5331 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park, 952-345-2400, sopranosmn.com
It’s so hard to get over the cheesy name, but I get it. This restaurant is likely destined for growth and greater national appeal, so I should just move on. The Talebi brothers of Crave have created this Italian concept that sits in the West End and manages to draw both urban and suburban eaters. It’s a situation most restaurants can’t handle, but Sopranos seems to have mastered it.
Bringing in chef J.P. Samuelson to lead the kitchen may have been the lucky strike. Samuelson has serious street cred among foodies, but he has a cooking style that is more about delivering flavor than fussing with fancy technique. But if you go to Sopranos with only the chef in mind—seeking the resurrection of his namesake bistro—you will be disappointed. If you go understanding that he has created a menu to feed a wide variety of eaters, while plotting a wink to food freaks here and there, you’ll very likely leave happy.
One of the winks came in the form of a light and thin tuna crudo, topped with crispy guanciale and bits of salty olive. It was an elegant dish that seduced with the soft, raw fish played against the umami of pork and olive. As well, the lamb carpaccio dotted with a bright pesto seemed sophisticated and earthy. Beef cheek ravioli was hearty and rich without being heavy, and the linguini with clams came riddled with hunks of house-cured pancetta that made the dish. From the rotisserie, the fennel-glazed duck won our table over.
The majority of the menu is plotted with hearty rustic Italian food. Spaghetti and meatballs, pesto strozzapreti pasta, and a fat brick of eggplant lasagna were all satisfying, just not brilliant. The red sauce recipe is a bit too sweet for my taste. Mac & cheese with taleggio, black truffle, and chicken seemed like it wanted to be sophisticated, but it ended up being undersauced, underseasoned, and kind of a mockery of itself. On the other hand, lobster gnocchi was unbelievably rich and decadent, and while a bit too creamy and truffley, it still disappeared completely from the bowl. Every chop of meat or fish we tried from the wood-fire grill was perfectly cooked, nicely smoked, deliciously seasoned, and better without the sauce. Desserts were good; the tiramisu was one of the best I’ve had in recent memory.
The house selection of Coppola wines by the liter is a fun way for a table to enjoy some vino, and the bartenders are quite skilled at creating fun libations. The décor is big and dark, a bit Real Housewives of New Jersey perhaps, and while I get that Sinatra and Vivaldi are both Italian musicians, need they both be on the soundtrack? Service was friendly and fun, if not quite polished, and the place carried a good buzzing vibe each time we visited. On different occasions, the choice of Sopranos seemed to satisfy both my suburban Crave-lovin’ salad eaters and my urban chef-groupie guanciale hounds. So who’s to say what’s in a name?
GETTING THERE, GETTING IN: Free ramp parking and paid valet. Reservations are recommended for weekend nights. HOURS: M–Th 11 am–10 pm, F–Sa 11 am–11 pm, Su 4 pm–9 pm
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
KIDS: Kids menu, high chairs, and lots of kids in the early hours.
CARDS: Amex, MC, Visa
ENTRÉE PRICES: $14–$39
3 Great Plates ...
1 Piandina It delivers a light snack of crispy fried flatbread, prosciutto, gorgonzola, and rosemary honey.
2 Pan Seared Wild Salmon This generous serving of salmon is touched with harissa and preserved lemons.
3 Tiramisu With a moist and creamy bite, alternating boozy mascarpone and spongy cake, it’s a worthy ending.