Despite the red flag warnings and gusty winds of late October, dining outside with social-bubble friends on a warm evening last month felt more like pre-pandemic life than just about anything else in the last nine months.
We drank wine. We gossiped. We shared dishes. We elbow-bumped acquaintances. We watched the sun set. We ate way too much. And most importantly, we laughed and laughed and laughed.
That’s exactly the idea behind the newly opened Grata just off the Windsor Town Square. With a large outdoor patio, chef-owners Eric and Christina Foster wanted a festive local gathering spot with family-friendly, approachable Italian classics and a convivial atmosphere. Done and done.
A longtime chef for Stark Reality Restaurants group, Eric Foster is no stranger to bustling, high-volume restaurants and knows how to get out orders quickly and efficiently with minimal staff, something most first-time restaurateurs struggle to master. Foster also knows plenty about creating bold flavors, like his meaty sea scallops with sweet-sour apple agrodolce and chive sweet potatoes.
At Grata, you can go simple by sticking to hearty appetizers like the creamy Grata Burrata ($12) with a smear of preserved lemon honey, pesto, teardrop peppers and grilled bread or crispy arancini with marinara sauce ($11). Or you can dive into comfort carbs that include smoked salmon carbonara ($22) and a hearty risotto with Parmesan stock and grilled maitake mushrooms ($19). If you’re feeling extra hungry, Grata’s entrees are fall-friendly, including wine-braised beef short rib ($28) with creamy polenta and halibut piccata with lemon and white wine ($24).
Our three favorite dishes, however, were Shawnees Shrimp Diavolo ($24), Ricotta Gnudi ($19) and the ridiculously decadent Ricotta Zeppoli ($9).
Unlike most spicy shrimp dishes, this diavolo isn’t as much about heat as it is about full-flavored marinated shrimp with a deep flavor of tart tomato conserva and olive oil atop spaghetti noodles.
Ricotta gnudi ($19, and yes, it’s pronounced “nudie”) could be a wallflower of a dish, but in Foster’s hands it becomes the belle of the ball with brown butter-soaked ricotta dumplings, seasonal butternut squash, hazelnuts and basil. It’s definitely worth going back for, along with the warm ricotta donut holes served with a Nutella chocolate dip so delicious you’ll wish you were a kid again just so you could lick the bowl.
Grata recently opened for lunch with a menu featuring many of the same appetizers as dinner, along with oysters, a chicken Parmesan sandwich and the ridiculously delicious-sounding PBLT, a pork belly, butter lettuce, tomato and Calabrian chili aioli sandwich ($13).
Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday. 186 Windsor River Road, Windsor, 707-620-0508, gratawindsor.com.