New Grassi’s sets sights on April opening dates

After closing his restaurant and boutique near the University of Washington Tacoma, Ken Grassi figured it would take another six months to open a new edition in University Place.

“It took almost double,” he said last week.

He cited negotiations, permits, indoor construction and exterior improvements planned during winter weather.

Where his downtown ladies’ boutique occupied 1,000 square feet, the new Grassi’s fills 1,500, and it is in a space next door but separated from the restaurant if only so the Italian aromas of garlic and onions do not cling to the cottons and silks.

The restaurant occupies the space that formerly housed Affairs cafe and truffle emporium at 2811 Bridgeport Way. So well-remembered is Affairs that Grassi said of owner Gay Landry, “She had a great reputation. We love her. She left such a heritage. We’re grateful for what she did here. We’ll have a blessing ceremony, and I am going to ask her to that.”

Gone is the case where the truffles were, and in their place sits a counter where the specialty will be wine. The dining room remains, upgraded to embrace an air of the Italian countryside.

A portrait of Grassi’s father, Julio, graces one wall so intensely that the son said, “I feel like he’s watching me.”

Uncle John looks across the room from a sepia-tinted photo, and there’s another that records the wedding of Grassi’s sister, Bonnie. Wife Kim and daughter Melanie look across from a hutch.

The wine counter is supported by a brace of ancient radiators, and an Italian accordion stands beside a lamp made to resemble a vertical bouquet of hydrangeas. Nearby, cherubs watch over a burbling fountain. Windows circa 1850 hang from the ceiling near an elderly Hotpoint electric range.

“Our dream is to turn this into a traditional Italian villa,” Grassi, a longtime member of the U.P. City Council, said. “We just wanted to do ‘warm’ We’re trying to make it feel peaceful.”

A banquet room behind the kitchen will host parties of up to 50 guests, and the restaurant will also offer off-site catering.

With a five-year renewable lease, Grassi estimates the full investment at $300,000.

“It’s exciting and it’s scary at the same time,” he said.

Already the restaurant has hosted a series of soft-opening events, including a Valentine’s Day dinner. Other gatherings, booked months ago when the calendar optimistically assumed an earlier opening date, have included birthdays, an anniversary and business meetings.

The restaurant will open to the public for lunch April 1, Grassi said, with dinner being offered April 15 and beyond. Sunday breakfast may follow.

Chef Derek Bray, lately of Adriatic Grill and the Tacoma Rescue Mission, will concentrate on Southern European cuisine.

Dessert specialties, long a staple at Affairs, will include sour-cream lemon pie, chocolate torte, tiramisu and cheesecakes.

Training for 10 employees begins this week.

The community reaction to the restaurant has been, Grassi said, “just off the charts. This community is starving. We’ve lost so many different things. For a city this size, we’re under-restaurantized.”

“People keep calling. ‘Are you open?’ ‘Are you taking reservations?’ he said. “We feel extremely encouraged. “