Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sunday Evening at La Grotta

My husband had a dilemma. My birthday happened to fall on a Sunday this year. He wanted to take me out for a nice supper. As he called around to some of our favorite places, he discovered that almost all of them were closed on Sunday. A chain restaurant was simply out of the question. But he can be a persevering soul and when the day finally arrived, we drove down to Shockoe Slip and landed at La Grotta. The décor has this underground wine cellar atmosphere crossed with medieval looking furniture and ironwork. Although the restaurant does not immediately come to mind when thinking about places to eat, the setting is unique enough to intrigue out-of-town visitors.

Because it was my birthday, I celebrated with a Cosmopolitan for starters. Bread, grissini, and ciabatta arrived in short order accompanied by a garlic, eggplant, and olive oil tapenade (heavy on the garlic). The wine list was fairly extensive. But only one wine caught our eye at a somewhat decent price: 2003 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo ($45). Bold, full-bodied, and smooth. We were happy.

The menu tempted us with several salad choices. I ordered the Insalata de Campagna – Julienne of radicchio and fennel, tossed in a white balsamic dressing and topped with prosciutto and shaved parmesan. I liked the play of the bitter radicchio against the subtle balsamic dressing. The cheese came in large shaved sheets and was strong enough to stand up to the bitter red cabbage. The prosciutto seemed to have been soaking in some kind of liquid to keep it moist, which made it a bit suspect. And believe it or not, the salad paired decently with the wine. My husband stuck to tradition and selected the Insalata Tricolore – Homemade mozzarella, tomato, and organic baby greens tossed in a white balsamic dressing. His was tasty with no surprises.

Selecting the entrée turned out to be more difficult than the salad selection. The filet, New Your strip, and the quail all caught my eye. In the end I ordered the special – Veal Chop with cheese melted on top and finished with black truffle oil. The veal was medium and extremely tender. The cheese (something akin to Fontina) was a little too rich for my tastes. The balck truffle oil seemed to be non-existent. So, while I enjoyed the chop, itself, the enhancements left my taste buds a little flat. My husband ordered the Filetto al Pepe Verde – Filet mignon finished in a green peppercorn and cognac sauce. He liked how the green peppercorn sauce permeated the entire filet, adding a delightful piquancy to his meal. Both meals were served with mashed potatoes with possibly mashed parsnips added and sautéed Swiss chard. The potatoes were decent and gave us a taste of Fall. The Swiss chard (served instead of spinach) was another story. I had never had Swiss chard. I’ll probably never have it again. It was all I could do to chew and swallow. This is the type of green vegetable that is way too green for me. At least I attempted it.

For dessert we shared a Tartufo – a core of vanilla ice cream surrounded by chocolate ice cream, dusted with cocoa, and nestled in a hazelnut cream sauce. Dessert was heavenly. The dusting of cocoa added just the right amount of pizzazz.

Pat took excellent care of us the entire time. He did not rush the meal and he kept the wine flowing the entire time, well, at least until the bottle ran dry.

So, if you need a Sunday supper solution, head on down to La Grotta. In fact, I think the last time my husband’s birthday was on a Sunday, we ate at La Grotta, too.

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