After many recommendations and the need for a suitable location to celebrate the birthdays of Josh, Laura, Kim and me, I made 7:30 reservations for I Nonni located just south of St Paul in Lilydale, MN.
Even though I knew almost exactly where I Nonni was, I still had a difficult time locating it within the upscale strip mall where it resides. I was expecting a standalone structure but thankfully Josh was able to see the little sign marking that the restaurant was among the buildings in the strip mall and we pulled in.
After we figured out which door we should probably enter through, we walked straight into the bar area which was fairly crowded. We were greeted at the door and were asked if we had reservations. We did but we were, of course, waiting for Laura to arrive and decided to take a seat in the bar until she decided to pop in. Josh ordered a beer and Kim and I stuck to water. The service was friendly and prompt in the bar and Josh enjoyed his first of serveral bottles of Peroni. Soon after, Laura arrived to some good natured ribbing for being all of four minutes late and we were seated.
Osteria I Nonni is a gorgeous restaurant with comfortable table seating and semicircle shaped booths lining the wall. The lighting is soft and comes from beautiful fixtures of creams and reds hanging from the ceiling and hung from the walls. At the far end of the restaurant is a warm and cozy fireplace which was happily flickering away on a frigid evening. The restaurant wasn’t packed, as I suppose is the case these days, but it was still crowded with plenty of people enjoying meals with friends over large glasses of wine.
We were seated on the left hand side of the restaurant with views of the cookie cutter gated community behind the restaurant. Thankfully the restaurant was pretty enough to look at itself, so I didn’t have to concern myself with the sadness of the river bluff view being obstructed by overpriced homes. Our server immediately handed us the over-sized and heavy menus which had only two pages of their recently introduced (that week) Winter 2009 menu and their extensive and expensive wine list that didn’t seem to show anything except prices by the bottle. Being that the four of us generally drink $10 bottles of wine and are quite happy with those, prices ranging up to $600 are lost on us.
After a long wait, and many water refills later, our waitress came and took our orders. Kim went with their Rigatoncini alla Carbonara (Pancetta, Egg, Pecorino, Black Pepper) for $16, I (after consultation with MSPD ahead of time) decided on one of their braised meats and chose the Braised Beef Short Rib with roasted root vegetables for $28, Josh went with his standard steak and picked up a Grilled Beef Ribeye with “Smashed Potato, Caramelized Cipollini” for $36, and Laura had to go with a bastardized version of their House-Made Gnocchetti which would normally include Braised Goat Parmigiano Reggiano for $18. Because Laura is mostly a “vegetarian” she asked that they not include the meat and the server, after making a joke about them not serving her kind (she didn’t use those words, I don’t really recall what was said), offered to make the gnocchi dish with basil and tomato sauce and add mozzarella cheese. Laura was cool with that and that’s what she ended up with.
None of us had eaten since lunch, in preparation for this dinner, and with a late reservation and the smell of food surrounding us we were all fairly hungry nearly an hour after sitting down when Josh flagged our server down and asked if we could have a basket of bread which was floating around to nearly every other table except ours. The server made a comment that it was the busboys who normally handle that and without an apology for us not having anything other than drinks on our table, we were served our very tasty bread. Now, while I realize we weren’t important enough as the numerous tables around us drinking bottles of wine and being greeted as regular guests by the maître d’, I did expect to be treated almost as good as they were. I really felt that because we were only going to spend $110 dollars that night, we were relegated to second class citizens and treated as such. Both Josh and Laura said that they watched as busboys would walk by with baskets full of bread, look at our table, look at the basket, and move along without delivering them to us. A possible oversight but one that I cannot fathom due to the excellent service leading up to the point when the server left the wine list on the corner of the table as if we were suddenly going to be in the mood to spring for a bottle of wine. Obviously this could have been only the perception of our table or the mood of only our waitress, but it was certainly not as warm and friendly as it was before we placed our orders.
Almost an hour and ten minutes after we were seated (mind you, it was now closing in on 9 PM) our meals arrived while Josh and I away from the table (isn’t that how it always goes?) While I was surprised at the size of Josh’s steak, my braised short rib and thought that Laura’s was properly portioned, I must admit that I was a bit shocked at the small portion that Kim received. Both Kim and Laura remarked that they thought Kim’s was only a half-order — I could only agree. I apologize but I took very poor photos because the lighting was not conducive to no flash photography and if I had used the flash, it would have bounced off the large white plates blinding everyone. While the service was not so hot, the food was absolutely fantastic. Josh’s steak was cooked perfectly (he asked for medium-rare and it wasn’t done anywhere near Minnesota-style), my braised short rib was quite possibly the best piece of meat I have eaten in Minnesota in my 6 years here, Laura was pleased with her meal, and Kim said her’s was very good.
My braised short rib was a large portion and the meat fell apart and melted in my mouth just like it should have. The flavors were hearty and melded well with the sweet roasted vegetables it was set upon. The roasted root vegetables (mostly just baby carrots) were tender, juicy, and sweet. I must say that I was very impressed with my meal but was a bit disappointed that I had to share as much as I did with Kim so that she could actually eat something…
Josh’s steak (sorry, the pictures of this were so bad you couldn’t even discern what it was on the plate) came with their “smashed potatoes” which had a nutty aftertaste that none of us could place but which was awesome. Josh spent the most time eating as his steak was so large. I didn’t bother to ask him for a bite for fear he’d stab me with his steak knife.
Kim’s pasta was good, as I mentioned above, just lacking in portion size and meat. From the single noodle I tried, I enjoyed it and probably would have ordered it myself if it had been a decent size. I’m sorry but pancetta and couple of rigatoni noodles aren’t worth $16 here in MSP. Get over yourselves.
Laura’s gnocchi were very tasty and, by gnocchi standards at least, fairly light but the mozzarella looked store bought and boring. As I mentioned above, Laura got it sans meat and while I wouldn’t normally recommend that a restaurant bow to the needs to different tastes, I just can’t see how they could justify charging full price for a dish that was meatless when they don’t offer any vegetarian options except over-priced salads.
When it was all said and done, we ended up paying just over $109 for the four of us. Approximately $25/person which isn’t unreasonable if we had all had portion sizes that were full and we all had dishes that included meat. While the food was so very good, I will not ever return based on how we were treated by our server. Honestly, I don’t remember her name but if I had, I would be sure to give a call to the restaurant today and let them know how very disappointed I was in her treatment of me and my party. I suppose this will do more than enough to suffice.
So, if you’re looking for expensive bottles of wine and excellent meat dishes, this place has you covered. If you’re looking for friendly service when you’re not planning on spending $300+ for a four-person dinner, I’d say pass it over. I was really looking forward to last night’s dinner and I must say that the great taste of the food just couldn’t wash away the taste left by nasty attitude we faced from our waitress.
Have you eaten at I Nonni in Lilydale? If so, comment on and let us know what you thought.
Osteria I Nonni
981 Sibley Memorial Highway
Lilydale, MN 55118
See all the poorly taken photos on Flickr here.