Jen and Luke are flying back to the states tomorrow after a very, very short Melbourne visit so Adam and I decided to take them out for dinner last night. After eating out with the rest of Adam’s family at Chinese restaurants (their parents refuse to eat anything but Chinese), we decided to venture towards the other end of the Silk Road by having Italian food this time around. Someone had told me that Grossi Florentino – The Grill (not the poshy one upstairs) offered $30 pre-theatre dinner menus where you get two courses plus a glass of wine and coffee if you arrived early and left before 7:30pm. Yes, that would mean that you would expect to rock up at around 6pm, which is totally unheard of for most people, but I usually have dinner pretty early anyway so it wasn’t such a biggie for us. The deal sounded good to Adam and I, and besides, we were keen on giving the middle-tiered Grossi restaurant a try before venturing up to Grossi Florentino proper for Adam’s birthday next month. We went to Grossi Florentino – The Cellar Bar sometime last year and thought that was great so we were really excited on going one up. Thus, I decided to ring the place up yesterday morning to inquire about the pre-theatre offer. I was more than confident that we would get a table because it’s Monday night. The phone conversation, however, did not go well. This what was happened:
L = Me
S = Snot-nosed male Grossi staff member who sounded just like the Italian version of Michel from Gilmore Girls
S = Buongiorno, Grossi Florentino, how may I help you?
L = Hi, I was just wondering whether The Grill still doe –
S = (abruptly, without letting me finish my sentence) Yes, yes they do
L = ( How the eff did he know? And why the heck did he cut me off?! How rude!). And how much-
S = $35
L = () Okay, may I please make a booking for tonight if there are any tables available?
S = One second (he then puts me on hold and I’m left to listen to a pre-recorded message about Mirka at Tolarno in St Kilda which happens to be managed by Guy Grossi’s son, Carlo). Not long after…
S = Are you there?
L = Yes.
S = How many people?
L = There are four of us.
S = What is your surname?
L = MATTHEW (obviously not my real surname)
S = I SAID your surname (in an obviously condescending tone)
L = MATTHEW is my surname (sigh, I understand that there are problems associated with having surnames that also happen to be legitimate first names but there is no reason why I should cop unnecessary flack and problems for this)
S = *sniff* Very well then.
He then asks for the usual stuff, contact number and what time we’ll be there. Then he hangs up without so much as a goodbye. Jeeeez. Someone sure had a pissy weekend. I’m glad to say, though, that things DID get much better when we rocked up and the good news was that Mr Snot-Nose was nowhere near our table. A lovely female waitress greeted us before sitting us on a huge table by the window. Although the food they serve at The Grill is “simple and rustic”, the settings in which such food was served was exactly the opposite. Think white linen, Underbelly characters and Glen Iris mums. And service as impeccable as that of Flower Drum’s i.e. wait staff discreetly replenishing your water glass and the ladies (i.e. me and Jen) getting our meals before the gents. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was still relaxed enough for mere mortals like us to be comfortable.
Menus were given before she asked us if we would like sparkling water. After I requested still water, she cheekily asked us if we would like “San Pellegrino or Melbourne water?” No prizes in guessing which one I chose. I could market a bottle of Melbourne water as “Sewerage Waste” and would still buy it over the San Pellegrino, heh. The menu comprised of entrees, mains and desserts, each containing three options. As Mr Snot-Nose said, you could choose 2 courses for $35 but if you wanted to do three, then it was an extra $10. The dessert list didn’t particularly sound exciting (gelato, pecorino cheese and creme caramel) so all of us went for an entree and a main each. We all went for different options so that we could sample a whole range of stuff, though Luke ordered exactly the same stuff as I did. On top of our meals, we ordered two sides at $8 each, a bowl of hand-cut chips and sauteed spinach. Once we were done with ordering, we were given our wines and the usual bread and butter-slash-olive oil (+1 for Grossi using awesomely intense Mt Zero extra virgin olive oil!). I was also pleasantly surprised to see the addition of olives and grissini (thin breadsticks).
Luke’s and my Penne con Carciofi e Olive. A dish like this shows that you don’t need to bog your pasta down with such heavy creams (this is a *hint hint* to all the “chefs” who put numerous cups of thickened cream in their carbonaras). The pasta, cooked perfectly al dente, and the artichokes were doused in a simple extra virgin olive oil sauce and fresh Italian herbs. The olives were meant to add intensity to the dish but I found that there were too many of them which made the dish a bit too overbearing for me. I think perhaps two or three sliced olives (rather than whole ones) would have made for a more subtle flavour and hence, a better dish.
Adam’s Carabaccia soup. Without knowing what was in the soup, Adam simply ordered this dish because it had the word “soup” in it. Oh sure, the words “onion” and “almond” was printed on the menu but he assumed that what he would get would be some sort of creamy white soup not unlike soups made with cannellini beans. On that basis, he figured the that soup would be hearty and filling. What he DIDN’T count on, however, was that it would also come with a weird taste. The carabaccia, apparently, is a sweet Tuscan soup. And when I say sweet, I mean REALLY sweet. The red onions and the wine that dominate this dish gave it a really acidic taste that I couldn’t get used to. I’m sure a lot of people love it but it just didn’t do it for me.
Finally, Jen’s Salmone Stagionato. I have no idea what “stagionato” means in terms of things-not-related-to-cheese but if I’m on the right track, Jen’s fish (Atlantic salmon) was cured in such as way it is soaked in brine before being air-dried to give it a smooth and somewhat natural texture (but please don’t quote me on that one). Jen may have only had four slices of salmon on her hand but she kindly gave us all a piece to sample. I loved the silky texure of the fish and although it wasn’t full of spices or anything, but in many cases such as this one simplicity is often the winner.
Luke’s and my Costole di Vitello (or in plain English, veal spare ribs). I was tossing over the veal or the fish but in the end, the veal prevailed simply because it came with polenta (yeah, wtf right?). Anyway, the spare ribs (there were about four of them, I think) came braised with a slightly sweet vegetable and wine sauce with strong hints of tomato flavouring. The whole thing was then plonked on a bed of polenta which, to me, was too runny. While I loved the fact that the veal was so so succulently tender (the meat peeled off easily with my fork) and the sauce so delicious, I finished the meal off wanting well, more… There was something missing in it and I couldn’t figure out what. I just felt that the veal was too ordinary to be served at a place like this and that I could easily get better elsewhere.
Adam’s Lombata di Manzo (or simply, “steak”) suffered a similar fate. Yes, the piece of sirloin steak was char-grilled to med-rare perfection. Yes, the balsamic marinade in which the beef was cooked in married well with the succulent meat. The peperonata (basically, stewed pepper salad) also proved to be a worthy accompaniment to the steak. Again, though, this left me a bit delated. Again, I felt that steak that was cooked at a place that specialises in “grilled thingimibobs” should have been a little bit better. It was decent, yes, and cooked the way me and Adam like it…. but it just wasn’t WOW. Adam, on the other hand, was less forgiving. It said that it was “just blahhhhh.”
Jen’s Pesce del Giorno (Or “Fish of The Day”). I can honestly say that Jen’s fish fared much better than the other two mains. At this stage, I was kicking myself over ordering the “wrong” thing. Jen’s hapuka was coated in an egg batter and lightly fried before being dusted with sea salt and rosemary. The white-fleshed fish was accompanied by a bed of braised peas and what looked like bacon bits (?! I wasn’t sure because I didn’t bother tasting her vegies, heh). I loved the slightly buttery taste of the fish fillet which went well with the herby-batter. Delicious.