28 August 2013
If I had a choice where to have my final meal on this planet, it would certainly be at my favourite restaurant in the world, Il Grano. Nowhere in the world do I feel more in tune with the chef’s vision of food, both taste and visual, where I continue to experience amazing dishes at the creation of this maestro, Sal Marino (my review from my previous trip here).
Chef Sal is one of the friendliest, most personable chefs you’ll ever meet. He takes great pains to welcome his guests, making the dining experience truly personal. You are truly under his care as long as you are under his roof.
I immediately relaxed being escorted to my “usual” seat and Sal came by for a quick chat to catch up, and to let me know about tonight’s feast. I had not realised it was gonna be based on tomatoes, that he’s been doing “Pomodorologia” — Tomato Wednesday. This should be fun.
With a fine glass of Sorelle Bronca prosecco, the first of my many dishes arrived, a tasting of gazpachos.
Each of the gazpacho were based on a heirloom tomato that Chef Sal had grown himself; in fact, he’s growing 24 different tomatoes in his gardens. The left, from the green zebra, is refreshingly tart. The centre, from the more “typical” sunrise, brought a bit more mellow taste. The right, from the ivory white (or snow white), had a fruity sweetness. This also showed off Chef Sal’s love of colours.
This was fantastic, an exotic twist on the humble caprese. All 4 components competed to be the star of this dish, as each had its unique contribution to the overall taste. Though to be honest it wasn’t easy to get all 4 into your mouth at once!
I was already in 7th heaven when the third dish came out, another plating work of art.
This featured slices of Hokkaido scallops, some more of those excellent green zebra tomatoes, some outrageous Japanese mini cucumbers, and wild fennel. Wow, now this was yet another treat. The sweetness of the raw scallops is perfectly juxtaposed by the tart green zebras. Awesome stuff.
Chef Sal then came out for a few moments to catch up, which was great. It’s always such a great time when I’m here, not just the food and drink, but chatting with Sal and the staff. He hurried back to the kitchen and the next dish arrived.
This is a dungeness crab salad with corn and a salsa made from a mix of heritage tomatoes. A generous amount of crab worked well with the sweetness of the corn and the tanginess of the salsa. And of course, the dish (the physical dish) was a creation of Chef Sal as well. Oh, and a spoon of “crab fat” too… Mmmm…
After a little rest, the next dish was one of the most impressive dishes I’ve ever seen. Sal really did an amazing job here…
This is a salad with a wide array of heirloom tomato varieties. The use of colours again, is quite stunning. With just a little buffalo mozzarella and garden-fresh arugula, this was a tour de force of tomatoes. You get all different tasting ones, and it makes you want to explore these nature’s gifts so much more. And then you curse your local supermarket…
The next dish, with the dish again created by Chef Sal in tribute to the Ponte Vecchio of Florence, features squid from Monterrey.
Now I love squid, and these were done perfectly. Not too hard, not too stringy, just perfect. The visuals are just stunning. BTW the last few photos (and later ones too) I had to brighten a little because they were a bit dark (I refuse to use flash in a restaurant). Mmm…
After another rest, we switch to pastas. The first to be presented was the casoncelli, or “candy wrapper” pasta, stuffed with burrata.
The sauce was made from the classic Italian pomodorino del pendolo (or Piennolo del Vesuvio). The tanginess worked with the burrata very well. But just when I dug into this dish, Chef brought out a little extra treat for me…
Now this was pretty impressive, using 10 different tomatoes. Tho I have to say this felt more pizza than focaccia! But it was pretty awesome!
I have to apologise as the photo for the next course came out completely jumbled. It was an excellent tortelloni stuffed with eggplant with chopped heirloom mix. It was delicious, you gotta trust me without a picture. And then came the final dish…
This is the tagliolini with scorpion fish, all in a diavolo sauce from the famous Italian San Marzano tomatoes. Spicy and tangy, the fish added an extra touch to the overall feel of this dish.
I was extremely full by now, and I skipped the dessert. Chef came for a longer chat and it was good, talking the restaurant biz, Naples, and more. He showed me the small garden he has in the alley behind the kitchen, where some of the tomatoes come from.
The only thing that marred this near-perfect dining experience was calamitous…they ran out of grappa! So had to drink a calvados instead…travesty!
I headed out on a cab happy and full…wow, another amazing night of dining at this place. If I lived in LA I’d be here once a week at least. I think I’ve had 60 dishes in this restaurant over the last few years, and not one remotely similar to another. This is the flexibility that Chef Sal has.
And more amazingly, I had a wonderful tasting menu with no meat — just a little seafood. As an unapologetic carnivore, this is the most amazing part, that all this more than intrigued and satisfied me — without meats. This, my readers, is sheer awesomeness. You gotta eat here. You just gotta.
11359 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Los Angeles, California