Il Grillo opened last year and offers a more casual and accessible alternative to its sister, La Balena, serving lunch and staying open through the afternoon. I've had a chance to eat here twice, first for dinner in April and then lunch in July, and enjoyed the style of cuisine very much. The July lunch was birthday celebration for Mom, but also a quick return before Executive Chef Brad Briske's August departure to start his own place. Adelfo Barragan has been promoted to take his place. Barragan was in the kitchen during our recent meal (and I suspect has been helming at Il Grillo before) and I'm pleased to say it was as on point as the earlier experience.
The restaurant is tucked back a bit from the street with a few parking places in front and outdoor seating. Since it's hard to spot and the sign is so unobtrusive, here's what it looks like.
At dinner time, Piccoli Piatti were priced at $15. But they're much more generously sized than the typical small plate. We started with the Polpi, octopus stewed in a long-simmered tomato braise with giant capers and olives, then brightened with fresh citrus zest. The tentacles of octopus were just tender enough. The juices were much too salty from the pile of Mediterranean olives but they did lend fine flavor to the octopus.
Sepia featured cuttlefish with escarole, chickpeas, tomato and chile. One of the most delicioius preps of giant squid I've run across, and the high touch of the kitchen's cooking showed in the warm spice of the juices and the lemon zest and scallion shavings that punctuated the dish.
Asparagi alla Bismarck with grilled asparagus topped with a sunnyside-up egg and pecorino fell down for me because the grilled prosciutto was not the promised crispy but instead tough and leathery.
Insalata, $10, combined Blue Heron Farms lettuces with peppery slices of radish, sweet red onion, fennel and toasted bread crumbs in a gorgonzola vinaigrette. A bit too soggy for me, but my brother prefers lots of dressing like this.
Dinner pastas were priced at $18. Our ricotta gnocchi order was served with wild mushrooms and truffle oil. And it was impressive that each dumpling had sear marks on it. Quite delectable, but this was not what we had ordered.
I explained to the manager that we had ordered the cacio e pepe with veal cheeks as our pasta sauce. He countered that if he had heard that, he would have told us it was far too heavy to combine with the gnocchi. But he did remake the dish for us as ordered, and it was the highlight of the meal. Not really what I'd consider cacio e pepe, yet the buttery soft and unctuous veal cheeks and rich juices were the stuff of dreams. I would agree that this would be better with pappardelle as he suggested. Still, we noted that the chunks of veal and the gnocchi had the same dimensions and similar textures, making them an interesting marriage on the plate. And again, the orange zest finish lightened up a very heavy dish.
Our recent lunch started with burrata topped with a glorious fresh pesto, $10. It's the reigning basil pesto I've had this season. The burrata is made by Di Stefano.
Our friend ordered the wild boar burger, $16, dressed with Calabrian chile aioli, lettuce and onion, and served with a side of very good housemade potato chips. Adding pancetta was a $3 supplement.
I had a taste of the burger, and as shown in profile, this kitchen knows how to build a burger, putting the lettuce on the bottom under the patty. The coarse-ground meat was firm and stayed juicy. The black sesame, airy bun could barely hold together.
At lunch, the pastas were $15. I finally got my pappardelle, choosing the wild boar and pancetta sugo for sauce. The fresh noodles were as silken and fine as any. The bits of lean meat were on the dry side, but I enjoyed the flavors.
The manager comped Mom a bountiful tiramisu for her birthday. It's worth mentioning that Il Grillo and La Balena share a dedicated pastry chef.
A couple cookies for the road before we go.
Il Grillo's room catches the light beautifully. There are a couple seats at the counter too, where we spotted Mundaka's chef enjoying lunch. But be careful picking a table and where you sit, per this warning sign.
Il Grillo means cricket. But I'm sad to say that we haven't managed to catch any dishes that feature the creatures.
When you try it, please report back.
Mission between 4th and 5th
Lunch & Desserts Monday - Friday 11:30 - 4pm
Apertivo Monday - Saturday 4 - 5pm
Dinner Monday - Saturday 5 - 9pm