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Restaurants & Bars 39

Il Grano - a love, hate experience

john gonzales | Feb 19, 200406:07 PM

So I finally gave Il Grano a go last, with my wife and another couple visiting L.A..
We got off to a very bad start. My wife and I arrived first for our 7 pm, to a surprisingly empty room with only 2-3 other tables occupied. We collect wine so brought a 97 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cab. The co-owner who seated us looked it over and told us they had this wine on their list, and that they would not be able to open ours for us. He told me I should have called first. Problem was, I did call first as I do with anyplace I haven't been. I asked what their corkage policy was, and was cheerfully told they charged $15. They didn't say anything about a limit on bottles, or that they wouldn't open something on their list. (Other places will tell you their complete policy when asked without leaving one to guess.) So I drive down to our wine storage and then pick the wine, as I know our visiting friends like this particular wine also.
I explained to the guy that I had indeed called, and was told nothing of the sort. That had I been, I simply would have brought a different wine. He then gave me the "well we have to reserve the right to refuse any service." Claiming they had an "award-winning" wine list where I surely could find something good. That proclamation rubbed me the wrong way. The way I saw it, the failure was not on me as I called and asked. Clearly the restaurant did not give me a correct answer. Had they, I would have brought a different wine, or opted for Cafe Bizou which I was also considering. Bottom line he should have accepted some responsibility, appeased the customer, opened the bottle of wine for us, and just charged us the fee. We're pretty frequent and reasonable diners but were not happy. Had we not been expecting others we would have left.
The winelist by the way is pretty extensive, but only decently crafted. It had too much Italian, and too much young heavy red. (the food is actually pretty light)It is also at the upper end of mark-up. At that point we weren't about to pay $175 for the wine we brought.
Ok so on to the chow. Thank goodness for some redemption. Three of us had the tasting menu, the fourth a nice large tartare followed by some pretty tasty papardelle with wild boar. The tasting menu was $55. Nice bread and rolls were provided throughout.
First was the selection of small cruda/raw: a scallop sliced, a small oyster topped with a gelee, some sliced marinated clam with greens, and a small serving of tartare. The first three were pretty good, certainly very fresh, the tartare (with alittle ground toasted macadamia) was excellent.
Next came some lightly battered and fried calamari, and cuttlefish (I think). Simply served with lemon. Very light and very good.
Next was a seafood pasta. It was some very delicate thin fettucine? with a light red sauce surrounded by a few clams and mussels and mixed i with some calmari, lobster etc.. The sauce was subtle and not too acidic allowing the tasty seafood to shine. Excellent.
We had different fish courses. My wife had the seared big-eye tuna over some braised leafy veggies. The problem was the sauce here. It was odd, pretty strong, rustic, and a bit bitter. No one could exactly tell but it had a very oaky taste. I quipped, barolo barrel rinsings. It was not bad, it just seemed a bit strong for the subtleness of the seared tuna which was very good. I had the black cod served over a celery root puree with a very light pesto which was only part basil with some other green (arugala?). I loved it. The fish was tasty and the accompaniment went just right with it.
Dessert was a tangerine mini-souffle with a tangerine section. It was very good, but emphasis on the mini, about the size of six half-dollars stacked.
The food was really good. The only non-winner was the sauce on the tuna, but really only the sauce. The portions were smallish, but big enough for a tasting menu. The must be seriously commended on the quality of the seafood. It was all incredibly fresh, and tasty. The menu tab of $55 per person was surely worth it.
Wine-wise we had a Schlos Eberbacher Kabinett Riesling ($35) with the early courses. A good match but still a bit too sweet. A white Burgundy would have been a good match. I was too cheap to fork $95 for the one they had, though it was reasonable. We also had a Melville Carrie's Vineyard Pinot ($85) with the later courses.
The initial experience really ticked me off, but they did provide good service throughout. They even provided our friend who was not having the menu, a couple of little bonus tastes of what we had. They erroneously brought my wife the wrong fish order, but quickly prepared her the correct one, and left them the Bass to try.
One nit (go ahead and flame me) was that I got a sense of self-aggrandizement on their part, which while occuring many places, seems to occur at disproportionte number of italian restaurants. Is there a reason I should enjoy myself more when my waiter mixes in theatrics and some italian language, yet I have to ask three different ways whether the entire table has to get the tasting menu?
I really wanted to love the place. Food-wise I did. I'll go back knowing the complete "rules" now. However for over $400, last night's experience fell short.

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