Call it the curse of the Groupon. Yah, I am a sucker for discounts, even when it means I end up spending money to save money. I guess it is within my DNA. Hence, when I spotted a coupon for Grotto, I bought it without even giving it a few seconds of thought. Credit card companies must love me... Alas, I had $100.00 to spend at Grotto, but without any confirmed dining companions! Not to fear, Sean, Joyce and Emily were willing participants.
Meeting up on a Monday night meant the head chef wasn't present, so keep that in mind regarding this blog post. We began with the Bruschetta featuring house-made focaccia topped with sun dried tomato, basil, olive tapenade and white balsamic gastrique. In reference to the taste, this was a veritable flavour explosion. The hit of the balsamic as well as the bright tartness of the tomatoes were not only impactful, it encouraged me to take another bite right away. However, the bread was too dense and wet. It needed to be toasted much more aggressively. Next, we tried the Arancini Balls stuffed with provolone and served with arrabiata and preserved lemon. These were huge and fried up until crunchy. I enjoyed the firm exterior, but it could've been a thinner layer. Inside, the risotto was fairly firm and really cheesy. However, the whole dish needed more richer flavours and including more sauce. The lemon was a nice addition though.
Sporting large pieces of Humboldt Squid and house-made sausage, the next appie also featured roasted eggplant, olives, tomatoes, lemon and parsley. At first, I was not into the chewy texture of the squid, but it did progressively become softer. There was a noticeable smokiness which could've been overwhelming, but the saltiness and tang from the rest of the ingredients kept it in check. As for the sausage, it was juicy and flavourful with a tender rebound texture. As a mid course of sorts, we had one of our 3 pizzas being the Funghi consisting of white sauce, mushrooms, arugula and roasted garlic. Unfortunately, a few slices slid off onto the table and Emily's plate (by our server). We were a bit surprised nothing was done about that (ie. comp or a new pizza or even comp Emily's $1.00 charge for hot water). The pizza itself was quite good where the thin crust was crunchy with a slight chewiness. It was properly seasoned while the toppings were effective including the umaminess of the ample mushrooms.
Arriving all at once, I decided to try the Gnocchi on a bed of smoked chicken and mushroom ragout accompanied by pork belly and crispy celery root. Beautifully seared until golden brown with a crunch, the gnocchi were soft, but retained a certain bite at the same time. What made the dish was the delicious ragout of tender chicken which exhibited a light smokiness combined with the Earthiness of the mushrooms. We had actually tried this dish during Noodlemania and it was pretty much bang on. On the other hand, the Ravioli of butternut squash dressed with brown butter, sage and walnuts was slightly different. Rather than the tender pieces of ravioli we were had last time, these were somewhat over fried being too firm and almost crunchy in spots. Furthermore, there was an overwhelming amount of acidity for some reason. It partially masked the sweetness of the squash and the aromatics of the sage.
The Spaghetti Marinara with meatballs and grana padano was largely forgettable. Although I love a sear on my meatballs, these were burnt in some spots. The smokiness really didn't bother me (in fact, it was fine), but the mealy and crumbly texture of the meatballs was off-putting. They were seasoned and there wasn't a lot of filler, but I couldn't eat one without it completely falling apart. As for the spaghetti itself, it was al dente, yet the marinara was barely there, which meant the flavours were not particularly impactful. I did get hints of fresh tomato with a touch of tang, but little else.
After this, we waited for nearly 45 minutes for our 2 remaining pizzas. Not sure what happened there. Anyways, we go the Prosciutto and the Muffuletta, which both stayed on the plate this time. Initially, I found the prosciutto rather salty (due to the large amount of it), but it tasted more balanced as I continued to eat it. I guess the figs and pesto kicked in, yet at the same time, they were largely in the background. Equally, if not saltier, the muffuletta was also blessed with plenty of meat (soppresata). With the addition of olives, there was nice finish to go with the slight spice. Overall, we liked the pizzas and a few of the other dishes. Some items could definitely use more refinement such as the spaghetti and meatballs. Interestingly, the pizza toppings that were dropped onto the table remained on the table throughout our meal.
- Pizza crust is thin, crispy and nicely seasoned
- Reasonable pricing for Downtown
- Service was good, but the pizza incident was not handled correctly
- Hit and miss