June 23, 2015 – Late last week, Il Grillo—the cricket in Italian—called friends and family to preview what is to come from the new restaurant owned by Emanuele and Anna Bartolini, of Carmel’s wildly popular La Balena. Friday evening, we answered the cricket’s call and headed over to enjoy the summer evening on Il Grillo’s patio and taste some of the dishes that will be on the menu.
As we settled into the cozy table and chatted with the couple next to us, Anna brought us glasses of red wine to start and showed us the impromptu menu for the evening. Chef Brad Briske had handwritten his offerings on a thick piece of white cardboard. There were five carpaccio plates from which to choose. Carpaccio dishes are Italian appetizers featuring pounded or thinly sliced or meats and fish topped with a sauce or garnish.
The handwritten list read: Octopus with squid ink-chickpea flan, chili oil, lemon, herbs. Yellowfin tuna, cucumber puttanesca, chili oil, olive, anchovy, capers. House-cured bresaola, gorgonzola-mascarpone terrine, walnuts, balsamic. Beef tenderloin, shaved porcini, parmesan, arugula, lemon, olive oil. Porchetta, pardon pepper, anchovy, capers, Spring onions, watercress, anchovy aioli.
“This is Brad-casual,” Anna countered. Fair enough, after all he was voted Edible Monterey Bay’s local hero as best chef in 2014.
We ordered one of each. Then we re-ordered the octopus plate later in the evening. The first time we asked for it without the squid ink-chickpea flan because my younger son is sensitive to chickpeas. But we ordered it as written the second time because I couldn’t resist getting the dish the way Briske intended.
A good carpaccio practically melts in your mouth with each bite exploding with flavor. Each plate offered various textures and tastes that simultaneously complemented and contrasted. Imagine the creaminess of a gorgonzola-mascarpone terrine combined with the saltiness of bresaola topped with the nutty tannins of walnuts and the agrodolce of a reduced balsamic. We jokingly argued about which plate was the best and, truth be told, we could not come to a consensus. Briske nailed them all.
Briske will be at the helm for both Il Grillo and La Balena. Between pounding beef tenderloin and plating his beef carpaccio, Briske spoke excitedly about the addition: “Because La Balena will be closed for lunch during the week now, I’ll be able to do my butchering there in the afternoons.”
Although we didn’t sample it, the second part of Il Grillo’s menu is a collection of Briske’s homemade fresh pastas with mix-and-match sauces, for eating there and for take-out.
Il Grillo opens to the public on Thursday, June 25 with lunches and a special five-night Dinner Launch Series. The menu includes an appetizer, pasta, dessert and a glass of house wine for $40. Reservations for the tiny dining room are available online at www.ilgrillocarmel.com
Next week, they’ll add an Italian-style breakfast—in the form of coffee and pastries made by Emily Garcia, formerly of Emi’s Biscotteria in Pacific Grove—beginning at 8am. Then, starting on Monday, June 29, days and hours will be Monday through Friday 8am to 9pm; Saturday dinner from 4pm to 9pm. Closed on Sundays.
To read EMB’s preview of Il Grillo click here.