Grappino is a restaurant in Naples featuring Italian cuisine.
It is the newest venture of the Aielli Group who have distinguished themselves in both Naples and St. Petersburg with their mastery of Italian fare. Grappino diverges from their other endeavors in that it features more rustic, simply-prepared and softly-priced dishes from Italy.
Grappino in Italian is literally a small portion (shot) of grappa, similar to that wee dram of whiskey associated with Scotland. Grappa is a brandy-like spirit made from pomace. Pomace is a by-product of winemaking, consisting of grape skins, seeds and stems left over after winemaking.
Being in the shadow of the wine trade, grappa has been very much under the radar and a somewhat ridiculed spirit for many years even in its home country Italy. This is changing. Some producers are featuring grappa that is barrel-aged among other refinements, leading to speculation that grappa may eventually follow the way of tequila as its quality improves.
Grappino is almost distinctive in North America as it is one of the few establishments that feature over 100 different grappa varieties. With this armamentarium of grappa choices, one has a unique opportunity to cut their teeth on this perhaps up and coming alcoholic beverage.
This brief mention of grappa aside, my dining companions and I were here for their happy hour. I love a good happy hour and the happy hour menu, in addition to the culinary provenance of these restaurateurs really caught my attention.
Happy hour is served in the bar. A few minutes here while we decided what to order convinced me that this was one of the more aesthetically pleasing bar spaces in Naples.
The happy hour menu has a nice variety of foods ranging from crispy (fried) items, pizza by the slice, bruschetta, a couple of meat and cheese dishes in addition to two pasta dishes.
The first thing sampled off the menu was the fritto calamari, really a fritto misto (mixed fry)
Fried calamari rings are mixed with breaded and fried baby broccoli and bell pepper along with bits of provolone cheese. It is served with a ratatouille aioli, basically mayonnaise with minced vegetables incorporated into it. It was good and a fun plate to share. This dish could have used more aioli but that was easily remedied by asking for more.
We also sampled some of the bruschetta. It was topped with a very generous portion of cherry tomatoes and flavored with basil, olive oil, and a balsamic glaze. This menu item was notable in both its simplicity and deliciousness. The restaurant serves four other varieties of its bruschetta, all of them looking equally as good as the one sampled.
The next happy hour menu item was the grilled soppressata with parmesan cheese and croutons. Soppressata is an Italian dry salami and this dish was really a deconstructed panini sandwich. The croutons, grilled sourdough bread, were a vehicle for the grilled meat with cheese. Another very good menu item.
We tried a couple of orders of Grappino’s pizza. Their pizza is Roman style. This is a pizza that is crispy on the outside but with an airy open interior “crumb” structure. It is also sometimes served in single, rectangular pieces which is what Grappino does. Although many contemporary pizza recipes are incorporating artisanal bread baking techniques, I’ll leave that for now on a “knead to know” basis (sorry, couldn’t resist).
The one thing I will talk about, as the restaurant features this prominently, is hydration levels of pizza dough. Hydration incorporates the concept of bakers percentages, which is basically a w/w (weight/weight) percentage of ingredients. It is a great way to standardize recipes to make them more simple and consistent. Everything using this method is all relative to the weight of flour. For example, if one has 100 grams of flour, then a 70% hydration would be adding 70 g (or ml) of water to it; one ml of water weighs 1 gram.
Pizza dough with a high hydration level (80%), when exposed to the heat levels of a pizza oven, will produce steam. This results in a more open and airy crust, perfect for Roman-style pizza. The pizza dough at Grappino is cooked in a brick oven under high heat.
The restaurant served two types of pizza, one with a tomato sauce (rossa) and one without (bianca). We tried both of them. The “rossa” style pizza slice we ordered was served with spicy salami, tomato, mozzarella, onion, and chili. It was excellent.
We also sampled the bianca style pizza, this particular menu item having butternut squash, in-house-made ricotta, sage, and honey. The ricotta was exceptional, little bites of heaven accentuated by the sweetness and savoriness of the honey and sage, respectively. Another excellent, excellent happy hour item from Grappino.
We finished with a pasta item, baked torchioni bolognese. Torchioni are long, curved tubular pasta with one narrow end and one open end resembling a torch and designed to cup sauces. The dish is served with a bolognese (meat) sauce and topped with caciocavallo cheese gratin. Caciocavallo cheese is a semi-dry cheese similar to provolone. This was my least favorite of the samplings here. I prefer a bolognese sauce that’s a bit sweeter, perhaps with a bit more carrot and onion in the mix. Although not bad by any means, I preferred our other menu selections more.
The menu items for happy hour at Grappino were on the whole, very good and very much recommended. It’s hard to find a good happy hour these days. If it’s a chain restaurant, what used to be good is frequently not anymore as the corporate bean counters step in.
If it’s a more local establishment, many of them just do not know how to provide value and good food. The happy hour at Grappino is one of the better in town, administered by local restaurateurs that really know what they’re doing. I don’t think many will be disappointed by the quality and value of this happy hour. They also have a nice selection of wines, cocktails, and beers.
I cannot talk about these as I did not indulge in my two visits here. For me, a good happy hour is more about the food than a beverage. For food at happy hour, this establishment excels.