Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Grano . . .Not just another Italian restaurant!

The life of a Napa Bed and Breakfast innkeeper is tough. All these new restaurants-- and we can only eat a few meals a day! (wink)

Seriously, folks who stay at a Napa hotel or B&B love to stroll into town for dinner each evening. There's something really special about enjoying the warm sunshine all day, then feeling the soft, cool breezes blow in at night. Deliciously cool. :)

Years ago, we had a favorite Italian restaurant called Belle Arti. It was owned by Santo Sacca and Rosario Patti, with chef Fabrizio Castangia in the back. It had the most amazing vibe. Nestled in beside the creek behind the Opera House, we spend many a romantic evening watching the moon peek through the trees, listening to the creek, the soft chirp of crickets and frogs, and eating the most amazing food.

We have vivid memories of the Italian waiters outside by their Vespas, chain smoking and talking a mile a minute in Italian. It literally felt like you'd been transported to a tiny little trattoria in Italy. Incredible.

But the reason we went, week after week, was not the ambiance, or the creek, or the waiters.

It was the food.

Specifically, a dish called "Pasta Chitarra"-- something so fiendishly simple, yet impossible to create at home (we tried to make it at our inn, for weeks, not knowing the special technique used).

So, we finally came clean one night with Santo. Told him we were in love w/Pasta Chitarra, and had to know what the secret was.

He smiled, and went in the back. Out came Rosario, who said "So, you want to know how I make Chitarra?" We nodded, eagerly.

With great pride, he showed us.

To make it, he just sauteed mushrooms and lightly roasted garlic in olive oil, then tossed it with freshly made egg noodle pasta chitarra . . .

But here comes the hard part-- the secret to its amazing flavor:

The pasta/mushrooms/garlic were transferred into a "bowl" made out of a huge wheel of parmesan. The pasta/mushrooms/garlic were then tossed around until they were completely infused with essence of Parmigiano Reggiano.

It was breathtakingly good. Literally the best pasta dish some of us had ever tasted.

We went back again and again.

Until Belle Arti was no more-- they quietly went out of business. A few years later, we heard about the passing of Rosario, and bid him a fond farewell.

It was the end of an era.

Belle Arti lives again!

Grano (Italian for "grain") opened, quietly, just a few weeks ago. At the helm, Santo Sacca. In the back-- Fabrizio Castangia.

The location? The historic old Depot building-- site of a long-time Napa Italian restaurant.

Here's the thing:

The location is terrible. It's impossible to find, hard to park (it shares a parking lot w/a used car dealer, who parks their vehicles everywhere). And it has next to no ambiance, at least outside. Think used car lot, and you've got it.

Inside, it's an old building, w/painted walls, slanting floors, and lots of candles. Kinda nice. But not overly romantic.

But all of that isn't important.

What's important-- for us and hundreds of other Napans-- is the food.

Most foodies have favorite hole-in-the-wall places to eat. Little, out-of-the-way spots that no one knows about, w/simple decor and unpretentious owners.

Grano is one of those places.

Sure, you have to drive along the railroad tracks, through a back parking lot, to get there. Or drive through a used car parking lot, threading the needle through rows of work trucks with sale signs on them.

But if you love great food, it's worth it.

The menu is simple, but classic Italian. Several dry pastas (not homemade) with a choice of four different sauces (marinara, bolognese, pesto, or butter and sage)-- for only $10-14 a plate.

Wine by the glass ($5!), and many bottles (non-Napa) from $15-25. Corkage only $10, waived with purchase of a bottle of wine. A few simple salads, calamari appetizer, veal and steak secondi. . .

. . . and (drum roll . . .) two freshly made pastas each day.

Last night was Ravioli (amazing) and -- Pasta Chitarra.

Pasta Chitarra is back!

We had it last night, and can say that every single bite was every bit as good, as tasty, as succulent, as we remember.

So if you're the kind of person who drives miles out of their way to go to some funky little spot for pizza, or a steak, or any other kind of amazing food, get ready to make a pilgrimage to Grano.

But call ahead--- and make sure that Pasta Chitarra is one of the specials.

You'll be glad you did. :)

Grano Restaurant
806 4th St
(on Soscal, just south of 4th)
Napa, CA 94559


Mon-Thur 5-9 pm
Fri-Sat 5 - 10 pm
Closed Sundays

- The Innkeepers
Napa Old World Inn
Are we a Napa Hotel? Or a Bed and Breakfast? You decide!

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