The last time I ate at The Grape, I was on an awkward date with a frat boy, which is why I don’t remember anything about the meal. Since then, the restaurant’s ultra-romantic rep has kept me from returning for fear of being the only person not spoon-feeding my dinner partner. On a recent Saturday night, my concerns were quelled—the dining room was packed with as many families and raucous tables of friends as swooning couples. The intimate, 35-year-old European-style bistro was purchased last fall by chef Brian C. Luscher and his wife, Courtney, but there is still a comforting old-school feel to the spot. Judging by the maitre d’ who greeted several diners by their first names, it’s the kind of place that boasts a large list of regulars who return for the ever-changing menu (once a month), the cozy vibe, and the much-lauded wine list. We started with an aromatic bowl of mussels spiked with jalapeño, ginger, and garlic (the serving was big enough to share), as well as braised lamb tartines and French bread piled with rich shredded meat and sweet onions. Delicious. Things were going quite well until my friend slurped a bite of The Grape’s signature mushroom soup. “It used to be smooth,” she said. “I liked it better that way.” Once we moved to the entrées (and the first bottle of Foley Pinot Noir), our favorites included falling-apart pork osso buco and a special of beef tenderloin medallions plunked atop cheddar cheese polenta. Monkfish with roasted potatoes and Napa cabbage was bland, but dessert was a surprisingly fabulous butterscotch pudding. Suddenly, The Grape’s magic found me. Was it the twinkling votives, the charming checked tablecloths, or the history of romance? Who knows? But there I was, being spoon-fed a bite of pudding.
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