Historians believe the Roman Empire officially fell when Emperor Romulus Augustulus forgot to bring wine, pasta, or an army when battling invading Germanic tribes. Today's Groupon ensures that history will not repeat itself unless it's for dramatic emphasis. For $30, you get $70 worth of Italian cuisine and drinks at Osteria I Nonni, located in Lilydale, 25 minutes southeast of Minneapolis by horseless chariot. I Nonni was recently voted the best upscale Italian restaurant in Minneapolis by City Pages.
I Nonni is Italian for "the grandfathers," but this restaurant doesn't give you nickels for ice cream or regale you with stories of dating "before the Internet." Instead, it serves Roman-inspired cuisine that changes seasonally and is made from scratch by the restaurant's acclaimed chefs—even the meat butchering and ham curing is done in-house, though thankfully not tableside. A recent menu, for example, offered antipasti such as calamari dashed with Sicilian sea salt ($12) and crudo ($9), an Italian variation on the Japanese delicacy sashimi. First courses, or primi piatti, included gnocchetti—a potato gnocchi adorned with bacon-like pancetta ham, pecorino cheese made from ewe's milk, and a forest-mushroom ragu sauce—and risotto made with braised beef cheeks and underscored by saffron and balsamic vinegar. The secondi piatti selection featured the traditional dish osso buco ($29), a braised veal shank seasoned with gremolata and supplemented with risotto, and pan-seared sea scallops ($27) awash in a sweet vermouth wine accompanied by arugula and forest mushrooms.
The food is only half the charm of Osteria I Nonni. The other 75 percent is its evocative ambience, complete with chandeliers warmly lighting the dining room like summer stars on a Mediterranean night, with the remaining third being its extensive wine collection: Osteria I Nonni's wine list contains more than 300 rare and regional wines straight from the grape mines of Italy. Reservations are highly recommended, so call ahead or send an owl.
City Pages lists Osteria I Nonni as the best upscale Italian restaurant in the metropolitan area:
- How Italian is it? The selection of primi alone is enough to bring homesick Italian tears to the eyes: Chitarra all'Amatriciana with tomato, guanciale, chilies, and pecorino Romano; Elicoidali alla Norcina with sausage and black truffle butter; polenta bramata with ragu of wild boar and pecorino Toscano stagionato. What the heck is all that? Good, good stuff.
- The atmosphere is comfortable and warm especially on a cold Minnesota winter evening. The staff was attentive but not bothersome. They had excellent suggestions regarding portion sizes, combinations of foods, and wine suggestions. The varying seasonal menu continues to be tasty and inspiring. – OpenTable user who dined on 01/16/2010
- We had the osso buco arancini and sweetbreads appetizers, the pork belly/blood orange salad, gnocchi, spicy linguine with clams, the veal shank and a scallops special, and everything was amazing! The flavors just jump of [sic] the plate at you, the presentation was so carefully done, and everything melts in your mouth. – OpenTable user who dined on 02/10/2010
981 Sibley Memorial Hwy.
Lilydale, Minnesota 55118Get Directions