There are some places which I return to religiously because I know they have consistently excellent food and service. Il Grano is one of those rare restaurants which combines an addiction to fresh ingredients (the chef grows his own tomatoes), with consummate culinary skill, and superb presentations.

It has been about two years since I last wrote about Il Grano, and I am glad to report that they have maintained both their gracious attitude as well as their gorgeous decor.

Somehow they have also managed to keep their prices on par with places which are not nearly as fastidious about their purveyors and ingredients.

Bob’s Lunch special is still only $20 for three courses. The Mercato salad is a work of edible art, pleasing to both the palate and the eye. It is a perfect vegetarian starter.

The simple salad with the lunch special was not as spectacular, but still colorful and composed of delightfully fresh (home grown) tomatoes and greens in a light vinaigrette.

The special lunch includes a choice of the market fish or lasagna and I had to try the skate in a sea urchin broth. The dish succeeded in showcasing the fresh flavor of the sea urchin without detracting from the tender skate (picked out earlier the same morning at the fish market). The beautiful edible flowers and dried tomato added both visual and textural accents. The squid ink around the inside of the bowl added a contemporary artistic flourish of flavor which made me smile 🙂

The lasagna made with hand pulled spinach pasta and bolognese achieved that nearly impossible distinction of being both hearty and light at the same time. My 50+ year old Italian dining partner declared this the best lasagna she had ever eaten in her life.

The dessert of chocolate gelato came with personally chosen fruit (yes the chef/owner personally tastes everything he buys at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market). When the owner takes the time to pay attention to the small details like the berries he uses as accompaniments to gelato, it goes without saying that the gelato is superb.

I chose the passionfruit sorbet which was one of the best sorbets I have ever eaten. Served along with a perfect slice of peach and berries selected to compliment the colors and flavors, this is now my favorite Summer dessert.

In addition to the 3 course lunch menu, my friend wanted to try the cannoli, which featured a peach infused filling and caramel sauce on the plate. As a former pastry chef, my friend was so impressed she insisted the chef come over so she could compliment him.

They offer a special weekly menu which features the chef’s home grown tomatoes in every item on the small bites menu, so if you would like to experience the fruits of love, make a reservation on a Wednesday.

For wine lovers, Il Grano has a wine list of over 700 wines and an enomatic wine serving system to preserve the integrity of fine wines by the glass. Keeping it all in the family, the chef/owner’s wife’s family owns the Terrabianca vineyards, and they offer their wines on the wine list.

Excellence should be applauded, and Il Grano deserves a standing ovation.

Il Grano on Urbanspoon