Monday, January 12, 2009

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Grappa...

The lad in the above picture looks like a rather capable fellow, wouldn't you think? He appears discerning, focused, commanding and eternally able. He should be, he is my father, after all. However, just like Dennis Rodman in a skirt and heels, all is not quite as it seems. For those of you who are yet to encounter this neurotic, vociferious, veritable comet of a man we all love and know as John Bechara, he can actually be lamentably hopeless on matters most of us have no trouble with at all. Leichhardt's Grappa has long been one of Johnny's favourite lunching spots, he has a penchant for coming here and downing some red, red, red wine while offering me very comic pointers on how I should run my life.

Grappa will always have a special place in my heart for reasons three: firstly, it serves a mean garlic crust, secondly, it's the home of my favourite beef carpaccio, and thirdly, because it's the scene of a rather amusing incident, from The Classic Dad file, an example of something which strikes him as perfectly normal behaviour, and everyone else as a little nutty: One day, a little before 1pm, I get a call on my phone, it's an urgent Dad, nothing new there, I am used to all of his little (hourly) fits of sound and fury. Dad doesn't start conversations with a Hello, they begin with your name and the exact thing he wants to say to you with no words minced, not a pleasentry in sight:

Dad: "Amanda, speak to this man"....
Man: "Uh....yeah, hi, I am a waiter at Grappa and your dad wants you to tell me what he orders when he comes here"
Amanda: "...[jesus christ] Wild Barramundi, if you have it, slightly undercooked and a garlic crust"
Man: " Got it, I'll put your father back on"
Dad: [hung up ages ago].

Can you believe that? You could say he's 70, five foot two, and cute enough to get away with it, but I am afraid age, height and adorableness have not a single thing to do with it. It's always been his way. Cheeses Christ. The dishes he orders are worthy enough of being committed to memory, and given that I am not so ravaged by carelessness or senility, I will do honour to them and happilly share with you what goes down in The Kitchen Grappa.
Grappa is a fun place to rock up to, your arrival is framed by an open space and people always look up to notice who has just entered. Cavernous, buzzy, glassed, white, a well stocked bar, open kitchen, woodfire oven and racks and racks of fresh baked bread and dough, you just know the bottles of drunken olive oil for dipping can't be too far off. The always affable proprietor Charlie Colossi has set up a vibrant space for food and drink fuelled celebration. I always feel my mood heightened when I come here, unlike John Howard's Boudoir, it's the kind of atmosphere that promises you a damn good time. If you come when it's cracking, impeccable service won't really alter the fact that you'll wait a little for the mains, so, waste no time about it, order a Garlic Crust as soon as your butt hits the seat. What will soon arrive at your table is simple but stunning flavour calculus: An almost audibly sizzling, crisp outofthewoodfireovenfreshfreshfresh garlic pizza crust, gentle, lustrous folds of garlicked browned-in-some-parts-and-spongy-in others dough is casually bejewelled with scattered gems of sharp sea salt and drizzled with a heady dose of some very voluptuous olive oil. It's Hella Bella!
As if perfection needed any complements, like the three wise men to the baby jesus are little pots of a beautiful Italian white bean paste, a pungent in purple olive tapenade and a swooning red tomato bruschetta mix. For the love of God. Eat it while it still burns your fingers a little to touch. I've seen garlic crust virgins, they're all the same...they take a polite, dainty slice, unbenknowst to them is the glory that is about to bewitch their tongue, their mouth, their lives...they bite in, a pause "a little while, and a moment of rest upon the wind"... and then it's a rapturous grunt, another slice, stuffed and smothered with pastes and oilytomatoed loveliness, folded over, greedy sandwich style, and tucked into with little regard for the impending entrees and mains. The garlic crust is always a winner, always impressive, always done just so. For those of you who don't do KFC, this might be your only chance to experience some of the old finger lickin' good.
Now, promise me you won't cry? But I do have some bad news. My favourite Grappa dish, which only appears occasionally as a special on the menu, but is usually able to be done upon request, was sadly not available for either my excited belly or the hot porn shoot I was going to subject it to with my camera on this visit. But I will recount to you the fated tale of the two lovers, nonetheless: Girl meets tender beef carpaccio, smiling at her through weepy olive oil eyes under little coy wisps of sharp and creamy golden parmesan, beckoning toward her with a lemonedchili smile, Girl falls in absolute culinary love, and nothing has ever made her feel the same way since...

...This carpaccio melts in your mouth. It'd probably melt in your hand as well. It is achingly, painfully, tortuously delectable. It makes me feel like a bit of a giddy cannibal. I order the main size and it always ends, no matter how slowly you languish over every decadent bite, you always reach the bit where it's all gone and it's just you facing off with the empty plate and your memories. Alas, 'tis better to have loved and devoured than never to have devoured at all. If you do come to Grappa and don't see it on the menu, ask for it anyway, if they regretfully inform you they are unable to make it, that's where the neck snapping starts, Steven Seagal Style!
The rest of the menu is modern, cleaner Italian with lots of seafood. Lovely tastes to indulge in include the fresh fig with proscuitto and gorgonzola, the wonderfully delicate and flavoursome signature salt crusted snapper (which makes Jaws look like a bit of goldfish), Wild Barramundi, when they have it, and a few pasta dishes I can't really be an authority on because I haven't tried them. To be honest, the menu can be a little hit and miss. Johnny O used to be resident chef and I found the standard when he was working there (he left a few years ago) a little more consistent, but it's still worthy of a lunch or a dinner if you've never been here before. The fish is beautiful, it can be woodfired and is usually dressed with a good shot of olive oil and some fennel or prawns or other interesting garnishes.
The in house truffles which appear in the chanel red dessert menu as petite fours are luscious, stultifying, richrichrich, a perfect annihilation in chocolate. The gelato is always impeccable, creamy, intense declarations of changing and seasonal flavours, the fig, vanilla bean and chocolate have been my most memorable gelato headache inducers. The tiramisu and the mille feuille are orgasmic, both are wispy and airy, but the rich tiramisu is intoxicating in it's coffeed chocolateness. Grappa has its own pastry chef and the desserts are consistently brilliant. The chocolate used throughout the range is just gorgeous, creamy, dense milk chocolate with a deep, round, full cocoaness.

I am surprised I haven't sunken the Anzac Bridge on my drive home yet. Definitely do NOT pass up on dessert here.
There's an impressive bar with lots of luring foreign bottles I know absolutely nothing about. If you arrive early, order a drink here and do your best impression of acting cool about being alone in public. Grappa is a little on the pricey side, which is why I make sure, before hand, that Dad is paying.

Grappa is at Unit 1, 267-277 Norton St Leichhardt (Cnr Norton and City West Link), ph 9560 6090.

A word of warning, if you have not tried the drink from which the restaurant takes its name: don't. Crappa would've been more fitting.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

the course of true love never did run quite so smooth

Glass noodles at BBQ City are a bit like the relationship between Dan and I: copious, slippery, steamy, difficult to manage, but so bloody delicious you just keep coming back for more. Time apart has been good for us, it's allowed us to 'mature as people', to appreciate the other from the clarity of distance, to grow into the idea of one another and the love we happened upon nearly 2 (fateful) years ago. More importantly, cruel breakups have an amazing plus side that I never knew about: in the aching chasm of the divide you're forced to seek out new horizons, new people, new things, new places... can you see where I am going with this? Lo and Behold! The Glass noodles at BBQ City. Dan discovering these noodles has made all the painful nights where we wept into an echoless emptiness and the soul destroying days of the last 4 months, all incredibly worthwhile. It's simple anatomy, kids: nothing fixes a broken heart like a singing belly.

Daniel Chaim Goldstein needs no introduction, he's the love of my life, my alter ego, the brat on the other side of the my bed, the twiddledee to my twiddledum, the lovely noose to my willing neck. He is the Uber-Chemist, jackjohnsonwillsmithish sleepy spaghetti breathed surfer with the deep voice and the even deeper eyes, someone I will never quite be done with figuring out, the single most cataclysmic thing I have ever encountered. Despite the fact that no one has died, not yet anyway, Romeo and Juliet had nothing on us. Dan and I make those star cross'd lovers look like they had the most stable, solid and rational relationship. Love it or hate it, looks like we're stuck with each other, which may be a good thing, given that I never would have started this blog without him. 

I can't lie to you though, this whole time, we've both been having a wee bit of a sordid affair: It was during our travels in Japan, especially, and Hong Kong, to a lesser extent, that our love for the other was both firmly and finally eclipsed by our Love of The Noodle. Noodles: generous, swirly, steaming, chilled, chewy, soft, thick, thin, slurpy, messy, slippery, clumping, filling. They truly are a joyous food. A bit like Paris Hilton, they can be had in so many different ways it really is quite delightful. I am always on the hunt for a new way to enjoy noodles, and BBQ City is one place where they are happening in the most luscious way. Cake + knifelings, meet the Jap Chae: Korean potato noodle tummy love at it's slithering best.

These noodles are equal part fun, equal part utter deliciousness. They are vegetarian, with large globs of beautifully sauteed fungus, and they feature the most delectable potato noodle I have ever slurped this side of the Asia Pacific Rim. Dan went all glassy eyed as he told me about this equally glassy little noodle dish. For eleven dollars you can take your mouth on a veritable Route 66 of taste and texture. They come to you in a big steaming plate about 2.3 seconds after you've ordered them, the speed of the service is a good thing given that the arduous and cumbersome task of hooking slippery noodles onto silver chopsticks delays the anticipated moment when your teeth and your tongue sink into and around these serpentine beauties, and when they do...'s heaven. Chewy-slippery-mushroom-spiked-sweet-savoury-lick-your-lips-quick-quick-rub-your-belly heaven. The way you eat good noodles is rather different from the way you eat other food. Most food can be thoughtful, a little bite here, a subtle lick there, a pause, a lean back in the chair, a gentle swivel of the delicate red... not so with the no nonsense noodle, they're more action packed than Chuck Norris vs Jet Li. 

Noodles demand to be eaten with jolly, ravenous, light hearted haste, and always a little sheepishly, because no matter how Neat You Eat, the struggle with the bounty that heaves off the end of your chopsticks is inevitable. Indeed, its the whole entire point. Noodles are not coy or come hither, certainly not first date food or fodder for anyone you wish to impress. Slurp them only in front of you people who you know and love, people who hold you dear in their hearts, people who already respect you so little that the sight of you with noodles incessantly dangling from your ailing but giddy mouth won't result in you wondering as to why you never got a second date. Such glorious, fun filled food... rest assured, if you're not hungry when you start eating noodles, I swear you'll become hungry during them. When they're done well they're so good they practically eat themselves, and BBQ City does these noodles very, very well.

If you're still not convinced, that's the adorable array of little supporting side dishes that descend upon your table as soon as you arrive. None of them are about to win BBQ City a Chef's Hat any time soon, but they're generous, yummy and free! After all of my previous Crown Street Credit Card Debacles, that is such a welcome and wonderful treat.

So, come one, come all, to BBQ City at level 1, 116-120 liverpool st Sydney (ph: 9267 5155), bring some people you adore and experience this dish. Just like a great relationship, food can be so much more of an experience when it's touched with a little chaos and and a lot of mess.
I love you, bub.

Happy 2009, everyone!