I admit it: I had strong doubts about Aperitif, the brand-new restaurant in Woodbury. There were the endless left turns to get into the parking lot, the massive building with nothing nearby but a Sheraton, the hand sanitizer prominently displayed inside the entryway. It’s gaudy! It’s in the middle of nowhere! And hand sanitizer? What part of hospitality is telling your guests you think they’re germy?
But while Aperitif is a little awkward, isolated, and undeniably sanitized in every sense of the word, it also is warm and well-staffed, and the food is delicious.
How do you go to a restaurant named after a before-dinner drink without trying one? I couldn’t resist. The Aperitif ($12) is a delightful way to wake up your palate. Hendricks gin and cucumber combine nicely, but barkeep: Don’t be so stingy with the rhubarb bitters.
I loved the salad of string beans and sweet onions. The intense flavor of the Greek oregano, feta cheese, and fig vinaigrette played nicely against the crunchy, fresh green beans.
The centerpiece of the dining room is a huge wood-fired oven, and the chef, Chad Grant, formerly of Lakeville’s Porterhouse, uses it well. The flatbreads really shine: The Capri, for example, featured arugula in perfect counterpoint to salty prosciutto. More elaborate dining was just as rewarding.
The lamb osso buco was worth every penny of its $22 price tag. The tender, moist, succulent lamb fell off the bone and melted in my mouth. The soft cheese polenta was the perfect accompaniment. The “Turkey Porterhouse,” a 12-ounce cut of on-the-bone turkey breast plopped on a huge pile of mashed sweet potatoes, was also great. The steak dishes we tried were good but nothing special, although the French fries were out of this world. Service was enthusiastic, if not comprehensively informed. When we asked about the sourcing of the pork chop, we were told it was from a local sustainable farm, but a follow-up phone call revealed it was actually from an agribusiness giant. That’s infuriating. Still, when we were at sea with the enormous wine list, the server and his boss brought over three small tastes, selected to complement our entrée choices. More restaurants should do this. Better yet, all their suggestions were priced under $30 a bottle.
After a refreshing frozen lemon soufflé to end the meal, I had to confess Aperitif had created one of the best suburban restaurant meals I’d had in years. And I promised myself I’d never again judge a book by its (very sanitary) cover.
772 Bielenberg Dr., Woodbury
Open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Jason DeRusha is a reporter with WCCO-TV.