There is much in a name at Grano Arso in Chester
Translate the words “grano arso,” and you’ll see it means “burnt flour.” Seems a bit unromantic as a restaurant name, but one meal at Chester’s Grano Arso will likely quell such notions.
See, there’s fresh pasta, and then there’s fresh pasta Grano Arso-style. Not only are the restaurant’s pasta dishes made with in-house hand-crafted pasta, the pasta dough itself is constructed of house-milled flour — flour created with toasted grains, which produces a distinct, “burnt flour” flavor.
But wait, we can do even better. To what grains do we owe a huge thank-you for lending themselves to such remarkable fare? Grains grown right here in Connecticut and elsewhere in New England.
Indeed, diners get to sample the secret ingredient in action right away, when the house-baked bread, served with a schmear of warmed local butter, arrives. One bite of the darker-brown crust as it gives way to the plush, flavorful interior should convince most that fresh-milled, toasted flour is worth a restaurant-naming. The richness gained from the grain-toasting paired with silky, salty butter makes for an outstanding first act. Sides of bread and butter also is available ($2.50) because: why wouldn’t you want more?
It gets better. Local items inspire much of the menu, which, naturally, will shift with the seasons and the produce available. So it’s likely you’ll find the Burrata appetizer on the menu frequently ($15), but come spring and early summer, it’s served with a snap pea puree and chicory greens, offering two shades of fresh, green flavor to the excellent, creamy mozzarella cheese. The dash of citrus vinaigrette adds a punctuating pop of tanginess that elevates the whole dish.
Speaking of citrus, Grano Arso’s cocktail list reflects the careful ingredient curation of its mealtime counterparts. Consider Lani’s Martini (named after co-owner Lani Gargano, whose husband, Joel, works the magic in the kitchen), a mix of lemongrass-infused Prairie Organic Vodka, tarragon, Yellow Chartreuse, and a dried candied lemon slice as garnish. Why candied, you ask? Take a nibble, and you’ll see how clever mixology can render a sour lemon into a delightfully sweet treat. This is an herbal, refreshing potion ideal for summer sipping. The mister’s Paper Plane ($13) proved even a bit more refreshing, which shocked the hell out of me. A Paper Plane is a combination of bourbon, lemon, Aperol, and Amaro; I generally hate the latter two items for their bitterness and bite, but whoever mixed ours at Grano Arso let the citrus do the talking to excellent effect.
During a recent dinner, we paired a side of the Stone-Milled Polenta ($8) with two pasta dishes. I do not exaggerate when I say the polenta was as noteworthy and yummy as the main attractions. From the perfect smooth texture with a touch of graininess to the rich corn and savory Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese flavors, we ate every last speck of the polenta and will order it every time going forward.
Isn’t that always the way? You discover something great on a given menu and tend to order it on every return trip. Such might be the case for at least my pasta dish, the Rigatoni Bolognese ($23; provided ample leftovers), an astonishingly simple combo of beef ragu, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a handful of fresh basil leaves on top of the titular pasta. Each flavor rolls out before merging into a tasty medley — first the fresh, toothy, and tender beef sauce; then the salty bite of the cheese; and then you get to enjoy the fabulous texture of the pasta, with occasional bursts of basil-green accent. This is a must-try item.
The mister’s Spaghetti all’Amatriciana ($22) came in as a close second to my rigatoni, thanks again to multiple layers of flavor. So not only does the red-wine braised pork belly within offer smoky notes of bacon-y goodness, the wine infusion also comes through to add rich nuance to it. The sauce, a tomato sugo (basic red sauce), was first bright and tangy and then deepened by a kick of black pepper. As for the pasta itself, there really is nothing like fresh noodles and the pleasant, spring-y texture they bring.
We behaved and saved half of our pasta for the next day’s lunch. We ceased behaving when we saw the dessert menu of about a half dozen items. You tell me if you could resist Butterscotch Budino ($8), a butterscotch pudding, topped with roasted espresso grounds, Luxardo cherries (read: soaked in liquor), and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The dish looks small, but the heady flavors will likely get the job done for two people sharing one portion. The sum of the parts is wonderful — the crunch of the espresso is particularly fun — but if you were to, say, make a claim for the butterscotch pudding area, it alone would satisfy — if rich sweet flavor and super creamy desserts are your thing. Ditto on the whipped cream: yummy alone, great with a cherry, and very great with a dusting of espresso. Mix and match until the dish is empty.
Take note: I don’t offer universal high praise lightly, but everything we tasted at Grano Arso reflected great care in ingredient choice, prep, and presentation. The chef has weighed the true flavor potential of each ingredient, and the resulting alchemy makes for a memorable, delicious meal. Find an excuse to celebrate something and raise a glass to Grano Arso soon.
6 Main St., Chester
Cuisine: Traditional Italian fare with some modern twists and crafted with local and/or house-made ingredients.
Atmosphere: Housed in a 100-plus-year-old former bank building, a modern-chic take on the space offers elegant dining with lots of character.
Service: Excellent all around and very knowledgeable about the menu.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sunday brunch, a new addition as of June 16, runs 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Closed Mondays and Sunday evenings.
Prices: Antipasti options $6 to $26; pasta dishes $22 to $28; and a Bone-in Ribeye is the priciest item on the Large Plates list at $38.
Credit cards: All majors accepted
Handicapped access: A ramp is easily accessed from the rear parking lot; the very roomy interior should prove helpful.