Saturday, December 21, 2019

Grappino-Regional Italian Cuisine in Naples, Florida

Your curiosity (and Googling skills) got you this far- so make reservations for Grappino now,  then read on!
 You, may also soon rave about the veal-stuffed ravioli;  the tenderest branzino…the luscious seafood bruschetta; a heaping bowl of Tuscan seafood stew, not to mention the Meringata meringue dessert with lemon curd and raspberry preserve. Yep.  Treat yourself to lunch or dinner at Grappino, before the line’s out the door-Grappino’s food is just that delicious. (P.S.  It’s far easier to get a table at lunch, or at 5 pm for dinner!)
There's even a fireplace 
 I infrequently visit the same restaurant twice in a year- and rarely dine a second time let alone less than a week apart. Perhaps when you have lunch or dinner at Naples newest restaurant –Grappino- you too will have the same desire to quickly return to try these, or other dishes! There’s five different settings for dining-outside on the  intimate back patio with bar; 
inside at the stylish bar; or seated in front of  the adjacent charcoal and gas-fired pizza oven.
During my visits, I sat at the larger open dining room,  as well as at the more intimate small dining room with its plush chairs and smaller round tables-ideal for couples or trios.
The two dining rooms are separated by the partially glass-enclosed central kitchen.

The décor is simple and whimsical. The central kitchen is cleverly housed in a white wood-beamed cottage set within the glass-walled modern building.  Wide light brown wood plank floors add to the homey warmth. Wine and grappa bottles line one wall in the smaller dining room.  Murano colored glass balloons float high over the beautiful wooden tables.
Savvy diners may spot a real live mermaid.

Timeless, the previous restaurant at this stylish, welcoming setting, closed suddenly in June. Ingrid  Aielli, and her husband and Chef, Venice, Italy native Fabrizio Aielli, already co-owners of three of Naples’ highly regarded, and quite different restaurants- Sea Salt, Barbatella, and Dorona- took over the Timeless just months ago. They crafted a warm Italian trattoria setting, paired with a fitting casual  menu, that lets you try various Italian regional specialties. The pricing is quite reasonable for the quality and service.
Grappino  Co-owner Chef Fabrizio Aielli
This is as “Mom and Pop” as it gets with meals prepared from scratch.  Ingrid is “front of house” and Chef  Fabrizio ,and  Executive Chef Jason Goddard, are initially at the helm in the open kitchen.  Chef Fabrizio uses flavorful  garden-fresh herbs and local produce when possible. If you look carefully in the front window, you’ll see his house-made grappa infusions-they’ll be ready to drink in a month!
Chef Jason Goddard and Chef Fabrizio Aielli 
After talking separately to my dentist, a community leader, a lawyer, and especially  strangers  at adjacent tables at Grappino over the last week, I’d venture that 10% of the diners are there for their second time-and Grappino’s  been open less for barely two weeks. The word of mouth network works fast!

The staff’s warmth, knowledge and attention to small details is apparent, from your first being greeted, being given sage advice (if requested) on choosing dishes from the menu, through the changing of silverware and plates when appropriate, with folding of napkins when you leave your seat. I noticed that someone even took time to cut heirloom carrots into six, and seven sided football-shaped forms (tournée cut)!  I’ve appreciated the menu and wine suggestions from Eva, and then from  Damajna on my two visits; others have similar praise for their server/guides.

There’s many food, wine, and grappa choices! The menu has seven sections. Nearly all items are priced and portioned for sharing or sampling. There are but five more typical entrees (plus daily specials).  That’s a good thing for you-it encourages flexibility in sampling a variety of appetizers or small pizzas, instead of filling up on one main entree.

First, Cold Cuts. There are currently seven different thin sliced cuts paired with their region of origin: Prosciutto (di Parma); Culatello (Emiliano); Speck (Tirolese);  Mortadella (Bologna);  Salame Felino (Baganza Valley); Sopressata (Veneto); and Bresola (Valtellina).  Each portion is served with a  ramekin of a uniquely Italian  mixed dried fruit-mustard preserve (mostarda di  Cremona) , along with varied olives, mild green peppers, a rosemary twig, and grilled bread triangles.
I tried the Prosciutto ($16) , and the Speck ($12), and both are of the highest quality. Recommended.
Prosciutto di Parma
Next are Cheeses, with at least six offered ($9-12) ; Parmigiano Reggiano (Emilia); Pecorino Toscano (Firenza); Gorgonzola (Italy); Caciovavallo (Puglia); Burrata (local); and Buffalo Mozzarella (Campagna.) Your choice!

The Bruschetta selections ($9-14)  are luscious-don’t even think of comparing these large offerings to “bruschetta” you’ve had elsewhere!  Any of these bruschettas would be  a meal for a light eater, and the pricing would be much higher elsewhere.  I rave about the $14 Alta Marea’s crab, several shrimps, and ample pieces of Maine lobster, with a light olive oil and balsamic dressing. Highly Recommended!
Alta Marea Seafood Bruschetta
 The Campagnola Bruschetta’s ($9) grilled eggplant, zucchini, peppers, caramelized onions and Greek yogurt is addictive. Adding the yoghurt makes this “over the top” luscious.  Highly  Recommended.
Just one piece of the Campagnola Bruschetta
Fritto means crispy, and the Calamari, broccoletti with provola, bell peppers is lightly fried, and served with  a side of ratatouille aioli ($14). This is much lighter, crispier and flavorful than what you’ll find at other restaurants. Highly Recommended.
Calamari Fritto
Over a dozen Pastas can be ordered separate from, then combined with over a dozen sauces, so there’s almost 150 combinations. We liked the al dente spaghettini ($9) combined with the amatriciana’s rich pancetta, onions and tomatoes ($8).  
Spaghettini with amatriciana sauce
Perhaps  the real star of Grappino's pasta world is the large and generously veal-stuffed ravioli pillows ($12)-WOW! We paired it with the roast chicken, green peas and Parmesan cream sauce ($10). I could  have that combo again, and again. Highly recommended.
Veal stuffed ravioli with roast chicken Parmesan sauce
Pizza is crafted Roman-style rather than thin crust Neapolitan- style, so it has a crisp outer crust, and thicker underlying dough/crust with a light texture. There are three sizes- to serve 1, 2-3, or 4-5 persons. It’s fun to to try three different styles small pizzas, instead of just one big one. We had the ($9) Zucchini and zucchini flowers, burrata cheese, and mint without tomato sauce- it’s a full meal for one person.
Zucchini and zucchini flowers, burrata cheese small pizza
There’s 20 different rectangle pan pizza’s to try, half are with tomato sauce, and half are Bianca-without tomato sauce. Recommended.

Ah yes, the grappa! There’s over 100 different grappas ($12-40/ounce)  to try.  I favored the Jacobo Poli Miele, a honey-flavored mild grappa. The Nardini Riserva, or the Jacobo Poli Pere (pear) are good and feistier grappas.  I’m eyeing some others to try on my next visit!
Grappa started as Italian “moonshine” and some varieties offer that raw kick for traditionalists.
There’s dozens of milder grappas to start with at Grappino. Grappa “sommelier” Barry is great at suggesting ones for you to savor.

Favor wine? There are generous pours for $8-14 by the glass, and about 100 reds and whites offered, from  Italian Pinot Grigio to big and bold Super Tuscans (my choice), Barolo, and Amarones,  too. Perhaps sip a Purple Hands Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, or a Paul Hobbs California Chardonnay. There’s a full bar, too.

I’ve savored three of the five mains, or entrees.  The Beef Brasato ($34) offers large cuts of savory slow-braised Wagyu beef, simmered in Barolo wine.  Wagyu is THE tops in beef marbling and flavor-it’s not the usual choice, select or even prime USDA grades found in other restaurants). The braise is enriched by bok choy, potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables.  I appreciated that some of the orange, red, and purple heirloom carrots were painstakingly cut into six, or even seven sided oblongs-a typically French haute cuisine feature! This is a carnivore’s comfort food! Recommended.
Beef Brasato
 You’ve perhaps had Branzino elsewhere. This boneless whole branzino ($42) may well be THE best you’ve had-it was the best I've ever had. The whole fish is baked in white wine with capers, olives, cherry tomatoes and broccolini. Your branzino is first presented whole at table side. It then goes back to the kitchen to be filleted, and returned to your plate.  It’s so tender, so flavorful, and truly worth the price. Highly Recommended!
Branzino before fileting and serving 
Seafood lovers will also enjoy the Cacciucco- a classic Tuscan seafood stew. This large bowl of tomato-based rich comfort food is amply filled with calamari, mussels, snapper, monkfish and octopus ($36). Its complex flavor comes from slow cooking, with hints of garlic, aniseed, various peppers, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. It’s similar to a French bouillabaisse, Greek kakavia, or San Franciscan cioppino. Highly Recommended.
Tuscan seafood stew
Save room for desserts.  We were “over the moon” with Meringata ($9)-the Italian meringue  atop lemon curd, with a dollop of raspberry preserve. Highly recommended.
Meringata dessert
Chocaholics will swoon over the generous profiteroles ($9), topped with Gianduja chocolate sauce-it’s a traditional mix of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts, that fits between dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Highly Recommended! 
Profiteroles with Gianduja chocolate
There’s also Tiramisu with Amaretto cookies with Bailey’s liquor, and a daily selection or biscotti or pastry.
Yes, we took home some portions, and noted the boxes to be recyclable, not plastic or Styrofoam containers. Thank you.

Grappino has its own niche in Naples-its nicely differentiated by its location and offerings from Sea Salt, Dorona, Barbatella and other fine Italian/Mediterranean spots.

90 9th St N, Naples,  Hours: 11:20 a.m.- 10 p.m., Monday –Saturday, closed Sunday. Happy hour 3-6 PM. Phone: (239) 331-432,

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