If you thought Italian food was spaghetti
and meatballs or chicken parmigiana, Grappa Cafe owners Luca
and Robert Caravello want to give you a culinary lesson - every
Chef Luca and his brother Robert have been serving top-notch, innovative Italian cuisine for two and a half years at their restaurant on Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn, but next week they will put a new spin on their menu.
Beginning March 4, the Brothers Caravello invite you to sample Italian cuisine, one region at a time. Every Tuesday, Grappa will offer a new prix fixe menu featuring the flavors of a different Italian region. (Of course, those enamored of the current menu can continue to order a la carte on Tuesdays, also.)
Grappa is not just the name of the restaurant. The Italian brandy, distilled from the pomace of grapes, is also an ingredient in a few of the dishes. In fact, there is even grappa in Chef Luca’s tiramisu.
Luca gave GO Brooklyn an early sampling of his planned Piemonte menu, which will kick off the tour of Italy.
He plans to open with farfalle di Grappa, a half-order of farfalle pasta in a rich, four-cheese sauce. Topped with generous shavings of Parmesan and sprinkled with cubed tomatoes and parsley, the pretty dish of bow-tie pasta sings with the blend of Gorgonzola, provolone, fontina and Parmesan cheeses.
The cheeses are first marinated in a sweet grappa, said Luca. Just a hint of the grappa stays in the dish, pleasantly thinning the heavy, Gorgonzola-dominated sauce.
For an entree, Luca will serve a light, buttery codfish, snuggled against vibrantly yellow lemon wedges. (Luca said there might be a second entree from which to choose on the Piemonte menu.)
His square of codfish hangs above a vast pool of lemony, white wine and caper emulsion. But the thrill of that entree was the best broccoli rabe I have ever tasted.
In fact, I didn’t recognize it when it was served.
Luca laughingly explained that the way to tell if the rabe is prepared correctly is if its florets are intact. (He preserves his by first blanching the vegetable and then sauteing it.) In many Italian restaurants, the broccoli rabe is so utterly drowned in oil and garlic that the flavor of the vegetable is indiscernible. Not at Grappa. The broccoli rabe is a brilliant green tangle of florets, and it is delicious.
Luca was trained at Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute and this training means that Grappa’s offerings have all of the wonderfully fresh, clean flavors of Italy aside pools of rich, creamy French-style sauces that make your toes curl.
The chef explained that the codfish sauce is made with a generous amount of white wine, and that is typical of Piemonte, a wine-producing region nestled at the foot of the Alpine ranges.
"In Lombardia they use a lot of fontina," said Luca. "They put it in everything - they stuff veal with fontina." So loosen your belts, Brooklyn, because the fontina will be the inspired ingredient of an upcoming menu, and as the weather warms and tomatoes ripen, the chef will explore the dishes of Sicilia.
"We’ll cook with figs in late summer," he said, admitting that he harvests Grappa’s figs from his dad’s backyard in Dyker Heights. "They are huge and sweet as can be. At least there, we know where our figs are coming from. It ensures there are no pesticides or anything like that.
"I wish he had a bigger backyard and we could get all our vegetables there!"
All of the desserts are made at Grappa, because Luca said he wants control over everything, including the love that’s put into his dishes, but he has not yet decided which happy ending to apply to the Piemonte menu.
Regardless of which regions they typify, Grappa’s torta ciocolatta, a chocolate cake with a warm, chocolate-pudding center served with a creamy, French vanilla ice cream is indeed transporting, and his mocha-flavored tiramisu di Grappa was perfectly airy and creamy, with a slight hint of grappa. Both desserts were generously surrounded with chocolate and caramel sauces, and both would be a fitting finale to a meal - on any day of the week.
Another reason to visit: Grappa’s service, overseen by Robert and sister Sarina, the maitre d’, is gracious and unpretentious.
As comforting - and sexy - as the Caravellos’ rich, flavorful menu, is the candlelit dining room with its exposed brick walls, cozy banquettes and terra cotta tile floors. The family is as passionate about food as they are about Italy, and the heady combination will have diners returning every Tuesday to fall in love over and over again.
Grappa Cafe Bar & Restaurant is located at 112 Court St. at State Street. Grappa accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entree range: $15.50-$21 or $35 for three-course, prix-fixe regional menu served every Tuesday beginning March 4. For more information, call (718) 237-4024, or visit the Web site at www.grappacafe.com.