Thursday, February 5, 1998
Kurt Grasing stands in the center of one of the newly refurbished dining rooms of Grasing's, taking measure of the fresh new design. The stout raspberry-colored overhead beams are a colorful counterpoint to the lively maize and indigo walls. With the sun splashing through windowpanes trimmed in deep teal, the effect is warm, upbeat and inviting.
"If I look out this way," he gestures toward 6th Avenue, "I get the same feeling I had staying in a little hotel in Vence, in the south of France. And then when I look out this window," turning toward the rear patio, "I feel like I could be in Spain, along the Mediterranean. Now we look like a restaurant, and not just like another one of the galleries next door." The pleasure he takes in the transformation is the kind that comes when it's your hand that touches every plate that leaves the kitchen and it's your own name on the door.
"I'm pretty sure if I had planned for this, it never would've come out this way," Grasing smiles. "I worked with [restaurateur and radio personality Narsai David] at his place in Berkeley in the '80s and we've remained friends ever since. I can't begin to describe how much I've learned about food from him. But, I don't think I could ever have predicted or planned for this."
The team rekindled their magical working relationship locally this past September when the opportunity arose to buy what was the former Sixth Avenue Grill, where Grasing had been running the kitchen.
During the interim between taking the place over and finishing the remodel, the new partners tried the name Sandpiper on for size. "We liked the name because it fit Carmel; it's romantic, the birds are even a part of the official Carmel logo, but after trying it, we thought it sounded like we'd been here for 40 years," Grasing reflects. Changing the name to Grasing's seemed tantamount to forging their own identity.
"We want to bring something different to the whole picture," he continues. "Of course, that might sound like another egomaniac chef's statement. What are you going to do that's different in a town with all these restaurants? But, I think what we do is offer a warm, casual atmosphere that does serious food, lightened up and unpretentious."
Both the lunch and dinner menus are of the genre that precludes snap decisions. The numerous entre choices invite a glutton's sense of rationale: How to decide between a three-onion tart with grilled fennel sauce with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette, a wild mushroom risotto or warm goat cheese with vegetable chutney? Order all three from the list of appetizers, and head straight into the house-made desserts, of course.
Would that it were so easy, given choices like paella that's put together with an on-the-spot saffron-infused tomato sauce, or the bronzed salmon. (Not just snappy menu-ese there: The fish is sauted in whole butter, a technique that will sooner produce a blackened fillet if you're working the saut station and happen to look away for a second.) Complicate things further by considering the herb-crusted sea bass over lentils with bacon and roasted garlic, or the polenta tower with grilled vegetables, you might find yourself opting to just close your eyes and take a random stab at the menu, just to make life easier. Beef lovers will enjoy the Angus New York strip on the menu, but keep in mind that the sign reads "Coastal Cuisine." Expecting the best in seafood is not to invite disappointment.