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Il Grano - what's happening?

After a few really wonderful meals at Il Grano, and good review on this site, we returned last night and were very disappointed. It seems something has changed.

First, we arrived at 5:30pm when they open and were immediately seated at a nice table (we had a reservation). We ordered cocktails, and asked for a few rolls to enjoy with the drinks. My Bombay Sapphire martini was fine, but the couldn't find limoncello to use in my partner's limoncello martini (basically a lemon drop with limoncello added). This was very strange in that limoncello is on their drink menu, and is an extremely common Italian spirit. So…my partner had a normal lemon drop which was fine…but where were the rolls? Il Grano has wonderful house made rolls which we always look forward to. We were told that they were in the oven "finishing up". They arrived 50 minutes after the restaurant opened!

More importantly, the rest of our meal was just ok, certainly not anywhere near what it had been in the past. Starter salads were not special, gnocchi were just ok, and the house made pasta with lamb ragu was not especially good…that ragu was good, but the pasta was very overcooked and mushy.

Shockingly, by the time we left (almost 7:30pm) only 3 other parties had come in. The restaurant was essentially empty…and on a Saturday night! We had earlier in the day tried getting a reservation at Madeo which we also love, and it was fully booked until ~9:30pm. We were terribly disappointed with Il Grano, and will not likely return. Have other CH's had similar experiences. Has something changed?

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  1. the last time i went to il grano,
    although the raw dishes were fine, all the cooked fish dishes were overcooked.
    never went back.
    with only one alcoholic drink and tap water, the tab for two was astronomical.
    for that amount of money, the meal, imho, should have been perfection.

    1. Beware of the problem of trying to dine on a holiday weekend.
      No guarantees, EVER.
      Not trying to stand up for the restaurant, but it may not have been the best day to try the place.
      I have had good food in the past, but the past is also the operative word.
      If Sal is not there, then who knows who is there?
      Sal can cook, yet might have taken the holidays off to relax, etc.

      8 Replies
      1. re: carter

        Agree about holidays, Mother's Day etc, but what explains Josephnl's observation that the place was nearly empty on Saturday night. I've enjoyed several good dinners at il Grano over the years, but I have to agree with WG that the last time was more costly than I remembered.

        1. re: Baron

          The Saturday night after New Years Eve, and you expect a restaurant to be full -huh?!
          Any place that has a full house 3 days after NYE is living in never never land.
          As to baron's comment regarding price, the cost of shrimp & beef are at all time highs, so expect higher prices than you might think are warranted.

          1. re: carter

            Our first choice was Madeo, and it was fully booked until 9:30 or 10:00! We wouldn't have cared that it was empty if everything had otherwise been up to their previous standards. But having to wait 50 minutes for bread to come out of the oven, not having limoncello available from the bar, and seriously overcooking pasta at a previously top Italian restaurant in Los Angeles made us wonder what's happening.

            1. re: carter

              I would think that after the Holidays with all that "home cooking" people would enjoy going to a restaurant. Maybe you can call Sal and see if there's a problem. I expect to pay for a good dinner...but not for sub par food as mentioned by WG and josephnl. And Carter, you forgot to mention the price of good seafood. I am well aware.

              1. re: carter

                since i only eat seafood (i eat NO meat nor poultry), and i eat out at least 5 nights a week, i am well aware of the current prices for good/excellent seafood.

                their prices were astronomical.

                1. re: carter

                  Carter, restaurants like iLGrano are the quintissential "small business" which are under attack from rising taxes, rents, food expense and State, county, city and Federal regulations. They are also under attack from large chain restaurants with superior buying power and influence, advertising budgets etc. I"ve seen too many good small restaurants get pushed out just by rent increases

                  1. re: Baron

                    I am a real estate person, so understand your assessment of the costs of remaining in business as a small entrepreneur.
                    However, holiday weekends are always problematic, not knowing whether everyone will show up, or no one.
                    But until Sal himself shows up to answer the question of whether he was cooking that night, or someone else in his stead, I would just say the place was having an off night, which happens, yet as we both know, should not.

              2. re: carter

                I would not have thought that Saturday, 4 nights after New Years Eve would be dining on a holiday weekend...but maybe?? Nevertheless isn't was not good...indeed pretty bad, and we'll likely not return.

              3. The last time I was there was wonderful. It wasn't completely full (never is) but plenty of full tables. I have never found the pasta itself there to be up to the quality of the rest of the restaurant, although the pasta sauces can be excellent (especially the funghi).

                1. They do some interesting things there, and the chef is a sweetheart, but they never hit it out of the ballpark for me.

                  Everytime I go to Angelini Osteria - I leave thinking they should clone this place.

                  I really want Il Grano to be great, and I've given them many, many chances (always give the chef total freedom) but I think I'm going to have to settle for just pretty good. Can always get a table!

                  I like their crudo. They should do a whole meal - just crudo.

                  1. Not to excuse the restaurant, but you did dine at 5:30, the first available seating...plenty of restaurants I've been to aren't running at full steam at opening, so I'm not all that surprised about the lack of bread at 5:30 PM.

                    Also, restaurants were packed this weekend (all week, in fact). Il Grano is always empty and easy to get a table.

                    As for Il Grano, I always found the food excellent but the prices too high/portions too small. Not a great combination.

                    Never been to Madeo, but judging from the pictures on yelp, it looks like your standard northern italian fare at very high prices in a room filled with hollywood wannabees.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: manku

                      "Not to excuse the restaurant, but you did dine at 5:30, the first available seating...plenty of restaurants I've been to aren't running at full steam at opening, so I'm not all that surprised about the lack of bread at 5:30 PM. "

                      That's a problem each time I go to Pann's at opening for breakfast at 7AM and they are still in the process of baking their first batch of biscuits for the day.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        You're right, but....I cut some slack for Pann's. It's not a find dining restaurant, but a value oriented old fashioned coffee shop.

                        But I consider Il Grano to be a fine-dining restaurant. If they open at 5:30, they should be ready at 5:30.

                        I suspect, or perhaps I'd like to suspect - this was an anomaly. Restaurants are run by people after all, who can screw up.

                        1. re: foodiemahoodie

                          Forgiveable…yes and no. Not really in a restaurant of Il Grano's stature. However, if that were the only fault that evening, I'd forgive it…but no limoncello, overcooked pasta, uninspired (lumpish} salads, etc. Difficult to forgive.

                    2. Adding my recent experience at Il Grano:

                      Mrs. J.L. & I enjoyed their Autumn Tasting Menu (yes, still available apparently, and priced at $75pp) about 2 weeks ago.

                      No issues with the service. No dearth of bread or seating at our 6PM seating, on a weekend night.

                      The crudo (as already pointed out) was simply fantastic - No surprise, since crudo is a forte of Il Grano's.

                      The pastas were al dente, and the sauces were on point.

                      Sal (not Sergio) was indeed cooking that night, and he came out to greet the diners. (And no, I am not considered a "regular" at Il Grano)

                      Yes, once you add up the booze, a dinner at Il Grano can get expensive. As someone who operates a business(es) in our fair metropolis, I like to patronize local small businesses, and also appreciate the overhead (both seen and unseen) involved in such enterprises.

                      I don't know about you all, but I really want this place to remain in business. Thus, I ask josephnl to give Il Grano the proverbial second chance...

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: J.L.

                        Yes…we have liked it in the past very much. But this was such an off-putting experience…no rolls for 50 minutes, no limoncello, overcooked pasta, indeed nothing great…I don't know.

                        1. re: josephnl

                          At the risk of overanalyzing the subject, it seems to me that at least 2 of the 3 items generating your dissatisfaction are not systemic culinary flaws. They were out of a product - Limoncello - so they couldn't make a particular cocktail. Neither that ingredient nor the cocktail really can be considered a "staple," and occasionally restaurants run out of certain things that are not staples. Likewise, there seemed to be a production issue with the rolls that night, affecting their availability, but not reflecting a downturn in quality. Given your, and others', very favorable experiences there in the past, I would think these 2 "procedural" (as opposed to "substantive") issues would not be a reason to turn away from a place that you have enjoyed. The poorly-cooked pasta is another thing altogether; BUT, that COULD have been an aberration relative to the remainder of the cooking. Were the sauces and sides still good (you did say the ragu was)? Il Grano has been on my to-go list for quite some time - and I should have gone when I lived less than mile away - so I guess I'm hoping it hasn't lost its allure, as I will try it eventually.

                          1. re: Wayno

                            For me these sort of posts are about the totally of the "circumstantial evidence" and, while it can mean it was an aberration, it may mean it's on a downhill slide. One report doesn't mean it's a downhill slide, but the multiple problems on a single visit are a little more meaningful when I weigh the overall likelihood of my going, or not.

                            1. re: Wayno

                              What struck me was the difference in experience between previous visits where I thought this place absolutely "rocked" and this visit which was just barely "ok". Sure not having the rolls out for 50 minutes after opening may well be an aberration, but it truly shows either sloppiness or lack of concern by the kitchen (these are small rolls that I doubt take much longer than 20 minutes or so to bake). If the limoncello had been the only issue, I doubt I would have even mentioned it…it wasn't a big deal. But overcooked pasta, and mediocre salads, etc…. I guess I'm willing to chalk the experience up to an off night, perhaps chef's night off, or whatever, and give it another try. But my experience on this particular Saturday was not good, and for an expensive restaurant, really shouldn't happen.

                        2. Me and the little lady hit up Il Grano about 3 weeks back. Had a wonderful meal.

                          Amuse Bouche of Fried chicken oysters w/ chive cream - Kind of an odd offer at an Italian joint, but I ate it and it was good!
                          Burrata w/ perssimon and arugula - Delicious!
                          Grilled squid - Excellent!
                          Paccheri al Ragu - Very good. Large portion size.
                          Pappardelle w/ pheasant ragu - I really enjoyed this. Perfect al dente with a rich sauce...although, I did find 1 bone in it.
                          Pollo Prosciutto (fontina & prosciutto stuffed chicken breast) - I liked this, even though I'm not a huge chicken eater. My lady wolfed it down before I could try a 2nd bite! LOL
                          Agnello - Roasted leg of lamb w/ sunchoke mash - A little overcooked for my preference, but the flavor was full and up front.
                          Dessert: Cannolo Siciliano and the tasting of 3 gelati.

                          Service was pretty spot on with good wine recommendations and constant visits with the bread basket.

                          We went on the Saturday night before Xmas, and the place was fairly empty. Maybe only 3 other parties were there the entire time we were dining.

                          2 of us, the food above plus wine, came to $250 after tax.

                          1. Anyone dare to try this place again?

                            I just read some backlogged articles about this place being voted one of the best 100 restaurants in the *country* just a year or two ago, and I had never even heard of it until a month ago.

                            I never saw it mentioned before on any of the big lists in the food media, or anything somehow though.

                            How could it have so quickly slid from being called one of the top 100 restaurants in the country to being about to go out of business?

                            There's a goat osso bucco on the menu right now that sounds very temping if they could deliver on it...