Restaurant Profile: La Grassa Pastificio

Robert Reynaud finishes braised short rib for a serving of Coste Della Croce.

On the rise in Chicago’s crowded culinary scene, chef Robert Reynaud sensed grand opportunities to put his growing skills into practice and satisfy the city’s sophisticated palate.

But just as Chicago’s blustery winds can wreak havoc on the metropolis, some tough and painful circumstances shook Reynaud’s world. And yet, he believes they prepared him well to take on – and thrive in – his latest venture.

The chef of more than 25 years is now the founder and owner of La Grassa Pastificio, Cary’s newest strip-mall-situated Italian restaurant.

Back in 2005, Reynaud began working for the legendary Capitanini family, owners of three renowned restaurants in Chicago’s prominent Italian Village. While serving as executive chef at high-end establishment Vivere, he was named one of the top 50 chefs in the city by Chicago Magazine.

Chef Robert Reynaud tastes a dish before serving it at his restaurant.

Right when Reynaud seemed to be at the top of his culinary game, his father passed away. Soon afterward, his mother became ill.

“I moved to Georgia to be closer to my mom, who lived in Fuquay-Varina,” Reynaud said. “I began working at the upscale Sea Island Resort and oversaw the Italian restaurant there.”

Then, a few years ago, Reynaud moved to the Triangle with hopes of opening his own eatery.

“When COVID-19 hit, things got difficult,” the New Jersey native explained. “While I was waiting to see what would happen, I picked up a job in the deli at Lowe’s Foods making $12 an hour. I was used to leading the kitchen staff, so this was quite a different experience.”

You might want to get two spoons to share the oversized tiramisu.

Reynaud said the modest position humbled and grounded him.

Since opening La Grassa in October 2021, instead of slicing meat for grocery store customers, Reynaud now hand-makes gnocchi and much more at his own 14-table eatery.

“I want to provide an approachable neighborhood restaurant with genuine hospitality and a focus on cuisine from all over Italy,” he said.

Realizing he needed help in the kitchen, Reynaud hired Mileyvi Morales, who worked for years in the restaurant that previously occupied La Grassa’s current space.

The restaurant, which opened last October, welcomes guests with its comfortable, minimalist setting.

“She’s an absolute angel who does prep, washes dishes, and a lot more,” said Reynaud. “She’s been instrumental in helping to get the restaurant off the ground.”

The term “La Grassa” means “the fat one” in Italian, and it’s also the nickname for the city of Bologna in Italy. The word “pastificio” translates as “pasta maker.”

“Even though I’m not particularly fat, I think the name is fitting,” Reynaud said with a laugh. “I love the fun you can have cooking Italian food.”

La Grassa’s well-composed, ever-evolving menu features a variety of antipasti, pasta, poultry, pork, seafood and vegetarian dishes.

House-made saffron linguini, scallops and shrimp are served in a lemon-garlic broth with Calabrian peppers.

Whatever you do, start your meal with a loaf of fresh focaccia made with flour imported from Italy. It’s served with Castelvetrano olive tapenade.

“It’s a risk to charge guests for bread, but once people try it, they often order more,” Reynaud said.

Stellar first-course option arancini involves saffron- and basil-inflected fried rice balls stuffed with provolone and served atop pomodoro sauce.

“I tend to do my arancini vegetarian style because it has a broader appeal,” said the chef.

Robert Reynaud adds a generous handful of cheese to handmade gnocchi to create a creamy accompaniment to braised short rib.

Among the array of standout entrees includes the hearty Tagliatelle Bolognese incorporating beef, pork and veal in a creamy tomato sauce with Parmesan and house-made saffron linguini with scallops and shrimp in lemon-garlic broth with Calabrian peppers.

If it’s available when you visit, order the sublime Coste Della Croce, a dish comprising fork-tender braised short rib, Tuscan kale and creamy gnocchi.

Reynaud also intends to up the epicurean ante by serving wild game proteins like duck, pheasant, venison, rabbit and wild boar.

Consider his recent concoction cappellacci (pasta dumplings) with potato and fontina filling in a pheasant ragu.

Pasta is made in-house at La Grassa Pastificio.

“We plan to offer some dishes that will resonate with people who are willing to explore more exotic items or perhaps even some who have traveled to obscure parts of Italy,” said Reynaud.

Be sure to pair your meal with first-rate vino from La Grassa’s progressive wine program. Reynaud sources from local purveyors like Sunrise Wines and Haw River Wine Man.

“My goal is to have an interesting, curated wine list,” he said. “Right now, we offer six reds and six whites available by the glass and bottle, and we keep wine glasses on the table.”

Dessert should not be an afterthought. You can’t go wrong with caramel butterscotch or hazelnut praline gelato, oversized tiramisu or budino, a decadent dark-chocolate mousse crowned with toasted pistachios.

Hearty fried rice balls are stuffed with provolone cheese and served with pomodoro sauce.

“The affogato has also been a sleeper hit with the guests,” Reynaud added.

Cuisine and wine aren’t the only solid attractions at La Grassa. Friendly, efficient service and a comfortable, minimalist setting round out the dining experience. White walls with dark blue trim and a smattering of pottery imported from Tuscany enhance the overall ambiance. Plans call for an outdoor patio for 18-25 guests to be available by spring.

“I want to landscape it with flowers and make it look like southern Italy,” said Reynaud. Bottom line: Prepare to have your expectations met and exceeded.

La Grassa is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Reservations are accepted online or by phone.

La Grassa Pastificio
908 NE Maynard Road, Cary
Reedy Creek Square shopping center
(984) 465-0594

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *