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.