Local Spotlight

Patio Dining: Date Night at Grappino di Nino

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I like my Friday nights to come with two things; a bit of romance and a whole lotta cocktail. With an open-air patio and fully stocked bar, Grappino di' Nino's makes a very suitable date night spot. Tack on live music (Tues-Sat), a menu of small plates for sharing, dim lighting, and the rustic feel of an old Italian villa, and you've got yourself a winner.

Part of the trio of Mandola family restaurants sharing a courtyard (with a gelato cart!) in Montrose, Grappino di' Nino offers the most laid-back, casual ambiance of the three. It's the perfect place to linger over light bites on a night when you want to relax, wine, and dine without getting too stuffed and having to be rolled home.

My fiancé and I recently visited on a gorgeous Friday night. For a little "country-side" Italian joint, this place was poppin'. Tables were packed with guests chatting, clinking glasses and grooving to the slow rhythm of the music coming from a live duo at the end of the patio. We were seated by a charming, sputtering, fountain, further adding to the relaxed vibe of the courtyard.

The wine list is large and decently priced with bottles $30 and up. We ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir this time, but after perusing the drink list, I may be switching up my beloved bottle o' red in favor of cocktail on my next trip. Their Raspberry Granite, raspberry sorbetto shaken with grappa (an Italian grape brandy), and their Limoncello Freddo, frozen Granita drizzled with lemon liquor, both sound fantastic.

Our server brought by a basket of breads and a small plate of hot Italian Giardiniera, a mix of pickled and diced carrots, cauliflower, celery and onion rounded out in extra virgin olive oil and tossed with fresh garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. I pretended to be good and limited myself to one piece of bread, knowing full well that we'd be killing the entire basket later, using the loaf to sop up the sauces from whatever small plates we decided on.

The Italian-style tapas menu consists of Il Bordo (traditional antipasto boards - $6), Spuntina Piccola (little snacks - $6), Insalata (salads - $7), Pizzette (small pizzas - $9), Pasta ($10), and a selection of Meats, Fish and Poultry ($13). Since all portions are small, we usually order two or three.

On previous trips, we have ordered the Toasted Ravioli, breaded and fried cheese ravioli with a chunky Bolognese on the side, and the Pasta Mezzaluna, fresh stuffed pasta filled with ricotta, parmigiano, and shredded chicken topped with a blush tomato cream sauce (as pictured above). But with a revamped menu that included a meat and cheese plate (god, I love cheese), this time we decided to give the Antipasto Misto a try.

When a rustic wooden cutting board packed tight with cured meats, imported cheeses, and marinated vegetables was presented before us, I couldn't have been happier. The pickled artichoke paired wonderfully with the salty prosciutto and marinated roasted red pepper. I added a smear of the sweet, red currant jam to a hunk of bread (see? already with the bread, damn it!) and topped it with a chunk of provolone. I moved onto the bacon-wrapped dates, another favorite with sweet and savory balancing delicately on the palate. Next, I stuffed an olive with Gorgonzola and wrapped it all in a slice of sopressata. Sipping on my wine, I sat back and got cozy before doing it all over again, mixing and matching different bites to find my favorite combinations.

The plate was completely satisfying without being a huge portion, leaving us with just the right amount of room to sample more fare. We ordered the Insalata Cesare, crisp romaine, fresh garlic croutons and shaved parmigiano in a nutty Caesar dressing, and the Margherita Pizzette, a small, classic pie with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil. The pizza was tiny for its $9 price tag, but the crisp, fresh pie was tasty and more than enough for both us at the time.

We finished off the meal unwinding over two cappuccinos, served with little complimentary biscotti much to my delight, as a romantically cheesy rendition of "Smooth Operator" wafted softly through the background. Another great date night.

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Brooke Viggiano is a contributing writer who is always looking to share Houston's coolest and tastiest happenings with the Houston Press readers.
Contact: Brooke Viggiano