Back in January I turned 40 years old. For my birthday, I knew I would want to eat somewhere good and somewhere I hadn’t been yet. I had a young man on my podcast a few weeks prior by the name of Joel Gargano. Joel had recently opened a restaurant in Chester CT called Grano Arso. The name of the restaurant translates to “burnt wheat” in Italian. Joel had shared with me the many different ways he prepares his pasta and explained to me the significance of the name. I was very curious about Grano but I had a feeling before I even stepped in the door. Just by glancing at the menu he had left in my studio a few weeks before, I KNEW I was going to enjoy it. So I pulled out my laptop and started writing, then I realized I forgot to take a pic of the damn menu. I knew I had to tell the world, so I did what was only right, I went back! My second visit took place on March 17th and I was sure to snap a pic of the menu the second I got there. Joel also granted me permission to take pics in his well-lit kitchen due to the romantic lighting in the dining room. The first visit to Grano was one of my favorite dining experiences I’ve had in some time, and I had a good feeling that the second visit would be the same. I took my seat and began my loving journey through the pasta heavens.
So we started with some small dishes and sides and my first dish was the same first dish I got on the previous visit, the carrots. Roasted and glazed, served with mint and topped with some sesame seeds, this dish was a perfect starter and just the right size. Next was the Beet Bagna Cauda. What makes this dish a Bagna Cauda is the anchovy sauce, traditionally it is served as a dipping sauce but Chef Joel put his own spin on it. The dish was comprised of beets, crispy potatoes, white anchovy sauce, pickled onions and parsley. The beets and potatoes dominated the plate and you basically dragged them through the remaining ingredients, sopping up the sauce. Take note, on the left side of the menu, I saw two dishes that contained beets. I went with the one I knew and paid no mind to the second one. As we were finishing the first beet dish, Chef Joel came to the table with the other beet dish and said, “I can’t let you leave here without trying this.” He placed on the table, the other beet dish. Beet Malloreddus, served with kale, horseradish and foie gras butter. Until this night I did not know what Malloreddus was until I saw it. Malloreddus is that small cut of pasta that, and don’t let this deter you, looks like a small grub or larvae. I wanted to know more so I took to the internet and this is what I found, I also had to translate.
“The origin of the denomination is to be found in the way of expression in the peasant context. The manual processing of malloreddus in the home was done by kneading the durum wheat semolina with water, and was created rolled strips of dough of about 15 cm long, which were cut into cubes. Then the shape was obtained by crushing the dough cubes against the end of a straw basket, called on ciuliri (the sieve) to get them streaked, or to have them smooth enough to simply crush them against a wooden base. The result was a pot-bellied product which in the imaginary of the agro-pastoral world took the form of small calves (think of expressions such as fat, like a calf).” (wikipedia)
I also found out that this pasta cut originated in Sardinia, it falls into my favorite class of pasta, the solid thick pieces, like cavatelli, orecchiette and gnocchi. I was so glad he brought this to the table because it was my favorite dish of the night. Buttery, rich and so flavorful, I could have eaten a Tupperware bowl full. You can also get a seared piece of seared foie on top if you want to be indulgent. The next dish was the Crostini, served with ricotta, coppa, Parmigiano Reggiano and aged balsamic. Kind of hard to mess this dish up, so damn good, always. The coppa was so salty as it should be, and the ricotta Chef used was top notch. This was the last small dish before the bigger dishes came out.
With no chance to breathe or recover from the flavor blast we had just received, here came the second wave. We started with the Garganelli Grano Arso, Chef Joel’s signature dish. The Garganelli is served with mushrooms, hazelnuts, parsnips and blue cheese. The actual Garganelli is formed by rolling a flat, square piece of pasta into a tubular shape, by using something like the handle of a wooden spoon, or any thing of the sort. This was a dish I had neglected to get on the first visit and I am very happy to have gotten it this time. I love pasta that is served in brodo or thick, non-tomato sauce, its so more appealing to the 40 year old taste buds in me. Next was the short rib. Served with fingerling potatoes, mushroom ragu and broccoli rabe, this was a nice meaty side conversation to have before we returned to the conversation at hand, which is pasta. I enjoyed this dish thoroughly because good short rib should fall apart when hit with the fork, if not, I wont take part.
The next two dishes were pasta and they were taken from the “Larger Plates” section of the menu. I got the rigatoni Bolognese because I love a Bolognese, I don’t care what type of pasta it’s in. This one obviously had rigatoni with Blue Slope Farm beef, parm reggie, EVOO and basil. I like a Bolognese because it’s easy and hard to mess up, people do, but it’s really hard. It’s a meaty pasta, growing up all I had was goulash with elbow macaroni; this is the grown up version. Meggie-Pie got the Spaghetti Fra Diavolo. This was strange of her because she is the one to always get a Bolognese but she switched it up. This dish was served with san marzano tomatoes, saffron, fennel, manila clams, scallops and mussels. She loves mussels so now it made sense. Half way through these dishes we threw in the towel and had them packaged because we reached our gastrointestinal limit but I needed to try something on the dessert menu.
There were three desserts that were on the menu but one peaked my interest, the butterscotch budino. Budino is the Italian equivalent to custard or pudding. This budino was topped with chocolate ganache but in the bottom, hidden under the butterscotch goodness, was something that I love, something that you couldn’t see and something I wouldn’t expect, cherries. I love cherries and these cherries were preserved in something but I didn’t think to ask. This dessert was perfect and the end to a perfect meal, MOLTO BENE!!!
Grano is the best meal I’ve had in 2018, both times. If you are a pasta lover that likes Italian food and Italian takes on other dishes you really must go. Chef Joel is so knowledgeable about the food he serves. I love seeing different cuts of pasta that you wouldn’t normally find in an American kitchen. Grano is in a league of its own as a stand-alone restaurant and as an Italian restaurant. It will be very hard to top in reference to food, service and wait staff. Take a quiet ride to the quaint town of Chester and experience it for yourself.