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Dinner at Il Vesco Vino – Bar Napoletano, Saint Paul MN

Another lovely evening was spent at Il Vesco Vino – Bar Napoletano in Saint Paul, MN. It was the third visit to this Victorian Mansion, which about a year ago was transformed from a French to an Italian restaurant. According to our top notch server, Il Vesco Vino means “bishop’s wine”, which is apropos since it is just a few blocks from the Cathedral of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Why it took me three visits to discover that tidbit of information is something I had to ponder.

This latest visit had my partner Jon and I sitting at a cozy granite topped table for two next to a fireplace and adjacent to the bar. Music of the holidays was playing, mingling with the boisterous voices of those sitting at the bar.

From experience I’ve learned that most often any restaurant that pours wine by the glass will let you have a taste if you ask. So of course I did, starting with a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, La Caldora 2005. Montepulciano is a type of grape as well as a type of red wine made from these same grapes in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. Up to 10% of a sangiovese grape is permitted to be added to the blend. It is typically a fruity, dry wine with soft tannins and is often consumed young. Ruby red with garnet reflections, intense with the fragrance of fruits, like black cherries and ending with vanilla nuances.

It seemed a little light for my anticipatory pork shoulder ragu so I moved on to another sample, a Rosso di Montepulciano, Poliziano 2005. It had a forward spicy nose with vivid berry fruit ending with a nice savory twist. With some fairly good tannins, it had a pleasant grip on my tongue but the fruit balanced it nicely. By this time our server was asking what I might enjoy for dinner. When I mentioned the pork ragu, she steered me toward the Nero d’Avola-Syrah Re Noto, Feudi Maccari 2005.

It’s a blend of 85% Nero d’avola with the balance being syrah. A deep plum red it gives a nose of violets and dark plums. The tannins are sharp but once past those, the dark fruit bloomed to a pleasant finish. It was a perfect match to the spices of the Riccia al Ragu ($9/half order) a pork shoulder ragu, with tomato, cream and parmigiano.

But I digress; we started dinner with a duck liver pate with crushed hazelnuts atop toasted crostini with a fried sage leaf garnish. ($5) It had none of the chalkiness that can fail paté and all of the sweet, buttery goodness with the crunch of the nuts. The Zuppa di Zucca ($6) a butternut squash with chestnut honey & crema fresca was silky smooth. It was perfectly balanced with the chestnut honey so as to not overpower the delicate flavors of the squash.

We split the Calamari with Sea Salt and Lemon ($12) sans sauce of any kind. No dipping sauce, no tartar sauce, nothing was needed. These tiny rings and tentacles were ever so lightly dusted with flour and flash fried to crispy, tender perfection. Freshly squeezed lemon juice was all that was needed to bring the sea salt to the front

While I was enjoying the Riccia al Ragu, Jon was savoring the Mare e Monte ($10/half order) a creamy bowl of rigatoni, shrimp, baby portabello mushrooms, lobster and parmigiano. Using the last couple of slices of the warm baguette as a spoon, he scooped every delicious drop of the creamy sauce.

Be sure and add Il Vesco Vino to your list of restaurants to try in 2008, if not before. If you can’t get there be sure to check out any of the wines that I mentioned earlier. They were all delicious!