GI wonder if you miss sitting down to a good meal in a fine local restaurant as much as I do.
It’s not just about the food. Driving through Holiday Manor the other day, I spotted Grassa Gramma and remembered how much fun it is to dine there.
Executive Chef Ben Notess’s fine Italian fare is a big part of that draw, of course, but that’s not all. There’s the attentive service provided by general manager Tarek Hamada and his team. There’s the simple comfort stylish table settings. And of course there’s the spectacular, not quite over-the-top antique Italian decor that owner Kevin Grainger sourced from Italy and all around the Mediterranean.
I want all that again, and I want it at all my favorite local eateries. Sure, bringing dinner home in boxes and bags is better than nothing, but it’s not the same. So, I wondered, is there some way to make the takeout experience a little more like fine dining? Maybe! Why not bring Grassa Gramma dinner home and make our dining room feel like an Italian restaurant?
Here’s how that played out: I downloaded a Mario Lanza album of ‘60s-style Italian-American tunes. I draped a red-and-white checkered towel in a wicker bread basket and got out an old souvenir Chianti bottle with its wicker basket. I set the iPad on the table displaying a photo of the Cinque Terre. Dim the lights, plate Grassa Gramma’s fine fare on our Hadley dishes, and hey! It didn’t clone Grassa Gramma, of course, but it felt like a fine-dining experience.
You can do this too. Or maybe you already do.
Grassa Gramma, which translates roughly as “Chubby Nana,” evokes a particular image for owner Graingier. “Grassa Gramma is a tribute to Italian heritage and a testament to the passion of its matriarch.” the restaurant website declares. “Grassa Gramma is a love letter that celebrates Nonna’s status in her kitchen and honors her unwavering commitment to family, food and friends.”
If you’re willing to dine in now, I think you can feel comfortable at Grassa Gramma. Tables are comfortably separated in the looming space that was once a suburban cinema, and the management team appears committed to keeping things safe. Outside dining remains an option even in the dead of winter, with each outdppr table covered by a clear plastic dome to keep the elements out and the heat in.
Chef Notess’s menu offers samples of Italian regional cuisine from north to south, and Grangier pledges that it makes use of the best quality ingredients available: “If it’s fish, it’s wild. If it’s game or meat, it’s organic or prime. Produce comes from actual farmers; not simply farms. It is local, when possible, and always … seasonal.”
If you look only at the entrees, Grassa Gramma ranks among the city’s pricey dining rooms, with main-course prices ranging up to $48 for an 8-ounce filet mignon, the center-cut tenderloin; verlasso salmon is $32. and seafood imperial pasta with a mix of shellfish and fish is $38.
It is entirely possible to work the menu to build a good meal for a mid-range price, though. Also, be sure to check out the $19 Monday Meal Deals and daily specials, which can offer exceptional value. We put together a hearty appetizer, an excellent salad, a pasta dish, and a ration of toothsome focaccia and got a filling meal for two for just about the same price as that tenderloin.
A pair of duck meatballs ($13) the size of golf balls were listed and priced among the appetizers, but they were hearty enough to make a light entree. The meatballs were tender and fluffy within a crackling crisp exterior. Inside, finely shredded dark duck meat was gently spiced to add a piquant note to their complex flavor. They sat on a bed of whipped ricotta as rich as whipped cream with a lemony tang; and black-currant mostarda, a hot-sweet-spicy Northern Italian condiment that blends candied fruit into a mustard-laced sauce. The entire dish was complex yet subtle, with all the flavors working together as you expect in the work of a skilled chef.
A grilled romaine Caesar ($10) held up well in the takeout box. A large chunk of very fresh romaine had been split lengthwise from the head, grilled just long enough to impart tasty char marks, and topped with earthy grated Pecorino cheese, crunchy bread crumbs, and pumpkin seeds. A tub of garlicky, faintly anchovy-laced Caesar dressing, served on the side, made it perfect, as did a couple of squares of light, crusty focaccia.
Cacio e pepe ($18), pictured at the top of the page, is one of my favorite quick pasta dishes. It’s a classic Roman preparation. It’s name in Italian describes the sauce ingredients: “cheese and pepper.” Grassa Gramma’s version uses house-made pici pasta, a Tuscan variation on extra-thick spaghetti that’s rolled out by hand into long, fat, and slightly chewy strands. It was tossed with earthy PecorinoRomano cheese and a generous grind of smoked black pepper from Bourbon Barrel Foods.
Dinner for two with tax came to $43.46, and we added a $10 tip.