I’ll never pass up a dish of expertly made fresh pasta. The yolkier and more golden the pasta the better. I like the classics; I’m talking a deeply flavorful Bolognese, cacio e pepe, spaghetti carbonara. And I’ll always swoon for creative, new age cheffy preparations, too.
Grano Arso is one of those Connecticut restaurants that not only fits the bill for classics and current pasta dishes, but it also gets a ton of cred. Expect to see it on every “best of” list CT publications but also expect to see Grano Arso get some national nods of recognition. In early 2020, The Daily Meal named it one of the top “101 Restaurants in America,” and recently, chef/owner Joel Gargano competed on Beat Bobby Flay.
Besides those accolades, Gargano has cooked in some of the state’s top restaurants, a few of those being Millwright’s and Union League Cafe.
Because of all the buzz, I wanted to go for quite a while.
I finally made the hour and 20-minute drive up to Chester from Norwalk to try Gargano’s old-world approach to pasta and bread meets new school flair. Of course, there was a brewery stop involved at Little House Brewing Co, so, definitely plan to grab at least one pint prior to or right after a meal at Grano Arso.
When it’s reservation time at Grano Arso—and yes, that’s strongly recommended—you’ll notice you’re in an almost 120-year-old bank. Much of the character of the former Old Savings Bank is still intact, including the safe in one of the dining rooms. The space inside the safe is a second bar that we were told opens up on busier nights.
And when it’s time to order, boy, do you ever have a choice to make.
At first, we planned to possibly go à la carte in order to sample 2-3 of Gargano’s fresh pasta dishes with a few appetizers as a precursor. No one would fault you if you did that. Grano Arso feels like a place that can do no wrong.
Your other option—and the one we decided to immerse ourselves in—is an $85 five-course tasting.
Now, it’s tough to say what you may or may not receive but I can tell you about this particular night, so you have a roundabout idea.
It started with artisan bread for the table. Not an actual course, but worth mentioning because the grains are local and milled in-house for a piping hot, crusty, not heavy loaf that comes with salty cultured butter to slather on your bread slice. There was another teaser before the tasting in the form of a duck fat fried potato topped with lardo.
And commence the tasting!
It officially began with a beautifully plated grilled, charred strip of cabbage with zucchini, parmesan, horseradish, pickled mushrooms, and aioli. There was a lot going on here in terms of flavors; creamy, salty, pungent, pops of fennel pollen. Complex but delicious.
Next up, PASTA! New that night for the tasting and the regular menu was a silky, yolky tagliatelle dressed in saffron, Calabrian chilis, a splash of citrus juice, and sundried tomatoes. Every ingredient in this bright, addictive dish shined and not one overpowered the other. I only wish I had a bucket sized portion.
Post carbs, we moved onto a few meatier plates, the first being a pan seared, crispy skin black bass with a similar “hash brown” type potato to the one we received as a bonus bite earlier. The meat finale was a grand one in the form of a medium rare lamb chop, refreshing mint hummus, a roasted carrot, and an even more savory treat that was a crisped-up lamb shoulder patty that had a taste like really good pernil meets breakfast sausage.
Again, this is all just from a tasting on a particular night and not indicative of what may be offered even as soon as a night after. Advice? Check it out, and if you’re not feeling it, order off the regular menu. I don’t think you’ll be mad at either decision.
This was one of the best meals I’ve had in Connecticut. See you again soon, Grano Arso.
6 Main Street; Chester