I need to start this review by explaining that I am passionate about a few things in life. These top few things include GREAT food, Italy, family, Italian perspective. I have Italian blood, and it is only a matter of bad timing that I was born in the US. Ahem; I digress.
Walking into the Butcher Block is like walking into an honest-to-goodness, palms slammed down on the table, incredible and honest nothing-but-good-food restaurant, like in my family's small town in Italy.
There have been books written about American chefs wandering the Italian countryside to find that quirky genius butcher, or that "casareccia" style pasta or sauce or sausage (Bill Buford's "Heat" comes to mind). Now get this: If you live in the Twin Cities, you need only to venture to northeast Minneapolis to find the Culinary Holy Grail. Most certainly this "cauldron possessing certain powers" lies in the kitchen of this modest but very Italian establishment across from Surdyks.
I followed the chef, Filippo, here, after he launched Osteria i Nonni in Lilydale. His following includes a troupe of relocated Italians, Mayo Clinic doctors, the creme dela creme of the Twin Cities investors, professionals, socialites... and a plethora of simpletons like me. Twins fans. Wild fans. Young couples, old couples, family groups, singles, gals or guys on a night out. This is one place where we are all here for one reason: to experience the Italian Table.
Although he is quite modest about it, the owner, Filippo Caffari, is a genius chef. But the genius stems from his first training; an expert butcher. My native Italian friends and family, who are very picky and hate the quality of most food here (especially the meat), have tasted Filippo's prosciutto and all but swooned on the spot. They recognize that he understands how to make Bucatini Amatriciana... all of the "real" ingredients, and no substitutes, go into this, and every meal.
So, I have read reviews like this: "There are no windows". OK -- how many of you have been to the taverne or the small osterie in Italy? I am not saying that tourist stops always have bad food, or that you can't find a decent meal around all of the popular sites in Italy -- maybe you have -- but it is the locals who really know how to eat well. With gusto. Making it not a meal, but an experience. And many of those places are below ground, without windows!
When you are eating Italian style, you are reveling in the food, the wine, and either the bliss of solitude, or the convivial setting where you are surrounded by family and/or friends.
Try whatever they have on the tasting menu. These items may be something available short-term, is very fresh, or for some reason fall into a limited menu rather than the regular menu. I have not been disappointed trying anything off the tasting menu.
As for the regular menu, there are two drop-dead antipasto favorites I must have. These are
1. The Carpaccio, and
2. The Calamari (superceded only by the Octupus, if it is available),
I also like the arancini, and the chef's selection.
I love all of the salads.
The primi (first course) items I love are, of course
1. the Amatriciana... always the Amatriciana. But also
2. The fettuccine with porcini,
3. the rigatoni alla norcina.
4. The risotto is fabulous.
As for the main course, I cannot get past
the lamb chops or
the pork chops.
I have had the liver, which is spectacular, and the duck, which, I might add, is the only duck I have tried and liked in the US.
I have not tried it, but friends have raved about the seared tuna.
The desserts are beautiful and I cannot pick a favorite. I have tried all of them, and it all depends on my mood for the evening. I have really enjoyed both the creme brulee and the gelato whenever they are available.
I really love love love love Filippo's handmade limoncello. I have made my own limoncello, as have my relatives, but I must be honest: his kicks butt on anything we've ever produced.
The wine selections are also delicious. I usually defer to either Filippo's or (if he is working that night) Stefano's advice on which wine to have. They have always picked winners for me. HERE IS THE BONUS: there are many wines on the list are under $25/bottle. So you can have your cake and eat it (with more vino) too.
I hope you will take my review in the spirit in which it was intended. I vascillated between honest urging over the greatness of this place, or saying almost nothing. The latter would ensure that Butcher Block stays small and unbusy enough for me to hoarde and enjoy all to myself.
But, as I mentioned earlier, this is contrary to the Italian experience. And what an Italian experience it is here. Stop in, give some of the aforementioned menu items a try, and tell them Caterina sent you.
But only if you want some [--] fabulous Italian food.
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