Trattoria Il Mulino Grappa Pairing Dinner
Immediately upon entering the restaurant (décor is sophisticatedly laid-back New York) the first vision is a candy store of huge glass jars of colorful infused grappas. Unless you are familiar with that phenomenon, this appears to the uninitiated to be festive decoration… but it’s really quite functional and definitely an important part of the dining experience at Trattoria Il Mulino. As in many “trendy” restaurants today, the kitchen is an open concept with the sounds dampened behind a glass wall, but this glass wall actually allows just enough detail to shine through that you feel slightly involved in the process… but not distracted by it.
By the way, grappa (GRAHP-ah) has been around since the 1700’s and is, generally, a clear high-octane eau de vie. It’s distilled from the skin and seed residue that remains when wine is pressed (called pomace). The hundreds of types of grappas range from very young to aged, sophisticated varieties that differ in taste according to the casks that they are aged in. The stars of this night were those that were infused with various fruits. These had a flavor palette that ranged from sweet to almost aromatic… and from flavorful to very interesting and complex (in my opinion). Flavors offered include Pear, Blueberry, Strawberry, Fig, Raspberry, Apricot, Fennel, Green Apple, Rose Petal, and Raisin in addition to Limoncello (a southern Italian favorite) and Arancello recipes.
The purpose of this dinner was a dinner/grappa pairing that was crafted by Executive Chef Michael Mazza. He was promoting pre-fixe pairing dinners at Trattoria Il Mulino Houston to showcase the simple, rustic Abruzzese cuisine that the Mascos brought with them to this country. The items we dined on were not on the menu and the menu evolves (for the pairing dinners) to suit the range of grappas presented… and the grappas presented change with the range and choices of the Italian dishes for the evening.
Primi was an Eggplant Rollatine enveloping shrimp, scallops and crab meat with a vodka cream sauce. The tender eggplant had been dipped in a very light egg wash then sautéed just enough to give a crispy crust to it… then stuffed with the seafood and baked. If there had been two or three of these as an entrée, it would have been worth the drive out there as an entrée just for the rollatine. This course was matched with a Watermelon-infused Grappa. Not personally a big fan of watermelon, I was pleased that this grappa had the hint and aroma of it… but not like the flavor burst of melon on a summer picnic. I found the grappa and the rollatine were perfect to start the dinner.
Secondi was a Pasta Combination with Gnocchi Pesto and Pappardelle with Sausage. The sausage was formed into small “meat balls” and as such, the dish was delightfully deceptive… far more flavor than I expected due to the house-made aromatic sausage, onions, tomatoes and fresh basil. This dish was paired with Green Apple Grappa. I expected this grappa, also, to be far sweeter than it was and it complemented the sausage flavor very well.
Terzi was a simple Mixed Greens and was the perfect non-competitor to an icily chilled Limoncello. Ladled ceremoniously table-side from an ice-encased jar, the limoncello was the ideal palate cleanser to start anew with the entrées.
Entrées offered were imaginative and we chose from Lamb Chops paired with Fennel Grappa… Chicken Asparagus paired with Pineapple Grappa… and (God bless ‘em) Branzino Acqua Pazza paired with Rose Grappa.
We chose the Branzino (served on a bed of grilled Fennel and topped with tiny octopus, scallops and shrimp). Really, really glad we ordered that. The Mediterranean bounty of octopus and branzino are always attractive to me. The Lamb Chop was served medium rare with a Rosemary Barolo Wine reduction sauce and it was truly as good as it sounds.
Dolci was served “family style” at each table and Flourless Chocolate Cake… Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake… and Tiramisu. It goes without saying (but I’m saying it) that the desserts were enjoyed with an expertly prepared Ristretto shot of Espresso.
The next Grappa pairing dinner is planned for Trattoria IL Mulino Friday, November 18th at 7:30 PM. The price will be $75.00 per person. I suggest that you will thoroughly enjoy it. The website and phone number are below for reservations.
945 Gessner Rd, Ste 101
Houston, TX 77024