Yes, Virginia, Beautiful People Do Eat
A stylish Chappaqua eatery gets it (mostly) right.
Walking into Grappolo Locanda is like taking your first sip of a sparkling, golden glass of Prosecco on a warm evening in Italy: it’s the sort of treat that instantly erases any unpleasantness. Grappolo is an exciting place, filled with well-heeled, well-groomed people sharing long, leisurely meals and multiple bottles of wine. It has the sort of relaxed, elegant atmosphere that’s so hard to achieve—it’s comfortable, but slightly elevated.
The restaurant is thoughtfully designed to soothe, painted in varying rich tones of honey and butter, punctuated by flattering pink halogen lights and creamy yellow-shaded sconces. A few impasto-heavy modernist landscapes stud the walls, which allude to the Italian landscape without being obvious. In the summer, the bar’s large French doors open out for sidewalk dining. The room’s overall impression is one of modern, understated elegance: this is the sort of place where customers are equally at home in business suits or jeans—presuming, of course, those jeans are expensive.
Executive Chef Carmelo D’Aprile hails from Bologna, the city usually considered the heart of Italian cuisine. Bologna’s surrounding region, the Emilia—Romagna, produces some of the richest, most delicious food in Italy—this is where prosciutto di Parma is made, as well as Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, mortadella, tortellini, ragu, and culatello. Chef D’Aprile’s
First impressions are often an accurate predictor of an overall experience, and this held true at Grappolo. We sat to a welcoming basket of pane di casa, seasoned flatbread and grissini, paired with a bowl of enticing white-bean paste elegantly gilded with a ribbon of olive oil. Sadly, the bean paste came straight from the refrigerator, which masked its earthy, subtly sagey flavors. This sort of inconsistency was a constant throughout our meals here.
Grappolo’s wine list is well chosen and smallish, concentrating on thoughtfully priced, intriguing Italian wines. On one visit, I was quite pleased with my brawny glass of Salice Salentino Primitivo ($9), while on another, I enjoyed the light, palate-washing properties of one of its two good Proseccos (also $9).
My favorite starter at Grappolo was a special stracchiatella with spinach. This is the classic Italian egg-drop soup—in which raw egg is whipped into hot chicken broth, creating fine, noodle-like filaments. At Grappolo, the dish was improved with silky spinach and lots of Parmesan cheese—the peppery liquid was exactly what I craved on that cold night. The beet salad was less perfect—in fact, it summed up both of our meals at
Grappolo. The sweet, creamy beet slices were nicely offset by grated ricotta salata, but we would have preferred a bigger punch of salt. The salad’s arugula was nicely peppery, but sandy.
Also flawed was my artichoke sformatino starter, an eggy timbale of artichoke hearts and Parmesan, which was only slightly tinged with the elusive flavor of artichoke. Even though it was a light and delicious little custard, the dish could more honestly be called a Parmesan sformatino. And it wasn’t particularly improved by a bland mascarpone sauce.
Pastas are why you go to Grappolo: there are many more primi than secondi on Chef D’Aprile’s menu, and the wide pasta selection is certainly seductive. Knowing the chef’s background, we had to try the tagliatelle alla Bolognese. The pasta arrived with a dry, crumbly dressing—more like streusel than sauce—paired with a large dollop of creamy, high-quality ricotta. While the tagliatelle were perfectly cooked, the cheese added the only unctuousness to the dish. Plus, the dry, meaty ragu was far too salty—so salty that the subtleties of Bologna’s signature dish of slow-cooked vegetables and meats were completely lost. My gnocchi with lobster were reasonably light, and served with a tasty, oily baby-tomato and sun-dried tomato sauce. Unfortunately, the plate was garnished with half of a tiny lobster, which required some hands-on wrestling to liberate the meat.
My well-cooked spaghetti alla chitarra sciue-sciue had the tell-tale square profile of the hand-cut pasta, and was one of the more wholly successful dishes. The tomatoeysauce was punctuated by creamy cooked garlic slices, tender calamari rings, whole tender shrimp and briny little clams. The only flaw was the sandy, less-than-fresh mussels that garnished the dish. Another winner was the tender, center-cut Berkshire pork chop, which arrived smothered in a super-rich, creamy wild-mushroom sauce. It was delicious. Order it with the addictive truffled French fries available as a contorno.
Desserts baffle at Grappolo. The last course clearly isn’t a priority here, which makes sense given the buff clientele: it probably doesn’t sell too many. When I asked in late October about the fruit gracing the seasonal fruit tart—I was told that it was peach. When I blurted out that peaches weren’t seasonal, I was assured that the tart was changing next week. But lo, when we returned a month later in November, there was that seasonal peach tart. I also question any restaurant that serves fresh strawberries year round. Even if they’re dressed with aged balsamic vinegar, strawberries taste more like straw than berries for most of the year. Also odd was a creamy, eggy custard advertised as a panna cotta. Go for the yummy tartufo classico—this is tangy crème fraîche wrapped in sweet chocolate gelato, altogether rolled in cocoa.
Yes, some of the dishes at Grappolo were flawed, but I’d happily return. This is a cheerful, elegant restaurant, with a great wine selection and lots of satisfying dishes. The vibe in the dining room is exciting, with lots of beautiful people having lots of fun. The feeling is infectious—and goes a long way to overcome the few flaws in the meal.
GRAPPOLO LOCANDA â˜…â˜… ½
76 King St
Lunch, Mon. to Sat.
inner, Mon. to Thurs. , Fri. and Sat.
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good