Il Grano in West LA (long)
My fiancée and I were looking for a nice Italian place to have dinner last night and we decided to try Il Grano on Santa Monica Blvd. in West LA.
It was incredible. It was a Good Thing (TM). When we walked in, the maître d' shook my hand and kissed my fiancée's - a little bit overboard in America perhaps but still made us feel welcomed. He then said, "Do you have a reservation?" We exchanged guilty looks and said, "No..." He said, "Good! Come, sit down!"
There were maybe 25 tables, of which 10 were occupied, so it was definitely not empty but neither was it scrambling. The waitress (Robin) wasn't very clued in on white wine (though she made a good suggestion) and had obviously tried the things on the menu.
The pace of the meal was OK - there was a long wait between appetizer and dinner but only because I ordered a pork chop that apparently came from Superpig.
The only negative was that the busboy was also acting as a waiter - which normally is not a problem, but there was some repetition of questions.
The room was romantically dark but unfortunately the kitchen door shed horrible fluorescent light everywhere when it was opened. There are strategically placed trees outside the windows which make it dark, but this is a Good Thing (SM) because, as the maître d' said, it blocks the view of Lake Santa Monica Boulevard.
I wanted the heirloom tomato salad but my beloved doesn't like fresh tomatoes, so we split a dish of fried calamari with red sauce. The calamari ranged from just a little bit overdone to downright rubbery, unfortunately. I hate rubbery calamari. They did, however, serve the 'tentacle' part as well as the 'ring' part, and the tentacles were much better. Thirty seconds less in the fryer would have done it.
I had the special, an enormous two-rib pork chop (it was five inches thick) with mashed potatoes and a spicy pork gravy with truffle oil. I'd never been asked how I wanted pork cooked, so I said 'medium' and it was in fact really, really tasty. The potatoes were a little soupy but they went surprisingly well. The gravy was incredible. One thing I wish is that there had been a vegetable (I'm so Midwestern sometimes), maybe some sautéed Swiss chard or something. I managed to splash sauce on my shirt and so they brought INSTANTLY (and what service!) a cup of soda water and a clean napkin to the table.
My fiancée had agnolotti di melanzane in barchetta, which was fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta and eggplant, baked in a 'boat' of half an eggplant with more of that incredible red sauce on it. Next time we go, that's what I want. It was absolutely delicious and she kept having to stab me with her fork as I tried to pinch a bite here and a bite there.
The bread that came with it was dense and had a crust you had to work at, but it was served with good olive oil (and balsamic vinegar, but I don't understand the Italian-American chichi restaurant deal of marrying the two as a bread sop).
For dessert, she had a duetto of crème brûlée, chocolate and vanilla, of which the vanilla was by FAR the superior, so much so that I'm going back to the adjacent bottega to see if they sell it there. The sugar on top was exactly right. I had a pair of apple-and-pear "cannelloni" which were crêpes wrapped around mascarpone cheese and sautéed pears and apples, dusted with sugar and striped with caramel. A little too much caramel but it was good and not overly sweet. The cappuccino was unremarkable but good.
I had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli, which was good to sip but was excellent with the tang of the pork gravy.
Dinner for the two of us, including tip, was $83.
While this is not a place we're going to be able to afford on a monthly basis, it is definitely now on our list of Nifty Places For a Nice Dinner.