a little something sweet. So, we finished off our pleasant meal with the Pere alla Finanziera, a warm and soft almond cake topped with pear and served with cream and a scoop of vanilla gelato.
The food at Trattoria Grappolo is absolutely delightful, and the service is amazing as well. It is (sadly) rare to find a restaurant in the States where dishes are not removed until all diners at the table have finished their course, and rarer still to find a restaurant where the table is "yours" for the evening. But at Grappolo, you are treated with the best of European-style service. The considerate and helpful staff have made my visits truly enjoyable, even offering tastings of some of their wines to aid in the decision-making and offering complimentary desserts on occasion.
With a "jaunt to Italy" just under an hour's drive from home, I can safely say that I'll be going back again. And again!