DINNER SPECIALS All entrees served with your choice of garden salad or soup of the day
MANICOTTI 18 A blending of three cheeses and fresh spinach, rolled in a house made pasta crepe and adorned in marinara sauce. Add our famous meat sauce 3 CHICKEN SCALLOPINI 21 Parmesan breaded chicken breast with prosciutto, artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a lemon caper sauce served on a bed of linguine pasta
CHICKEN ALLA GNOCCHI* 23 Potato/ricotta gnocchi with wild mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onion and white wine butter sauce
Smoke + Cedar, Grassi’s Ristorante in University Place has a chef who
produces terrific results using the slow-and-low cooking technique for
beef. But more on that in a moment.
The Italian eatery that opened April 1 is a solid addition to a city short on independently owned restaurants. BesidesChambers Bay Grillat
the golf course, Grassi’s is the sole semi-upscale dining venue in
University Place — which probably sounds as odd to you as it does to me
considering it’s a city with top-dollar-view homes. I have no clear
answer for the dearth of restaurants (fine dining or otherwise,
actually), but what I do know is that University Place residents
support high-quality food – by shopping for it. The city is home to a
Trader Joe’s, a Harbor Greens and soon will have a Whole Foods Market.
packed parking lot on three visits indicated the locals already have
discovered Grassi’s, which is why reservations are a good idea.
three anonymous visits gave me just a few nitpicky complaints worth
noting: The dining room seating felt cramped no matter where I was
seated; the spicing on the clam linguini was unapologetically lip
stinging; a few items could have been hotter; and soggy salad croutons
on every visit irritated me.
But if that’s all I can find to complain about, a restaurant is doing just fine. I recommend Grassi’s with few qualms.
The menu and execution reminded me ofMarzano Italian Restaurant and Adriatic Grill,
with good reason. Grassi’s executive chef Derek Bray spent two years
cooking at Adriatic Grill, and Grassi’s owner Ken Grassi — a University
Place city council member and longtime floral business owner with his
wife, Kim — counts Marzano Italian Restaurant in Parkland among his
is not to say that Grassi’s is derivative of those two longtime South
Sound Italian eateries. Grassi’s, like Adriatic Grill and Marzano, has
a talented chef executing a menu of signature dishes.
Bray’s must-try signature items are the aforementioned slow-cooked,
bone-in beef short ribs ($25) with those sublime house-smoked mushrooms
set over rigatoni; and any dish with the house bolognese sauce, long
simmered with three kinds of meat: ground beef; sausage; and
silky-textured, slow-cooked brisket.
the slow-cooked meat dishes, a diner must know that fat is as much a
flavor component as any other ingredient in the dish. Diet dining, it’s
menu is comfortable Italian fare painted with broad Northwest brush
strokes. At lunch, find eight sandwiches ($12-$13) with as many pastas
($13-$16) and entree-portion salads ($10-$19).
and pasta at lunch or dinner come with a salad or soup (a freebie
that’s practically disappeared from many restaurants) along with
Grassi’s endless plates of bread and butter. Lovely salads, topped with
fresh mozzarella, came straight out of a chiller — which probably was
why croutons got soggy. The house Italian wedding soup was the finest
I’ve had in these parts outside of Pizza Casa’s version.
dinner, find six pastas ($14.50-$19) and equal choices of heartier
entrees, including grilled rib-eye ($27), seared salmon ($22) and
Parmesan sage chicken ($19).
diners, rejoice. At lunch and dinner, find a similar salad entree menu
($12-$19) that was served during Grassi’s former life as a boutique and
cafe, which had a sandwich-and-salad menu and operated for 23 years in
the University of Washington Tacoma neighborhood.
intersection of circumstances moved Grassi’s UWT business to University
Place. About the same time they learned they’d lose their UWT parking
lot to a construction project, Gay Landry announced she was closing
Affairs Cafe in University Place. It took about a year to ready the
space. They expanded the Grassi’s concept to a full-service Italian
eatery and moved the boutique next door.
decor feels quite homespun, with family pictures decorating the entry
and interesting antiques and decor items nudged into most nooks and
corners (which also translated into cramped seating).
Service was friendly and genuine, from the wine banter to frequent table check-ins.
hungry, but you won’t leave that way. A lunchtime meatball sandwich
($12) built on sturdy ciabatta required fork-and-knife deconstructing
of the deliciously sloppy tower of ground beef meatballs made the
old-fashioned way with a milk-bread sponge. Those same soft-textured
meatballs enlivened al dente spaghetti ($13 lunch/$14.50 dinner) with a
three-meat brisket bolognese showed up twice: on a plate of rigatoni
($15/$16), the garlic-tinged tomato sauce lightened with a splash of
cream, and with fresh-pasta lasagna ($15/$16) layered with ricotta and
a nutmeg-tinged bechamel that softened the flavor and texture.
linguini ($15/$19) contained a generous portion of bivalves nudged open
from a steamy wine bath, the dish finished with enough red pepper
flakes to leave a lasting sting (beware). Pesto chicken ($14/$15) was
built with a cream-laden basil pesto sauce, a hefty serving of al dente
linguini, and sliced chicken breast.
leave room for dessert. Steer toward the signature sour cream lemon pie
($4), a sweet-sour intersection of dairy-driven decadence; or the
pistachio bliss ($6.50), gelato topped with brittle candy, threaded
with whole pistachios, with the most delicate buttery snap.
Grassi’s Ristorante Where:2811 Bridgeport Way W., University Place; 253-565-0633 orgrassis-ristorante.com. Serving:Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Forecast:Excellent opening with few flaws – highly recommended. Menu:Italian
fare brushed with Northwest flavors. Dinner pastas priced $14.50-$19;
heartier entrees priced $19-$27. At lunch, sandwiches and pastas were
$12-$16. All entrees and pastas served with soup or salad. For light eaters:Half dozen entree sized salads, $10-$19; quiche, $16. Wine list:Brief
and wallet-easy, most bottles under $25. By the glass, $6-$10. By the
bottle,13 reds and seven whites about evenly split between Italian and
Washington bottles. By the glass, 18 wines favored reds over whites
with grapes split between Washington and Italy. Generous pours,
thoughtful suggestions from staff. Staff:Owners Ken and Kim Grassi. Chef is Derek Bray. Pastry chef is Jackie Casey-Lake.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.