We have a six-year-old. And I'm a rabid foodie. And my husband keeps a gourmet organic vegetable and herb garden in our back yard. So to say that we don't get to dine in fine restaurants often is an understatement. Once you pay the babysitter, that leaves, oh, a few cents left over in the budget for fine cuisine. But occasionally, we make an exception. Perhaps another foodie couple has a tip on a great restaurant and we feel inspired to forget our budget and go check it out with them
That was the case this past Saturday. An unfairly beautiful afternoon for a drive up to wine country and Santa Ynez (known famously as the backdrop of the movie, Sideways). The most beloved high-end restaurant in town is Trattoria Grappolo, staffed by Italian chefs and servers, and with ingredients gleaned locally and seasonally.
Our food and service (Michele Mancuso—what a wit!) were spectacular—until I bit into my primi, rigatoni with three mushrooms. The flavor was delicious but the texture was reminiscent of snippets of bicycle inner tubes, I’m sorry to say. Al dente is one thing, but this was work to chew. After a few bites I gave up.
My husband ordered the pork tenderloin—which was juicy and delicious. He saved one piece for me (this secondi is generously portioned). I enjoyed my first bite, but on the second bite, red oozed out onto the plate. I wouldn’t let him eat the rest of it—although he wanted to—the sauce was heavenly. When Michele’s assistant came to clear our table, he saw my plate full of rigatoni and asked if I wanted a takeout container. I informed him that the pasta was not cooked well and that I couldn’t eat it (a full plate of food is not a good sign). He said nothing and cleared the plates. He also cleared my husband’s plate that had one screamingly red piece of pork on it. Again, no comment. (Michele would have asked about these things, I’m certain, but he was away—the restaurant was slammed that night.)
Now, for a more complete picture, we’d had two superb appetizers (the stuffed calamari--amazing!) and our dining companions enjoyed their veal and shrimp linguini dishes completely. The desserts were divine and everyone at our table was otherwise happy, I felt bad about the possibility of spoiling the collective joy by complaining. But on reflection, I do wish I’d made a point to explain to Michele or his assistant—in a positive way—that I wanted a replacement for the inedible rigatoni and for the oozy pork. (In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered the shrimp linguini and the lamb instead.)
Because our other dishes were outstanding and because Michele’s service was impeccable (and he kept us laughing!), I felt we probably simply ordered the wrong things and that the restaurant is probably justifiably well-loved. But the full plate and the red pork do tell tales and I was surprised no one was interested in those tales. I've written the chef to find out his thoughts, but haven't heard back from him yet. What a bummer to have two out of four dishes we ordered be sub-par or even dangerous. Hopefully this experience was just a fluke? At $75 a head, we may not ever get the chance to return and find out.