Name: Grotta Restaurant
Location: 126 Front St., Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 785-0222
Price: $10-$15 per person
Grotta is located at the southwestern tip of the Four Corners in Vestal, near Vestal High School. It's a pretty good location for a restaurant given that there's not much competition in the immediate vicinity. We have slowly but surely been winding our way through the area's Italian restaurants and I believe this one is one of the last we'd yet to visit. We noticed their menu in the latest phone book and were impressed with its variety, particularly a number of different risotto dishes and some more uncommon entrees like Fettucine alla Matriciana. Hence, when it came time for dinner tonight, Grotta is where we headed.
The restaurant is a medium-sized space with ample decor and natural lighting. As we entered we were greeted by a grandmotherly Italian woman who looked to be the restaurant's only employee throughout our visit. We were instructed to sit anywhere, and soon after we placed our orders.
I decided to try a slice of cheese pizza as an appetizer, as I always like to try the pizza in any new Italian restaurants I go to. For my entree I was told that the aforementioned Fettucine alla Matriciana was not an option today, as they didn't have all the ingredients for it. So I went with Fettucine Carbonara, another favorite of mine when done well (it is known for being a dish that is difficult to execute perfectly). When done improperly, it's basically pasta covered in scrambled eggs which can be a little gross. I was hopeful that Grotta could successfully pull it off. Megan ordered the Risotto alla Grotta, a risotto dish with chicken and fresh parmesan. Each dinner came with complimentary garlic knots and a house salad.
The pizza arrived first and was clearly not fresh. It was reheated and who knows how many hours old. I can't really assess its flavor because it just tasted kind of like cardboard with a hint of tomato sauce on it.
The garlic knots and house salad were the next arrivals. The salad was pretty standard, with a house Italian vinaigrette dressing and the usual vegetable contents. The garlic knots were quite large, but in my estimation were a bit too doughy and lacking in the garlicky and buttery flavor that I love in a good garlic knot.
Next would come the entrees, and each had a major problem. Megan's risotto was terrible. It had all the flavors you'd expect of a great risotto dish, and thus had so much potential, but the risotto was undercooked to the point of being literally crunchy as you took a bite. We know how complex risotto can be, and how time-consuming it can be to make: Megan makes risotto at home often. It requires constant stirring and lots of time to develop the desirable creamy consistency. This risotto did not have that consistency at all, rendering the dish practically inedible. I think the waitress thought we were in some kind of hurry or something (though we did absolutely nothing to give that impression and even encouraged her to take her time with our entrees since we knew they were both challenging dishes). But that is absolutely no excuse: when we go out, the #1 thing we care about is our food being cooked well. This risotto was an absolute failure. A shame, since we both agreed that given ten more minutes of stirring would have resulted in a very good entree. You win some, you lose some.
The Fettucine Carbonara was closer to a win, but still had its share of problems. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it consists of egg, pancetta or bacon, and pecorino or parmesan cheese tossed with pasta. If the chef is not careful when adding the pasta, the eggs will scramble and the consistency of the dish will be pretty disgusting. Unfortunately, I got scrambled eggs this time around. The meat was most certainly prosciutto ham instead of the usual pancetta (not a problem in my eyes but I think others would see this as a bit of a faux pas). The dish had some nice flavors with its fresh parmesan and al dente pasta and I was able to eat it (unlike Megan with her risotto), but I have certainly seen better attempts at carbonara than what I got this time.
Overall, I feel bad to give such a bad review. Service at Grotta was pleasant and friendly and the restaurant itself offers a comfortable environment. The menu is diverse, and the dishes certainly had potential. But from our perspective, the execution of our entrees was awful, to the point where we certainly will never go back. Maybe it was just a bad day, but based on this experience, I'd advise others to steer clear of this restaurant as well.