Tag Archives: Italian

Perron’s Sul Lago – Prior Lake

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Do you remember when I told you that my husband likes to find restaurants I’ve never heard of before?

I think it all started with Perron’s Sul Lago…

We have a tradition for our birthdays: The birthday girl or boy gets to choose any restaurant where they would like to dine. The other person has to plan, drive and buy. Pretty sweet tradition, isn’t it?!

In 2010, Rob was checking out review websites online and found Perron’s Sul Lago in Prior Lake. Despite the fact that the restaurant had no website, the intriguing reviews outweighed the possibility that there could be limited menu options for him due to his allergies and personal preferences. Sul Lago became his birthday dinner choice that year.

We’ve been back about once a month since. In short, we kinda like it. 😉

In fact, we’ve brought more than a dozen friends and out-of-town guests here to enjoy the experience with us. In addition, we’ve recommended it to many friends who have chosen it as the restaurant to celebrate their anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions.

So why do we love it so much?

Let us count the ways…

1) It reminds us of Italy.

  • On our first visit to Sul Lago, we found a seat at a table in the bar area and checked out the menu. The wine list was quite extensive, including dozens of Italian wines. Just scanning the menu quickly, one in particular caught our eye: Dievole Chianti Classico. What? This wine is from the Villa and Vineyard where I earned an all expense paid trip to Tuscany through The Traveling Vineyard and where Rob proposed!

Villa Dievole, Tuscany, Italy - November 2008

  • We were so excited to see this wine again! The Traveling Vineyard’s parent company carried it for a while, but it had long since sold out. Unfortunately, the wine was sold out at Sul Lago that night and the owner’s uncle and sommelier said that the distributor they worked with was no longer going to carry it. 😩  But fast forward to 2012: There is now a Dievole wine back on the menu!
  • Don’t expect to eat a meal and go. You are going to linger… as if you are in Italy. They will not rush you. And on your first visit, you may even feel like you are forgotten about once or twice. But you aren’t! They are giving you time to slow down, relax and enjoy your company while they pay extra careful attention to the preparation of your food. Give yourself about two hours. I’ve seen this described as “bad service” in reviews. And while it may be if you are going to Applebee’s, maybe it’s time to just sit back and enjoy life for once. Seize this opportunity. Besides, if you go there enough, they’ll start to recognize you and treat you like family. {Just like in Italy. 🙂 }

2) The beverages.

  • Start out with a cocktail. You are going to here a while. Besides, you need time to peruse the menu. My favorite cocktail:

French Pear Martini: Elderflower liqueur, pear vodka, sparkling wine, lime juice, pear slice

  • Men, you might think a French Pear Martini sounds girlie, but my husband orders it all the time. It’s just too good not to swallow your macho pride. We took my brother to Sul Lago this past weekend for his birthday. If this tough guy can enjoy a French Pear, so can you:

No, he is not ducking out of the picture. I just caught him while he was busy drooling over the menu.

  • There are no beers on tap, which can bum a beer lover; but we aren’t here for the beer. {They have it in bottles if you must have one.} This is a place where you order cocktails and wine. While the emphasis is on Italian wines, the extensive list includes world-wide options as well.
  • They have house-made cellos. We “experienced” too much limoncello on that Tuscany trip mentioned above, but learned to love it once again our Honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast {an area known for its lemon trees}. At Sul Lago, they make their own limoncello. You might get lucky and even find that they have lime-cello, orange-cello and grapefruit-cello on occasion, too. Order your cello as your after dinner digestivo. It’s all about the experience.
  • My only suggestion for Perron’s Sul Lago: Invest in an espresso machine. I love a strong espresso after a big, long meal, something that is truly Italian. There are so many more options you could offer in terms of drinks, dishes, desserts and experiences with an espresso machine.

3) The Food.

I guess it should go without saying that we enjoy the food at Sul Lago. They use high-quality, fresh ingredients and hand cut their meats. Since we’ve been there a number of times, here’s a sampling of what you can expect:

  • Bread & Oil
    • Before dinner, you’ll be served a basket of warm crusty bread and poured this concoction for dipping:

Olive oil, balsamic vinegar and parmigiano reggiano

  • Mushroom Bruschetta sautĂ©ed wild mushrooms, white truffle oil, parmigiano and balsamic reduction
    •  If you like mushrooms, you are crazy not to order this appetizer. It is a required appetizer for all the guests we bring to Sul Lago. The plate ends up looking like this:

Plate that once held Mushroom Bruschetta

  • Sausage Linguinewith sweet onions, fresh herbs, cream, parmigiano and white truffle oil
    • Rob would describe this as silly or ridiculous. I would have to agree. He almost always orders this. He tries to deviate, but usually ends up succumbing to its powers. I am lucky enough that he always shares a bite with me and I can order something different any time!

Linguine tossed with sausage, sweet onions, fresh herbs, cream, parmigiano and white truffle oil

  • Parmigiano Risotto
    • All the risottos are house-made. And while we also love the mushroom risotto that accompanies steaks and the roma tomato risotto upon which the salmon is served, Rob often likes to order a side of this cheesy parmesan risotto to share:

Parmigiano Risotto

  • SautĂ©ed Baby Spinach with Prosciutto
    • This is a side item on the menu that I would not have thought of ordering. However, it came to our table magically on one visit. That night I ordered a spinach salad entrĂ©e. However, what arrived instead was this side item. The server knew immediately upon delivering our dishes that the kitchen had missed the mark. She left the spinach with me to munch on while she retrieved my salad.
    • I love spinach, but could it really taste this good? Our friend Craig dug in to give it a try. His eyes lit up, “This is the best spinach I’ve ever had!” {I really should add extra exclamation points for extra emphasis here.} After he finished his sausage linguine {recommended by Rob, of course}, he finished the spinach as well. 🙂
  • Steaks
    • You don’t need to go to downtown Minneapolis to get some of the best quality and perfectly prepared steaks in the Twin Cities. I enjoyed a filet mignon here on my first visit. {And have since ordered it again.} Highly recommend. Remember, the meat here is hand-cut and rumor has it that Chef Todd Perron came from The Capitol Grille steakhouse in Minneapolis. Enough said.
  • Seafood
    • I’ve ordered several seafood specials here as well as seafood from the regular menu. I’ve rarely been disappointed. The scallops and salmon have always been perfectly cooked. The Scallops Gnocchi have been a hit with our guests! And how beautiful is this dish?!

Fresh Atlantic salmon over roasted Roma tomato risotto topped with fresh lemon herb butter

  • Pizzas

    • Perron’s Sul Lago offers pizzas in the bar on Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays. Our favorite is the prosciutto and spinach. Insanely good.
  • Dessert
    • Forget the flavorless chocolate cake towers you find at other restaurants. Instead, get your chocolate fix with the Flourless Espresso Chocolate Cake. Quality over quantity at it’s finest.
    • Blueberry Bread PuddingI’m not even a bread pudding fan. This was recommended by the staff and boy am I glad it was.
    • Dessert Specials – Hell, why not? They are special for a reason. We had some berries with fresh whipped cream infused with amaretto one time. Where else would I find that?

4) The ambiance

  • Perron’s Sul Lago can deliver that feeling of a special night out the moment you sit down. From the warm earthtone dĂ©cor to the low dining room lighting to the real tealight candles, it delivers in ambiance. But it’s not stuffy. Remember, you are meant to come here to relax and that’s exactly what you are going to do.
  • There is even a patio where you can sit in the summer and enjoy “the lake” on which Perron’s sits. {Sul lago means “on the lake” in Italian.}
  • The staff: We love ’em. Get to know them. Ask them for recommendations. They know their stuff. If you see Amy, Shawna or Billy the Bartender, tell ’em we said “hi” and that we sent you. 🙂
  • Reservations are highly recommended on Friday and Saturday nights and in advance on holidays such as Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve.

Our only complaint for a year was that there was no website.  But it has recently been launched! Check it out.

This is one restaurant south of the river that you can find quality fine dining equivalent to what you’d find in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul.

Enjoy it to its fullest.

Cheers~
Carrie

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Scusi – St. Paul {Closed}

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I’ve been to Scusi a few times before.

My first experience was about a year ago when a friend of mine was in town and we had just enough of a window of time to meet for brunch. She brought a couple of in-laws with her. It was perfect because Scusi is known for its “family style” and dishes are meant to share. Plates are on the table when you arrive.

The plates are on the table when you arrive, but not the wine!

Once you put your order in, dishes come out as they are ready, not all at once. This part is more tapas-style than family-style. I like it. If you don’t like to share, this place is not for you. But I think it’s more fun to get a taste of several different items than just one entrĂ©e. I remember loving just about everything we ordered for brunch that day (including the bottomless mimosas!) However, one particular item stands out in my mind – the Smoked Gouda Hash Browns. {Picture the heavens parting here.} I’m not a huge fan of smoked cheeses, but something about those pieces of potato-and-cheesy goodness made them a thing of beauty.

Unfortunately, Scusi is no longer open for brunch. 😩

Somehow, Scusi needs to find a way to make those Smoked Gouda Hash Browns part of their main menu!

Pretty please?

Since then, Rob and I have been there on several occasions during the evening. The first time, we had reservations, but still had to wait – maybe we arrived too early? My memory is failing me on that part. We made our way in to the packed, narrow bar area to select from the wide array of wines by the glass. {More on that in a bit.} That night, we ordered a nice salumi platter (the sopressata was my favorite!) and some olives. I’m sure that was also the night I had to try the San Marzano Pasta with Meatballs. Sure, I said that I’m not a fan of spaghetti and meatballs, but Scusi’s menu had me at San Marzano. Rob and I originally experienced these delightful tomatoes on our Honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Now I eat them at every possible opportunity.

Of course, we washed our meal down with a good bottle of Italian wine.

The Wine

Scusi has a unique mix of Italian wines and Cal-Itals (California wines made in an Italian style or with Italian grape varietals.) Many of the wines are offered by the glass because they are “on tap”. The “tap” is a wine dispenser system that also helps preserve the wine remaining in any opened bottles. Having so many offerings by the glass gives diners the opportunity to try different wines rather than share a bottle or order a taste of a more expensive wine that would normally be offered by the bottle only.

At Scusi, the smallest size glass a guest can order is a quartino. This is equivalent to about a glass and a half or about a third of a bottle. The wine is served in a mini carafe so that the guest can top off the wine at his or her leisure. Wines can be ordered by the mezzo (half-bottle) or the bottiglia (bottle), as well.

We’ve found that when we’ve ordered red wines by the glass at Scusi, they’ve been a little too cold for our liking. While there is a misconception that red wine should be served warm or room temperature {it should be more like cellar or basement temperature}, our red wines seemed like they had just been taken out of the fridge. We felt that the temperature really masked the flavors these wines had to offer.

On our third visit, we sat at the bar again, but decided to order a bottle due to our experience with the temperature of wines by the glass. As she opened our bottle of Super Tuscan, our bartender said, “We just got a new system, so you may need to let it warm up a bit.”. Um yeah – like a good half hour. I’m sure not going to wait around that long to drink wine at a restaurant. They must have kept the bottles in a cooler as well? Our glasses immediately fogged up from the cold wine when it hit the glass. We had to hold both hands around our glasses to try to bring the wine down to a desirable temperature.

The Food

We’ve ordered different dishes on each visit. In no specific order, here are our thoughts on some of them:

  • Shrimp Oreganata – I was looking for something a little healthier when I ordered this, but it was unimpressive. I expected more flavor.
  • San Marzano Pasta with Veal Meatballs – Savor every bite! It’s worth it!
  • Pizza – Rob ordered pizza and while I thought it was good, I remember that he thought the crust hadn’t much flavor. However, when I asked him recently to comment, he couldn’t. He just said that it wasn’t very memorable.
  • Short Ribs – Rob said they were nothing special, but fairly priced.
  • Truffled Mushroom Lasagne – I think this was the best dish we’ve ever had a Scusi! It was the featured special of the day, so you won’t find it on their regular menu. 😩 I did notice; however, that it was one of the specials during Restaurant Week.
  • Chocolate Cake – This was the cake I talked about in my Quality over Quantity post. I wanted a bite of rich dark chocolate and I got a humongous piece of not-so-great cake.
  • Izzy’s Graham Cracker Ice Cream An absolute highlight! You are going to be surprised by how good this is!
  • See below for detailed info on our food from our most recent visit…

Our Most Recent Visit:

We made reservations and sat in the restaurant. We couldn’t decide on a wine and eventually ordered a Cal-Ital recommended by our server. Although still slightly chilled, it came to our table at a much more acceptable temperature than on our previous visits.

Once again, we started with the Salumi Platter:

The sopressata remains my favorite!

Rob’s pasta:

Tortellini with Sausage Ragout

Rob was not impressed: “While the tortellini were packed with cheese and cooked nicedly, the dish overall was very bland and the sauce was essentially red water.” I tried the dish. He was right. It was lacking flavor. Neither the sausage nor the sauce had it.

My pasta:

Shrimp Ravioli with Vodka-Rose Sauce

This dish was so flavorful that it would be what Rob calls “ridiculous!” or “just silly.” I love it when he uses that to describe food he really loves! Since he wasn’t able to taste this pasta due to his seafood allergies, I described my dish to him as such. While the sauce made it somewhat rich, I’d get this again in a heartbeat.

Dessert:

Izzy’s Graham Cracker Ice Cream (alongside a scoop of vanilla)

When we found out that they were again offering Izzy’s Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Rob said he wouldn’t share! I had to get my own. When I asked him to tell our blog readers his thoughts, he said, “Nothing tastes better in Minnesota than this ice cream. Enjoy in moderation
no more than 6 bowls.” While he says that for emphasis, he could barely finish his two scoops and I most certainly did not finish mine! I guess this is a rare occasion when you get quality and quantity.

While we love the wine bar concept of Scusi, we find the restaurant to be a little inconsistent in both its wine and food. The next time we go, I’d like to try the cheese plate and give the wines by the glass another shot. We’ll just have to get there early to get a seat at the bar. And if the Truffled Mushroom Lasagne or Smoked Gouda Hash Browns find their way onto the menu, those just might be ordered, too. 🙂

Have you been to Scusi? If so, what did you like about it? Do you have a favorite Italian Restaurant or Wine Bar?

Quality over Quantity

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I know a few people who’ve complained about portion sizes restaurants.

I’m talking about those who say that portion sizes are too small.

THE COMPLAINTS

Sometimes the complaint is paying $15 – $20 for an entrĂ©e when all that was served was a “small” piece of meat over some vegetables or something. Other times it’s that a particular casual restaurant has scaled back on the gargantuan portion sizes, but not the prices. Either way, these people feel cheated.

But we all know that restaurant portion sizes in the U.S. are way over the top. It’s a very rare occasion when anyone eats a low-calorie meal when dining out. In fact, most restaurant portions are enough for two, three, even four servings! Even when I’m practicing eating well out at a restaurant, I know that I’ll still go over the number of calories I allot for any regular self-prepared meal. So I plan for it. I make sure I have lower-calorie, high fiber foods that day to keep me full enough that I don’t feel “starving”, but to still allow me a little wiggle room when dining.

For me, I prefer Quality over Quantity.

PORTION SIZES

I really do like the higher-end restaurants where the portion sizes for each course may seem small, but I never feel stuffed when leaving. The food may be more expensive; but in these places, the ingredients are often fresh, high-quality ones instead of those out of a can or from the freezer. The chef takes extra special care to season them, concocting a dish from scratch into perfection. I can take time to savor each bite of the food. To me, that’s worth the money.

Sure, you can always take leftovers home; but some things just do not taste good when reheated. Still, some of us just keep eating because it’s there; eating until it’s gone – leaving no leftovers on the plate. A tip I’ve heard is to have your server box up half the food before it’s brought to the table. It’s a great idea, but I’m all about the visual experience as well. So how would the plating look? Am I taking away some of the chef’s creativity? That’s something I’d never do in France! As a Francophile, I know that would offend the chef. Besides, I rarely get a portion size in France that’s so big that I need to box it up. I don’t even know if regular restaurants in France have what we once called “doggie bags”. {And think about that. What were the leftovers originally meant for?!}

But really, who needs a 15-ounce steak? Is it really necessary for me to consume a baked potato the size of my head? I’d rather have smaller-sized dishes than a big slop of something mounding my plate, making me *think* I’m getting a deal. But is it a really a deal if I mindlessly eat most (or all) of it just because it’s there? I guess the extra money I’m paying for restaurants with smaller portions is actually payment for their service in helping me with portion control!

This is not to say that just because you go to an upscale restaurant that serves smaller portions means, it means that the food is going to be great. Any restaurant can fail with improper execution or a blah menu. We’ve found that some restaurants under season their meat, or don’t season it at all. SEASON IT ALREADY! Others overcook their pasta. And sometimes, flavors are just not to our liking. But that can happen anywhere.

PASTA

Let’s discuss pasta because I’m picky about my Italian restaurants! Part of it may be that I’ve been to Italy and I know what good Italian food should taste like. In the U.S., so many places overcook their pasta. It should be al dente (to the bite). The primary theory detailing why pasta is best served al dente is so that we are forced to chew it more. If it’s cooked soft, we chew it less and just swallow it. It’s easier to eat more; therefore, we make the stomach do more work trying to digest it. That big lead ball you may sometimes feel in your stomach after eating pasta? It could be that the pasta was cooked too soft and you ate it too fast. {Or you just had too much.} In addition, pasta that is cooked al dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft.

Here’s the other thing: Pasta is a cheap ingredient. Many restaurants take the easy way out by just putting a pile of pasta on a plate or in a bowl and calling it your meal. You think you are getting a good deal with such a large portion. But in Italy, it is a course of its own – a little bit of pasta before the meat entrĂ©e. Instead of a pile of noodles on my plate, I’d rather the chef add some good high-quality spicy sausage, some San Marzano tomatoes, some fresh seafood. I stay away from the Italian restaurants that have offer only run-of-the-mill dishes on their menus: spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, fettuccine alfredo. Blech.

DESSERTS

I like my desserts to be almost bite-sized, or consumable in just a few bites. By the end of the meal, I’m no longer hungry and just want a little sweet treat on my palate. Not too long ago, I ordered a piece of chocolate cake in a nice restaurant. I guess I was picturing a small, short slice of cake that I could have a couple of bites of and be satisfied. Instead, out came a I’m-gonna-out-do-the-other-chain-restaurant piece of cake that could only “wow” someone by sheer size. It tasted horrible.

I would honestly rather have a dessert that is just a few bites… or one scoop of ice cream. Something that will satisfy that end-of-the-meal sweetness craving. And it’s always a good idea to share. But even a huge tasteless cake isn’t worth sharing. I want high-quality ingredients and flavor! Forget how big it is!

WINE

Okay, so I’ll save this for a post of its own. 🙂 But after my recent post on calories in wine, let’s just say that if I’m going to spend my calories on wine, I want it to be worth every drop.

So, for anyone who argues that “you don’t get very much for the money” when receiving smaller portions, you can bet that I do! I get high quality ingredients, a chef that actually cared what (s)he was preparing, flavors I can savor, and portion control. {The lack of stuffed stomach that can last several uncomfortable hours into the evening doesn’t hurt either.}

Instead, remember the real reasons you are dining out:

  • to fuel your body
  • to taste the food
  • to enjoy the company and good conversation

Quality over quantity will make a difference every time.

Cheers~
Carrie

Butcher Block – Minneapolis

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I find it quite difficult to get a decent bottle of affordable wine in a restaurant.

Much of the time, restaurant wines in the $30 – $40 range (or less) lack character. However, many of us (especially those of us who dine out often and love our wine!) can’t shell out much more than that.

This isn’t the case at Butcher Block Restaurant.

We’ve found a keeper!

Li Veli Passamante Negroamaro Salice Salentino, Italy

This was our fourth trip to Butcher Block in and our server informed us of their new wine list (not even online yet at the time of this writing) and encouraged us to take our time perusing the menu and to ask any questions.

While Butcher Block is known for high quality meat (employing a master-butcher who worked in Rome for twenty years), the new wine list had a more diverse selection of Italian wines to complement the Italian dishes and meats on the menu.

Oh how we love our Italian wines!

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, my husband didn’t care for Italian wine until his first trip to Italy. It was there where we decided that they send all the bad Chiantis to the U.S. and keep all the good stuff for themselves. (Okay, so maybe we just didn’t know what to buy and stuck with the cheap stuff). Now, quality Italian wines are some of our favorites and we know the good stuff is worth an extra couple of dollars!

Thank you, Butcher Block!

Li Veli Negroamaro, Puglia, Italy – $32

Negroamaro isn’t a well known grape here in the U.S., so my husband couldn’t remember having had it before. I tried to describe the bottle we’d loved (that is low in stock) from The Traveling VineyardÂźMessapicus Salice Salentino.

It was a great price for a restaurant wine, so we inquired about it:

“Well, it’s on the drier side.(Great! We like our Italian wines dry, and what I call “dusty”). “And it’s actually become one of our chef’s new favorites…”

I don’t even know what she said after that, but knowing the chef loved it was all it took to say, “SOLD!” I knew it would likely go with well with a lot of the dishes on the menu.

And it was just as I had a imagined – dry and dusty with hints of fruit and earth. It got even better the longer it was opened. I couldn’t believe that we found an affordable wine in a restaurant of such exceptional quality.

After my salad, my Pork & Ricotta meatballs arrived as my main dish. We’d had this before… as an appetizer. But I loved them so much that I didn’t want to share this time.

Pork & Ricotta Meatballs

Okay, this picture doesn’t do these meatballs justice! They are tender, juicy, moist, flavorful. Almost perfect… this time they were lukewarm. I’m not good about sending things back that aren’t to my liking… but I’m working on it. (What happens back in the kitchen?) Nevertheless, I would have never screamed at this dish, “SEASON IT ALREADY!

Rob ordered the Rigatoni alla  Norcina – pasta with house ground sausage and truffle cream. I love when he orders dishes like this!  It’s because I love sausage – not the most healthy meat on the planet. So, I can have one or two bites without having to order it myself. And the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. Can’t get much better than that.

Rigatoni alla Norcina

Butcher Block can get busy. So make reservations. Or go at 5pm on Sunday night. Sunday nights make great date nights. Hey, we’re non-traditional.

Cheers~
Carrie