THE DISH: Extremely Grato-fying

THE DISH: Extremely Grato-fying

Trattoria Grato//171 Moskovsky Prospekt //Open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.//Menu in Russian and English//Dinner for two with a glass of wine //2,750 rubles ($91) //Major credit cards accepted//Tel. 8 (921) 932 6343

Published: December 26, 2012 (Issue # 1741)

While there is no shortage of Italian restaurants in the city — Italian and Caucasian cuisine are easily the two most popular in St. Petersburg — not all of them appear to be flourishing. Nevertheless, Trattoria Grato appears to be doing well as the place has expanded from a single-hall trattoria into a restaurant with three halls plus a café and an on-site deli.

Grato cultivates the image of a classic trattoria. The restaurant is cluttered with bird’s cages, wine bottles, decorated pillows, wicker baskets, soft toys and dozens of other trinkets. The restaurant has wooden chairs and soft furnishings, and it is dimly lit in the evening, creating a cozy feel and a laid-back atmosphere.

The menu blends together the obligatory dishes essential for any Italian restaurant, from Parma ham and ruccola salad (370 rubles, $12.3) to Mozzarella di Bufala (520 rubles, $17.3), to Bruschetta with tomatoes and basil (110 rubles, $3.6). There is a range of pizzas, with bacon, ruccola, salmon and prosciutto crudo, as well as a tempting choice of pastas and risottos.

Our Tortelli Grande Grato (460 rubles, $15.3) turned out to be a gigantic single piece of juicy tortelli taking up the entire plate and stuffed with tomatoes, eggs and parmesan. Expertly made home-cooked pasta is definitely one of Grato’s strongest points and one of the obvious reasons for the place’s popularity. My dining companion also happened to be in the mood for pasta but chose a classic spaghetti carbonara (370 rubles, $12.3). Grato did justice to the pasta. The chef avoided the common pitfall of making the dish heavy, while being generous with cream and not economizing on top quality bacon.

The list of main courses impressed with its diversity, with dishes ranging from chicken liver, venetian style (470 rubles, $15.6) to dorado with broccoli crème (550 rubles, $18.3) to rack of lamb with baked vegetables (830 rubles, $27.6).

My choice, however, was a risotto with red wine, aromatic herbs and quail (490 rubles, $16.3). The dish was intense in flavor, with the quail being succulent and rich. Apparently, quail is one of the chef’s favorite ingredients at Grato as it features prominently on the menu, and is a key ingredient in ravioli, soup and risotto dishes.

On weekends, booking is essential at Grato. Do not be misguided by the restaurant’s spacious size: its three halls were full when we arrived on a Saturday night, and it was immediately clear that you’d be well-advised to book ahead.

Diners tend to linger here. The clientele is most diverse and includes couples, families and business colleagues — all of them enjoy staying on for hours. On the night of our visit we spotted a prominent businessman, a University professor and a veteran parliamentarian who all happen to live in the neighborhood.

We opted to accompany the meal with Grato’s house rose, which, being fresh, light and fruity on the palate, proved a perfect companion to the meal.

The service was not exactly prompt, and at times bordered on the cavalier, although this minor downside appears to somehow fit into the eatery’s concept. Grato is by no means a bistro, so if you are up for a quick bite, you would be better off choosing the adjacent tiny cafeteria, owned by the same management, which also has a deli selling a range of home-made raviolis and desserts.

Desserts are a particular temptation here, and many of the guests appeared to be there for longish coffees and desserts. After our substantial meal, we resisted the bestsellers such as peach pie and millefeuille, instead sharing a portion of mango and ricotta mousse which provided a zesty and light finale to the dinner.

Being a resident of the Grato neighborhood, I am sure to return to the trattoria. Indeed, Moskovsky Prospekt may well be the longest street in town, but there are very few trusted restaurants to be found all the way from Sennaya Ploshchad to the Pulkovo airports.

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