Saturday, 29 June 2013

Grappino - when bloggers get together II

One of the best things about food is it's ability to bring people together.  This is true of many cultures around the world, cultures where food is more than just eating, it's a way of life, a way of expressing their core values.  While this can be said of many cultures, one stands out at the epitome of the sharing culture....  Italian cuisine.

Now, it's not my intent to start a debate about this statement but to highlight the embodiment of a culture that brings people together over food.  It was the Italian cuisine that brought together a diverse group of people who all share a passion for food.....  Food bloggers!  In what is fast becoming a monthly ritual, I joined a group of like minded bloggers to share in a meal and have some fun while doing so.

Our first gathering was small, with just three of us getting together to enjoy some Deep Southern American food at Carolina Kitchen (see post here).  We had so much fun and talked so much about it, this time we had a larger gathering of passionate foodies.  Our challenge was to find somewhere that none of us had been before, no easy feat when a group of food bloggers get together.  Miraculously, Grappino is a spot where none of us had been before so we congregated to Paddington on a Friday night to enjoy each others' company, oh, and to sample some Italian food!

Arriving almost half an hour early, I thought I would be the first to arrive, but mixologist MV had already beaten me to the restaurant and was busy making friends with the owners!  Also joining us on the night was Melissa Loh, MayKingTea, Feed Me Now Brisbane (plus her friend JP) and A Matter of Taste, who all started to arrive shortly after our 6:30 pm start.  By the time we were all seated, looking at our menus and chatting away, we failed to notice how quickly Grappino started to fill up, and before we knew it the restaurant was almost full.

Trying to get a group of bloggers to decide on how and what to eat can be a little bit like 'herding cats' and to get the ball rolling, we ordered some entrees and starters.  Melissa Loh and I decided that we would share a couple of starters, to make sure that we had good coverage of some of the lovely looking starters.  First up was the Zuppa di Trattoria - porcini mushrooms and white truffle soup, which came simply presented in large bowl with a side of bread.  There is something special about truffle and with a price tag of around $10,000 a kilo, it's something that is used sparingly.  The soup had a lovely earthy flavour from the mushrooms, which was elevated to something special with the addition of white truffle.  I can only compare this to the best soups I have had and it compares favourably.

Melissa and I also selected a serve of the Fritti Di calamari - calamari with grappino salsa and lemon.  The calamari was sliced really thin with a very light coating of batter and cooked wonderfully, with barely any chewiness at all.  Unfortunately, I the only photo I have of the calamari was taken on my iPhone after we had devoured most of the delicious and slightly sweet calamari.  The salsa was an interesting cross between seafood sauce and salsa and didn't add too much to the calamari.  What did enhance the calamari was squeeze of lemon, just to add some acidity.

There were some other really interesting entree selections that I tried, probably the nicest was when MV left me one of his Hiocciola (Snails) - six snails baked in garlic and parsley butter, which was absolutely divine.  The snail was expertly cooked and not at all chewy and the garlic and parsley butter a perfect combination to enhance the subtle flavour of the snail.  This could easily have come from the kitchen of Montrachet next door, it was that good.

The other starter I tried was a mouthful of Feed Me Now Brisbane's Gorgonzola cheese souffle - baked with fresh spinach and cream.  I'm not normally a fan of gorgonzola or cheese souffle and it took a little coaxing from Jessalyn, but I finally succumbed and tried the cheesy concoction.  It was actually pretty good, the gorgonzola was not very strong but provided a definite and powerful cheese hit, however it didn't overpower the palate.

The idea with mains was that we would order our own meal and pretty much stick to it, but that plan very quickly fell apart once we saw the great variety of food placed in front of us.  In the tradition of passing food plates around, it was not long before a 'merry-go-round' of plates ensured that we all had a great sample of each others food.

The main that I ordered was the Rigatoni pollo alfredo - roasted fresh organic chicken, cream, green peas and basil.  For some strange reason I thought that I was actually ordering a roast chicken, so was a bit taken aback when a big bowl of pasta was placed in front of me.  Upon reflection the fact that rigatoni was in the title should have alerted me to the fact that I too was ordering pasta!  As with most traditional Italian food, the flavours were simple and delicious by combining as few ingredients as possible.  The rigatoni (pasta tubes) were cooked al dente, with a light coating of cream sauce and large pieces of roasted chicken.  If I had realised that my dish was pasta I would have gone for something different, but as it turns out I was pretty happy with the dish.

I think MayKingTea had the pick of the dishes with her Vitello saltimbocca - veal prepared with fresh sage and prosciutto and if I had my time again, this is the dish I would have chosen.  MayKingTea was very generous in sharing her veal around and I managed to have quite a bit of the perfectly cooked veal.  What I really liked about it was the depth of flavour that came from the veal and the sauce that accompanied it, but what really enhanced the flavours was the saltiness that came from the prosciutto sitting atop of each piece of veal...  Yum

Another highlight was the Vitello Scaloppine Funghi - veal medallions cooked with mushrooms and a white wine and cream sauce.  MV was also very generous in sharing the scaloppine with the table and I managed to score a few pieces of the tender and delicious veal.  There was a bit of a trend with the meals for me, with the very meaty dishes being the most delightful.  This was especially hard for Melissa Loh, who still had two days to go on her vegetarian month!  Sorry Melissa, the veal dishes were spectacular.

What was fantastic about our main course was the genuine pleasure of sharing our meals with each other, we were certainly channeling the Italian within for this dinner.  After sharing the barramundi dish, the spaghetti marinara and the gnocchi we all agreed that the meal was delicious, with one exception.  The Gnocchi Ai Funghi - potato gnocchi with mushrooms, pinot grigio, fresh cream, white truffle oil and parmigiano was far too salty.  In fact it was almost inedible.

It was time for dessert and we all agreed (well, most of us) that there is a 'second stomach' for dessert and set about ordering.  There were a couple of interesting looking items on the menu but I instantly locked in on the vanilla bean panna cotta served with seasonal fruits, in this case passionfruit.  The panna cotta was perfect, with just the right amount of wobble and not overly sweet.  The flavour of the vanilla bean was matched wonderfully with the slightly bitter passionfruit.  There were even some globs of orange flavoured curd in the bowl, which added some interesting texture and flavour to the dessert.

The consensus from the table was that the dessert special was the winner of the night.  It was a warm brownie with walnuts bathed in a butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream.  I'm not a huge fan of brownies, but the flavour of the butterscotch was superb and was very moreish.  I could tell from the looks of the group around the table that this was a winner.

There is something magical for me about getting together with a group of friends, some old and some new, who all share the same passion for food.  You can see the excitement in their eyes when talking about and sampling the food on the night, a look that is no doubt replicated in my own eyes!

Grappino ended up being an inspired choice (thanks Melissa) as it enabled us to channel the inner Italian and share our food and passion.  What was brilliant was the owners and wait staff, who really helped us feel welcomed on the night and engaged well with us throughout the evening...  It can't be easy with a table full of food bloggers sitting in your restaurant all taking photos of the food!

At one point in the evening, every table at Grappino was completely filled and the vibe in the little trattoria was electric.  Not really surprising given that Grappino has again picked up a Chefs Hat from the Australian Good Food Guide!  I really enjoyed our evening with this group and felt a little sad when it was time to settle the bill and go our separate ways.  The best thing is that we can do it again and I hope we find a spot that was as great at Grappino.


The barramundi was well cooked and Josh (almost) didn't want to share it.  Thanks mate!
The spaghetti marinara was delicious, with heaps of seafood
The orange pancakes were pretty much just crepe suzette.  I've never been a fan but MayKingTea quite liked it, but it was a little sweet
You can't go to an Italian restaurant and not have bruschetta
It was fascinating watching MayKingTea in her= element with the post dinner Tea
I'm not sure what the medals are for, I am going to assume for cooking as the meals were delicious 
The pepper shakers also doubled up for crowd control 
Jessalyn was very keen to photo bomb so I left her in :)

Grappino Trattoria Italian Restaurant on UrbanspoonGrappino Ristorante Trattoria

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