By Connor Beach
Nestled at the end of Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor sits Grasso’s, a restaurant where seasonal food and a vibrate music scene make this neighborhood spot anything but sleepy.
Gail Grasso has owned the eatery since 1994, when it was originally named Trattoria Grasso. She shortened the name to Grasso’s in 2004 to reflect the restaurant’s divergence from a menu of strictly Italian fare to more modern, “new American” cuisine.
“The menu is kind of like a melting pot just like this country is,” Grasso said.
Grasso said the menu changes to incorporate ingredients that are fresh for the season, but one thing that remains constant at Grasso’s is the live jazz music that provides a special ambiance at the restaurant six nights a week.
“The music is very important… I really have a passion for it,” Grasso said.
An influx of visitors to Cold Spring Harbor’s historic, waterfront Main Street in the summer months provides an uptick in business, but Grasso’s deep roots in the area have cemented the restaurant firmly into the fabric of the community.
“The people who live in Cold Spring Harbor support us incredibly well,” Grasso said. “People have said they come in and they feel like they’re in Cheers because everybody knows each other.”
The quality food served up by veteran executive chef Tony Canales certainly is part of the reason that diners continue to frequent Grasso’s.
The summer menu is a well-rounded blend of traditional favorites and unique dishes that are perfect for the warmer weather.
One such dish is the Watermelon Salad ($13) featuring watermelon, baby arugula, grapes, red onion, feta cheese and citrus vinaigrette. The vibrant colors on the plate are mimicked nicely by the flavors of the dish. The refreshing sweetness of the watermelon and grapes are countered by the saltiness of the feta cheese and the acidity in the vinaigrette.
Another summer appetizer that has a Mediterranean feel is the Stuffed Figs ($16), which are packed with goat cheese, wrapped in prosciutto and served on a bed of baby arugula with a balsamic drizzle. The initial flavor of the prosciutto gives way to the creaminess of the cheese and sweetness of the fig, while a hint of bitterness and crunch from the arugula gives this dish a balanced combination of textures and flavors.
One of the seasonal entrée specials at Grasso’s is the Pan Seared Halibut ($38 or market value) with porcini mushroom over sautéed spinach, mashed potatoes and a wasabi aioli. The beautiful, flaky, white meat of the Halibut compliments the rich mashed potatoes, and the spinach adds an extra level of texture, but the unique wasabi aioli really ties the dish together. The flavor is distinct, but not overpowering and leaves a touch of spice in the back of your throat.
An entrée that shouldn’t be skipped is the Prime New York Strip Steak ($42) served with rosemary parmesan fingerling potatoes, roasted baby carrots and a chimichurri drizzle. The fragrance of the herbs excites the pallet, and the perfectly cooked steak does not disappoint. The smells of the dish enhance the flavor, while the vegetables work to tie the plate together.
The live jazz isn’t the only show diners can expect to see at Grasso’s. The restaurant’s signature Bananas Foster Flambé is prepared tableside, and comes complete with a touch of flame. The warm, sweet bananas are cooked in butter, brown sugar, cognac and rum, and served over ice cream to give the dish a nice combination of hot and cold.
After nearly 25 years in the business, Grasso said walking around the restaurant and seeing customers enjoy themselves is still the biggest thrill.
She said, “Satisfying our customers is the most important thing, it’s what keeps me going.”