A hands-on host with a sharp eye and a gracious manner, Giuseppe Bellisario is an ubiquitous presence at his latest restaurant, Grissini Ristorante Italiano in Agoura Hills.
Bellisario, a native of Gallipoli who honed his skills in Italy and France before moving to America, the native land of his wife, Barbara, has built an impressive résumé since arriving in Southern California. Working his way up to general manager at the legendary Scandia, Bellisario then founded his first restaurant, Giuseppe’s, in West Los Angeles in 1979. Others followed, including in 1998 Capriccio in Encino. Retirement didn’t suit him, so now he’s back with Grissini (it means breadsticks), a restaurant decorated in traditional Italian style, bolstered by Italian fare with a Southern California accent and impeccable service. The chef behind the dishes that make delicious use of the area’s seasonal fruits and vegetables is Geraldo Lucidi.
Grissini is tucked into a corner of an Agoura Road shopping center a block east of Reyes Adobe; outdoor dining tables flank the entrances and looked especially appealing in the blissfully mild early evening ambience when we arrived. The tables were elegantly set, as were the inside booths and tables. Music when we entered was soothing contemporary jazz; we noted as we left that the sound was stronger outside and had segued into romantic Italian airs.
Bellisario promptly joined the greeter at the door, both murmuring buona sera, bookended later as we left with buona notte. The owner-host is a calm but consistent presence in the large dining room, at the ready to check on seating arrangements or heartily welcome old friends and new patrons. A quartet of what looked and sounded like some of the former were exuding lots of good nature and warmth near our booth.
Service was smooth and knowledgeable throughout the evening. Breadsticks, whose flavor changes day to day, were garlic-scented the night we were there and presented promptly along with good flat bread and a very fine tapenade.
There’s a lot to digest on the Grissini menu, which features antipasti/appetizers, salads, soups, three styles of pasta (fresh, filled and pasta secca, or “dry”), plus sauces that are tomato-, vegetable-, seafood- or cream-based. There are also courses featuring chicken, veal, steak and fish, plus risotti, panini (grilled sandwiches), pizzas and calzoni.
Specials in almost every category are available at the dinner hour. We ordered three of them, a beet salad ($10.50) and entrees of osso buco Milanese and halibut with mango salsa (both $28). From the regular menu we chose an appetizer of carciofi Toscani (a stuffed artichoke, $10.25) and desserts of panna cotta and cannoli, both $6.50.
The beet salad, accented with slivers of pear and delicate greens and dressing, was light and fresh, a perfect way to start a meal. The carciofi, which we had wrongly envisioned as steamed and stuffed, was baked and served hot. The result was that the tasty bread-crumb stuffing was rather gooey and the artichoke leaves were too hot to pick up by hand, so we were obliged to extricate them with a fork, munch for the flavors, then discard on a side plate. It was the only item we ordered that we wouldn’t try again.
Happier experiences were the tender osso buco with its mild but totally compatible marinara sauce and the moist halibut with its lively mango accompaniment, presented over tangy greens. And our small shared plate of penne Bolognesa was full of winning flavor.
We sipped glasses of California wine from the list that includes ample Italian selections as well as a good selection from other lands. Excellent coffee accompanied our desserts, a sweet and very smooth panna cotta scrolled with chocolate sauce and accented with berries, and a cannoli, rich and creamy and encircled by a crisp roll of pastry.
Grissini has outstanding service, good food and very palatable background music.
THE ITALIAN FOOD GODS have smiled down on Agoura Hills. They have sent us Giuseppe Bellisario and Nick Andrisiano, co-owners of Grissini Ristorante Italiano. Located in the Agoura Hills Town Center just east of Reyes Adobe on Agoura Road, Grissini (Italian forbreadstick), is a standout.
Tucked into a far corner of the center (so look for it!), the restaurant is beautifully decorated in soft shades of burgundy and gold, with faux finished-walls and a hand-painted Tuscan mural, lending a comfortable yet elegant ambience to the dining room. White tablecloths and linen napkins don Grissini’s booths and half-booths, which are fully set for both lunch and dinner. The bar, while not particularly large, is comfortable and stylish. This area offers a separate TV, DVD and music system and is ideal for a birthday party, rehearsal dinner or other special occasion. A separate banquet room seats up to 60.
“From Rome to you with Love” graces the front cover of the menu; with wines, cheeses, sorbets, gelato and dry goods imported weekly from Italy, there is indeed truth to the phrase. Bellisario began his lifelong love of food working in his mother’s restaurant in Gallipoli, Italy. The family still owns six restaurants in the area.
Bellisario furthered his education in France before hiring aboard a cruise ship, working in both the kitchen and dining room for almost a decade. Aboard ship, he met and fell in love with a passenger named Barbara. She became his wife, the mother of his four children and the reason he moved to California.
“Every place you go, you learn something,” Bellisario says with a heavy Italian accent. “Music and food have a lot in common that way. You are never going to know it all, you keep learning and learning.” Settling into life in California, he continued to learn at the acclaimed Bel-Air Hotel, and at Scandia Restaurant.
With the encouragement of studio executives that he met at Scandia, Bellisario soon opened his own restaurant, Giuseppe’s. Frequented by Laurence Olivier and Frank Sinatra, Giuseppe’s became a regular hangout for those fabled Hollywood power lunches. “We’d set them up in the kitchen, so they’d have privacy,” Bellisario explains. “They loved it.” Bellisario went on to open four more restaurants before retiring.
Though he and his wife enjoyed retirement and traveling, it wasn’t long before he became a bit restless. “It was actually my wife and daughter who found this place,” he says, looking around the now fully renovated restaurant. “She told me I would love this location, and I did.” While his wife and daughter designed the interior of the restaurant, bar and banquet room, Bellisario oversaw the renovation of the kitchen.
The restaurant opened on December 1, 2009 and many of Grissini’s regular customers, myself now included, are glad they’re here. “I never put anything on the menu that I don’t like,” the proud owner explains. Based on this statement and the extensive menu, it is clear that he likes fresh, peak of the season food, prepared with innovation and creativity.
For diners wishing to create their own entrée, a favorite pasta, fresh, filled or dry may be selected and paired with one of the many homemade sauces, which are tomato based, vegetable based, seafood based or cream based. Prices range from $11.95 to $17.95.
Prepared main courses, featuring chicken, veal, beef and fish are priced between $15.95 and $32.00 with most in the $15.95 to $18.50 price range. Of these offerings, the Pollo Cipriani ($15.95) is delicious. Tender chicken breast with diced tomatoes and artichoke heart is prepared with white wine and served with roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Soups, salads, panini, pizzas and calzoni are also offered on the dinner menu.
The lunch menu features chicken and fish entrees, pizzas and paninis, but the real stars are the restaurant’s 23 (yes, really, 23) fresh salads. Not to be missed is the Chopped Salad Italiana ($12.50). Lettuce, garbanzo beans, mozzarella, tomatoes and turkey or salami (or a combination of both) is served in an edible foccacia bowl. It’s bursting with flavor without the heaviness of many Italian chop salads.
Another favorite salad is the Savory Strawberry Chicken Salad ($12.50) organic baby greens with strawberries, green apples, roasted walnuts, goat cheese and breast of chicken is served with a blackberry balsamic vinaigrette. Another salad recommendation is the Carpaccio Di Pera ($12) this signature salad is prepared with thinly sliced pears, garden greens, crumbles of gorgonzola cheese, honey roasted walnuts and served with a honey-balsamic vinaigrette.
The wine list is abundant and fairly priced featuring wines from Italy, California, France and Australia, any of which are perfectly paired with a meal, pizza, or appetizer. A full bar menu will be available in the coming weeks and Happy Hour starts at 5pm.
Classic Italian desserts such as Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Cannoli are offered as the Grand Finale along with a wide variety of sorbets and gelatos imported from Italy.
Perhaps it’s the well-appointed décor and ambience that make dining at Grissini such a pleasant experience. Or maybe it is being in the presence of the gracious Giuseppe Bellisario, the consummate professional, who along with his staff is inviting and attentive to guests that make it so enjoyable. Quite possibly it is the fresh authentic cuisine that make it so memorable. Pleasant, enjoyable, memorable – Grissini!
Love this place. My first time here and the food and service is top notch.
They promise that a lunch special will be available soon. I can’t wait for that. I’ll be back.
I stay across the street at the Renaissance and eat here at least once a week. It’s really very good value. One of the best Italian in the area that I’ve found.
There are a lot of Italian restaurants out there but this one stands alone. The owner, Giuseppe, greets everyone with a warm welcome that makes you feel like family. The pizza is the truest to authentic Italian thin crust you can find and if you want something healthy they can accommodate. I am too indecisive for the choose your own pasta option but the waiters are very good at listening to what you are in the mood for and suggesting something spectacular.
If you grew up in NY like I did you understand Italian food. First of all, you want something made that is not on the menu, ASK. They made me the BEST stuffed Clams! Get the large Caesar Salad…fresh like you cannot believe. My favorite main course is Chicken Parmesan! You may have some left over and that is great for the next day.
Do you like bread sticks and bread? They are on the table right away! Thin, bread sticks less filling and taste great. Ask for some balsamic and mix it with the olives you may never leave!
I go often and notice many repeat customers. People are all friendly. We all talk about favorite meals. The atmosphere is wonderful and you will enjoy it. Bring your favorite person and I can only assure you a great time.
The chefs are from Italy and so is the owner. If you hear yelling in the kitchen that is just how Italians communicate! I know I grew up with many of them. There is a private party room and I suggest booking it early for any popular dates.
The one star review obviously had no patience. Go back and try it again. They are busy for a reason. Get a glass of wine and enjoy. They have every type of pasta and you can get it any way you want. Remember if you like something a certain way..they will accommodate you.
Okay here is the icing on the cake. HOME MADE DESERTS! I dare you to try the tiramisu! Go ahead and I know it will make your day!
As for the plates and glasses as long as they are clean which they are I am good. Who cares about shapes and all that? You go to a restaurant to eat. It is neat it is clean and I rate it tops on my list!
Buon Appitito Ciao!
I have been here three times in the last two months and I can honestly say it is one of the best restaurants I have been to in a long time. The food is outstanding and the atmosphere is very inviting. The owner is often there and he comes around your table to greet you and ask you how you are enjoying the meal. Such a nice touch.
The first time I went was for dinner and I ordered the whole wheat pasta in a plain tomato sauce, and it was amazing! I don’t often see whole wheat pasta on a menu and i didn’t expect it to be so good! The person I was with basically ate my entire dinner they loved it so much. What was even more fun was that you can “build your own pasta.”
The second time I was there I had a swordfish that was served on Arugula in a vinaigrette dressing with caramelized onions. It was so buttery and melted in my mouth. Such an original dish.
The last time we ordered the pizza and it was truly great. It was thin crust and crispy. I ordered the one with freshly chopped tomatoes mozzarella. My friend ordered the angel hair pasta in a limoncello sauce. WOW it was so good. I will definitely order that the next time I am there.
They have a private room and there was a party going on the night we were there. Just in front of the private room is a nice bar and lounge. The wine list was great and I am a Pinot Noir person and their are some great choices.
The service was very prompt and friendly. Order the chocolate mousse a good way to finish your meal.
I will absolutely be back and I am glad to have a restaurant like this in the West Valley.
January 2, 2009 Tag: 0901020040 Section: L.A. Life Edition: Valley rop Page: L11
Source: Natalie Haughton Food Editor Memo: WEEKEND
Few new restaurants have been opening in this economy – and those that have were on the drawing board for months. A recent newcomer, Grissini Ristorante Italiano in Agoura Hills, is a welcome addition to the dining scene from veteran restaurateurs, Giuseppe Bellisario and Nick Andrisiano.
The pleasant dining space, decorated in tones of burgundy and gold, features a custom-painted mural of a Tuscan villa on one wall. A booth by a window one frigid Friday night turned out to be a little chilly, but otherwise it was comfortable and cozy and a cut above with white cloth tablecloths and napkins.
The ambitious menu – available from lunch throughout the evening – takes time to digest, and even then, food decisions can be difficult, especially pasta. It’s a create-
your-own scenario, offering pasta fanciers a feast of choices from a selection of fresh, filled (ravioli or pillows) or dried pastas and four different types of sauces – tomato, vegetable, seafood or cream-based – with a range of options in each category.
Other menu possibilities include pizzas, calzone, grilled panini, soups, risotto and entrees (seafood, chicken, veal, beef steaks). Most main courses are in the $20-and-
under range (with the exception of filet and New York steak) with several reasonably priced at $12.95 including chicken parmigiana, cacciatore and milanese. All are served with potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
A shrimp scampi ($22.95) special one night turned out to be four jumbo Santa Barbara shrimp butterflied and beautifully presented in split open shells accompanied with roasted potatoes and fresh, tender cut-up green beans strewn with sliced almonds. Grilled with olive oil and herbs, the tender, fresh, succulent shrimp earned high praise.
Ditto for a creamy, decadent gorgonzola cheese and walnut sauce that topped faintly orange-colored sun-dried tomato and goat cheese raviolis ($13.95). However, the gorgonzola flavor drowned out any taste nuances of goat cheese. Perhaps some diners would prefer other pairings more, but this one was spotted on a special menu the restaurant had designed, so we figured it was bound to be good – and it was delectable. Parmesan was offered freshly grated tableside.
A caprese salad ($8.25) arrived artfully arranged with tomato and fresh mozzarella slices, fresh basil leaves and dabs of a basil-herb olive oil combo on a long, narrow rectangular plate. The tomatoes looked attractive but were flavorless. Pass on this until next tomato season.
A medium (the smallest of the three sizes available) prosciutto pizza ($11.75) came with a thin crust smeared with tomato sauce, melted mozzarella and thin slices of the meat. Plenty for two or more to share, it was passable, but perhaps would have been more satisfying if served piping hot, not just warm.
Finish the meal with a square of fresh and light classic tiramisu ($5.50) – an excellent version piled with layers of espresso-dipped Italian lady fingers and a mascarpone cheese mixture, the top dusted heavily with cocoa powder. Although the tough, thick pastry shell of the cannoli ($5.50) dessert selection disappointed, the filling inside was superb and wonderfully creamy, a combination of whipped ricotta and mascarpone cheeses dotted with bits of orange and lemon rinds, citron and chocolate chips, although the latter seemed to be missing this time. Both desserts were creatively and colorfully plated with drizzles of sauces.
A work in progress that’s getting up to speed, this place has yet to realize its full potential and promise. Clearly the chef and owners are skilled in the preparation and execution of Italian fare.
At its best: Restaurant appears to be professionally run. Ambitious menu offers well-flavored and -executed dishes. Food is attractively styled and presented on an array of interestingly shaped contemporary white dishes (squares, rectangles, square bowl shapes, etc.). One of the owners makes the rounds of tables, checking in with patrons.
Could be better: Glitches in coordination of service, a tad chaotic, need to be ironed out for better meal flow and attention to details (like refilling water glasses, clearing plates, delivering clean utensils and food at its prime). A few dishes could use a little tweaking. Warmer temperature needed in seating near windows on chilly nights.