At Grato, which opened in January, chef-owner Clay Conley (owner of Buccan) is going rustic Italian for the first time just a few miles away from his familiar Palm Beach stomping grounds. Conley calls the area around the Norton Museum of Art "an underserved market" into which he hopes to breathe some life. The restaurant is already attracting huge crowds; any night of the week, a troop of valets must manage the flood of patrons who swarm for happy hour. Dinner service seems as though all of Palm Beach has shown up, packing Grato's industrial-sized room wall to wall with a handsome crowd of guests. The focal point is the exposed wood-fueled oven painted Ferrari red. Patrons can sit at the kitchen bar to watch chefs shuffle pies and meats in and out from open to close. The best part of Grato, however, is devouring any of Conley's handmade extruded pastas. True bliss is twirling a forkful of fat paccheri smothered in a pork-riddled Sunday gravy, stabbing a single bucatini smothered in pasty-thick carbonara sauce seasoned with a heavy dose of fresh-cracked black pepper; or piling a spoonful of tender, dumpling-like ricotta gnocchi that seem to be held together by nothing more than the force of the Palm Beach pasta prince's will. It makes for a restaurant that is equal parts social hotspot and culinary tour de force.
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