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Grotto, RW--is it always like this?

Our meal at Grotto tonight was a bizarre mixture of the fundamentally adequate, the woefully misbegotten and the just plain freaky.

My main question: does anyone know if the chef at Grotto was perhaps badly frightened by a Maillard reaction as a child? I was served a side dish of wild mushrooms that were as limp, bland and flavorless as a plate full of limp, bland, flavorless things. As for my entree, I'm perfectly willing to admit that it was potentially a major mistake to order steak frites at a putatively Italian restaurant, but come on, this is a standard restaurant item that any decent chef should be able to put together. The fries were adequate, but the thin-sliced steak seemed to be carefully drained of anything resembling flavor, and I'm fairly certain that the sauce on top consisted entirely of water and red food coloring thickened with a little cornstarch. The brussels sprouts were also cooked by whoever was responsible for the mushrooms, I'm afraid. (Seriously, Grotto folks: caramelization be tasty. You might wanna look into it.)

That said, the opening dish of mussels with tomatoes and bread crumbs was quite lovely, and the dessert was...interesting. The menu said it was chocolate pudding, but for some reason, I was served about three-quarters of a cup of ice-cold ganache. If you've ever dreamed about eating the inside of a chocolate truffle the size of a softball, head over to Grotto. They can hook you up.

So is this what Grotto is always like, or do they just not bring their A game whenever Restaurant Week comes around? Can't imagine why, because I have little if any desire to go back now.

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  1. I've had a handful of good meals at Grotto - none restaurant week. Admittedly, I tend to go there when I'm craving Italian food and stick to the pasta dishes or specials. For some reason I can't seem to not order the gnocchi every time.

    I'm sorry you had such a bad experience.

    Several years ago, I had a string of really horrible RW meals and have since decided not to participate (like Aquitaine - great food typically, horrible food RW). To me, the "cost savings" just wasn't worth a crummy meal and rushed service.

    1. I don't think it's always like that, maybe just an off night. I've been to Grotto during RW (which was the 1st time I tried it) and had a great meal. I have been just as impressed on subsequent visits. I'm surprised that your meal was so bland. If anything, the dishes I have had seem over the top with flavor and richness - the gnocchi w/ short ribs for example.

      If you choose to give them another shot, try some of their pasta dishes. I've always had luck with them. The osso buco last year was great, but enormous.

      1. I've actually been there on a no-no night--V-Day--and still had a terrific meal. And I agree w/ Ali G that if anything they err on the side of OMG-this-is-just-too-much-richness.

        1. Your experience is completely inconsistent with the times I've been there.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            I love Grotto and would recommend it to anyone. It's too bad you don't enjoy it but the overall opinion of Grotto- all over the board- seems to be consistent with my own experience- Delicious!

          2. Based on my experiences, that sounds like an off night.

            I had dinner there quite recently, and it was very fine: steak/mushroom fondue, buffalo mozzarella "carozza", spaghetti with meatballs, cavatelli with sausage, side of Brussels sprouts (which I thought were great, nice and roasty). Found a modest bottle of red (Spanish, I think), had some banana bread pudding afterward that we didn't really need. Very good service on a packed night (late-ish on a weekend night). Had started with cocktails first at No. 9. A near-perfect evening out.

            1. Agreed with the above - always found Grotto to serve up a top meal. Also been there on a no-no night - New Year's Eve - and had a fantastic meal. My current favorites are:
              Potato gnocchi, short ribs, mushrooms, and gorgonzola
              Fontina cheese fondue, balsamic steak tips and portobello mushrooms
              Bacon wrapped apple stuffed duck breast, crispy duck leg, Reggiano potatoes, dreid cherries, black truffle aioli and foie gras-Madeira wine

              2 Replies
              1. re: gini

                I think we may not have chosen the best dishes, although I did try to steer BFP towards the gnocchi with short ribs - I'm not big on the gorgonzola, but he is, and I remembered that a LOT of folks here love that dish. I had the duck myself; the leg was delicious, though not noticeably crispy, but the breast was problematic, very rare and wrapped in flabby bacon that made the whole item somewhat unappealing. I noticed no discernable apple stuffing (in fact, I kept trying to remember what it was supposed to be stuffed with.)

                I enjoyed the slice of steak that I tasted, but that was after BFP had seasoned it liberally with black pepper. (He had not yet expressed his feeling that it was underseasoned, though I did notice the heavy peppering!) And I thought that the brussels sprouts were delicious, actually, it's just that they were far from "nice and roasty." They were, in fact, vivid green and just al dente, kind of a stir-fried effect. I'll agree that the side of mushrooms would have benefited greatly from a high flame under the pan!

                We loved the look and feel of the room, and I'd like to eat there again at some point to see if it was really just an off night. But the service was oddly distracted and perfunctory (for instance, with only two or three tables filled when we arrived, we hovered in the doorway for a noticeable length of time before anyone offered to seat us, and while our main server stopped by often to fill our water glases from the bottle she'd left on the table, she usually did it while pointedly scanning adjoining tables to see how they were doing), and the food was just underwhelming enough that it's going to be hard to push a return trip ahead of the many other places we like to eat, when we're not really in the habit of dining out at that price level very often.

                1. re: Allstonian

                  The last time I had the duck, the slices of apple stuffing were incredibly crisp and apparent. The bacon was crispy, but not shatteringly so, and wrapped tightly so as not to be flabby. The skin on the duck leg wasn't crispy then either, though. Seems like you got hit with a case of the restaurant week blues.

              2. Agree with the OPs that Grotto serves consistently great food at a terrific value. I've been there a handful of times and had good experiences --except for once, and that was also during RW. We went at lunch, the place was packed, service was haphazard, food just ok. The truth is, it doesn't make all that much sense to go there during RW as they offer a comparable deal every night anyway during the rest of the year --$33 prix fixe for any three courses off the menu. So, when you go during RW you pretty much get the same deal but with a lot more people (and as a result, potentially sub-par service.) I'd rather go when they aren't pushed to their limits and enjoy my experience a bit more.

                1. due to recommendations read here, i ate there for the 1st time a few months ago. i was underwhelmed to say the least. my tuna steak was so mushy it was inedible.the super cheesy risotto that came with it was good, but an odd accompaniment to fish. the service was very amateurish, to the point where i nearly offered to open the wine because he was struggling so much.

                  it's a cute space, but i'm in no rush to return.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    Yes, I should have seen it as a warning when the waitress poured my beer in such a way that half of it ended up on the table and then walked away leaving me with a pint glass I couldn't pick up without wrapping the whole thing in my napkin. I suppose maybe I could understand the food being crap during RW -- or anyway I could if they were doing much business at all, which they weren't -- but do they give the real waitrons the week off and hire temps or something?

                    I'm still puzzled by the chocolate pudding. Was it supposed to be like that?

                  2. I have never had a bad meal at the Grotto.

                    You can NOT judge a restaurant by RW!

                    Give a try at another time and hopefully you will have a better experience.

                    1. Limp, bland and flavorless are the last words I would use to describe Grotto. I was there last night as well. I noticed your beer being poured poorly and could tell from your faces that you weren't enjoying your meals. I had the steak fritti too, thought it was very tasty. True, the brussel sprouts weren't crispy and caramelized like I make them at home, but I thought the fresh flavor was brought out and they were well seasoned. The sauce on the steak wasn't overly powerful, but it balanced out with the herbed butter also on the steak. I thought the fries were fantastic - the parmesan on them made them unique.

                      And the pudding was very heavy. I only had a few spoonfuls, but I was already full before the dessert even arrived. You really need a lighter dessert after a meal like that - the panna cotta or ice cream would have been good.

                      Also had the garlic soup on the recommendations from this board... fantastic! I've never had anything else like that before.

                      Next time, try the ricotta cavatelle (my favorite of the pastas). I've also had some beautifully roasted veggies at their Big Night dinner, which may be on the contorni menu.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: pamalamb

                        First off, I agree that the garlic soup was wonderful - it was my first course as well, although I gave away about the last third of the generous bowlful in exchange for BFP's last few mussels.

                        I firmly agree that we should have ordered lighter desserts, but since it was our first time there we had no way of knowing (certainly we had no way of guessing that "chocolate pudding" meant "large dish of fudge"!) Unfortunately, our waitress pressed us for our dessert choices while she was taking the initial order, so we didn't really have a chance to say "hmm, we're awfully stuffed, what looks nice and light?" I would most likely have made quite a different selection if she'd brough the dessert menu at the end of the meal! Also, I didn't mention above that I had the banana bread pudding, and while I wasn't particularly excited by the pudding itself, I *loved* the scoop of burnt sugar ice cream that accompanied it.

                        I also agree that the brussels sprouts were flavorful, but they didn't really fit the description of "roasted" in any way. And while I sometimes find BFP's opinions to be overly harsh (I don't fully agree with his comments on the steak, but it was his dinner and he has a right to his own reaction) I'll absolutely stick by his description of the hugely disappointing side of mushrooms as yes, limp, bland, and flavorless.

                        1. re: pamalamb

                          Well, "limp, bland and flavorless" was used specifically to describe one dish, a pathethic attempt at wild mushrooms that couldn't be described any other way.

                          Good to know that it's not just me on the chocolate pudding, though. And Allstonian did enjoy her garlic soup very much.

                          It's entirely possible that we'll get back to Grotto eventually, but I don't think it's anywhere near the top of the list.

                        2. I was at Grotto last night for RW and LOVED it. This was my first experience here even though I've been meaning to go for a couple of years. I'm so glad they are doing well for such a small place in a "destination" location. I can understand why they are so strict about reservations - every table was filled and the flow was well managed.

                          The garlic soup deserves the raves here. One dc wanted to lick the bowl. Also outstanding was the ricotta cavatelle w/house prepared ground sausage, peas, mushrooms, pancetta & cream. Rich and tons of flavor.

                          My whole reason for going here was to try the short ribs with gnocchi which everyone raves about. I'm glad I tried it, but it's too heavy for me and I'm not a big fan of braised meats. Wish I'd gotten the duck instead; I will next time.

                          Wine prices were very reasonable, $8 for a glass of tasty pinot noir, and there are many bottles at $30.

                          Desserts were good, but we couldn've done without as the food was so rich. This place is definitely on my list for a return visit.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Niblet

                            I noticed MC Slim previously wrote you can get a 1/2 order of the gnocchi dish, which is all I would likely want anyway.

                            1. re: Dax

                              Thanks, forgot about that, and that's the way to go. For some reason I had a myopic desire not to deviate from the RW menu. Yet another reason to avoid going there during RW (even though I thought they did a good job).