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Restaurants & Bars 4

almost dine-out Il Grano

ks | Aug 26, 200512:40 AM

So we went there with good frugal intentions...
which failed in light of their tomato menu.

Il Grano is/was one of the Pellegrino Dine-Out choices this year. I had passed by it and checked out the menu a few weeks back. When I saw it was on the dine out list, I thought it might be an interesting choice and their menu for dine out was encouraging.

Last night four of us went. We were handed a regular food menu that included the dine-out menu and a special menu full of amazing sounding tomato dishes. At the bottom, the chef noted that he grows something like 78 tomato plants with over 30 or 40 different varieties. My kinda chef! He was also seen strolling around the dining room with a gorgeous platter of these tomatoes.

The waiter pointed out that they had designed the tomato menus as kind of a small plates sort of thing where portions were small so you could order many. We had noticed they had a 5 course tasting menu for $55.00 with a vegetarinan one for $49.00. As one of our group is a vegetarian we pondered ditching the dine-out and heading in this direction. The waiter told us that in fact we could do as many courses as we liked and that each additional course would be around $10.00 more.

We decided to go for the five. We asked that the carnivores among us get one of their crudo plates to start and then to be sure to include some of the tomato menu in the mix. We split a bottle of organic white wine, but I don't remember the vineyard (it was called an Eleanor of Acquitaine which was intriguing - it was $35.00).

Here's what we ate:

Amuse: a bloody mary thing - a ball of frozen tomato puree in vodka in a martini glass. Bad description, but tasty!

1st course: crudo - two pieces of yellowtail and a piece of toro with slices of melon and fig with a melon sauce around the plate not on the fish. It's a bit disconcerting to eat raw fish with fruit if you're used to sashimi. But the quality of the fish was terrific (I think the waiter said yellowtail from Australia and toro from Tokyo, but I could be wrong).

1st course for vegetarian: mixed heirloom tomatoes with bufalo mozzarella. Looked beautiful but I didn't try it.

2nd course: green zebra gazpacho with diver scallops - possibly the best dish of the night. The gazpacho was creamy/silky/mildly tangy and perfectly complimented the lightly grilled scallops. Vegetarian version was the same dish without the scallops.

3rd course: pasta - one eggplant tortellini in an eggplant shell and one wrapped pasta around ricotta (this shape has a name I'm sure but I don't remember it - kinda looked like a british christmas cracker). Both covered with a light, beautiful tomato sauce. Very nice.

4th course: sturgeon with a truffle sauce with seasonal roasted vegetables (green beans, fennel, new potatoes, and cauliflower?). I've never eaten sturgeon before - the chef said it was from Oregon. A very meaty white fish - kind of like swordfish. I really liked it, perfectly cooked. The sauce was just right and not too truffly (although some might say that's a contradication, with the fish it isn't).

The vegetarian version was more of the roasted vegetables and two gorgeous pieces of cheese - one a fontina and I don't remember the second. A delicious combination.

5th course: dessert. The guys got bittersweet chocolate souffles and the girls got white peach neopolitans. The souffles were intensly rich and almost liquid at the bottom. The neopolitans were layered thin slices of white peach, light pastry, and a meyer lemon cream (where they're getting those at this time of year I don't know!) with a berry sauce on the plate. It was a lovely combination of flavors and textures.

The service was really good throughout - our waiter was very knowledgable and pleasant. Pacing was a bit uneven - fast at first, a little laggy later, but not so that it was distracting. The restaurant tends to be on the loud side and it was pretty full the entire evening.

I think the quality of the food to the price ratio is really great here, I would definitely go back (and as a non-fan of Italian food that's saying something). The portion sizes were also not huge - which is perfect for a tasting menu. Also if you're looking for upscale places to bring vegetarian friends I would highly recommend it. A much better range of choices for them than usual, especially with this tomato menu.

The total cost with wine, tax, and tip was around $85.00/person.

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