Imagine sitting down for dinner at one of your favorite restaurants, when all of a sudden the owner shows up and invites you to dine with him and his friends? Pretty awesome, I say! We had the pleasure to have such an evening recently at Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez, California.
Over the last few years Santa Ynez Valley has become my favorite day trip destination. Just a couple of hours North of Los Angeles, it’s an easy and beautiful drive. We (no, not the royal we, rather my husband Nick and myself) go wine tasting in Santa Ynez at least once a month.
As wine-tasting on empty stomach is never the best idea, we usually have lunch and dinner in the area, and have explored many restaurants all over the valley. One of our long-time favorites is Trattoria Grappolo in the village of Santa Ynez. The food is delicious and very reasonably-priced, and we all know that Italian food and wine make a heavenly pairing.
Oftentimes Nick and I get a Trattoria Grappolo wood-fired pizza to go, then drive over across the road to Gainey Vineyard and have lunch al fresco at Gainey’s picnic area, sipping wine amid the vineyards underneath beautiful oaks trees.
This time I arranged to come to Trattoria Grappolo (to do a write-up for my blog) for dinner. We were seated and barely had a chance to look at the menu when the owner, Daniele, arrived at the nearby table and invited us to join him and his friends. It ended up being a super fun five hour multi-course dinner extravaganza (with lots and lots of wine for each course). And, of course, I am always ridiculously excited to get a “behind the scenes” experience anywhere I go.
Originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, Daniele came to America and worked in the food industry before opening his own restaurant, Trattoria Grappolo, 21 years ago. Over the course of the evening it’s become very clear how much he cares about this place. Many of the people who work at Grappolo have been with him from the very beginning – and you feel this camaraderie among the staff. Since we dined well after the closing hours, I watched the cooks and the waiters laugh and joke and have a great time as they were cleaning and closing up the restaurant.
At our dinner, Daniele ordered many of his favorite menu items for the whole table (there were 7 of us – all but 2 born in different countries!), and Nick and I got to try several dishes we wouldn’t normally order for ourselves (but ended up loving it all!). Daniele’s friends brought plenty of wine. It was fab! And I am glad I happened to be wearing a stretchy dress as I probably ate 3 times as much as I normally would, haha.
Some of my favorite dishes were rollino Veneto (rolled pizza stuffed with smoked mozzarella and radicchio & onions, served with diced tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil – I had to look it up at www.trattoriagrappolo.com), cotoletta alla Milanese (breaded pork chop topped with arugula and fresh tomatoes) and the flourless chocolate cake (omg!!). And the housemade tiramisu.
I also tried my first Affogato here. Have you ever had one? It’s vanilla gelato with espresso and whipped cream, and some grappa (optional but oh so good!). It was fantastic.
Here are a few photos from the evening. I usually take a lot more but I was having such a good time I kind of forgot. I didn’t even take a photo of my first Affogato. Bad Marina, bad!!! 🙂
P.S. After dinner, around midnight, our dinner party went next door to the Maverick Saloon (to meet the owner and talk about possibly performing there). That night the saloon was transformed into a dance club. I hadn’t danced in a long time (since probably a friend’s wedding) and ended up having a blast. One of the members of our party was in his 80s, and he danced with more enthusiasm than anyone else in our group (which was captured on many phone cameras)! It was a night to remember! Thanks to Daniele and everyone at Trattoria Grappolo (and Maverick Saloon for the impromptu after party!)!