Never before in the history of the Twin Cities has one family at one table been able to divide so utterly to their individual tastes: a delicate and diaphanous tuna tartar glistening on a bed of freshly mashed avocado for Mom, a chicken-finger kids’ meal for junior, a wood-fired steak for Dad, and an indifferent spaghetti and meatballs for whomever drew the short straw. Uncle Vinnie? Uncle Vito? I’ll try not to dwell on Sopranos’ name, because it’s been a few months since the Italian restaurant opened, and you’ve probably made peace with it by now. I almost have, though I haven’t quite made peace with Sopranos as a whole. It’s an odd duck of a restaurant, not so much inconsistent as it is a handful of very different restaurants cohabitating under one roof.
One of these restaurants serves quite elevated cooking. The tuna tartare was truly gorgeous: ruby-red tuna cubes glistened with good olive oil and a raw quail egg, and the dewy fish seemed unexpectedly weighty when paired with fresh and silky avocado. Another terrific dish was the cured tuna crudo: thin sheets dried till they’re intense and gamey, then complemented with half-moons of perfectly cut olives and fresh olive oil to present a wild and meaty taste of the sea. Is it the best Italian in the western suburbs? It is! Except when it isn’t.
The simple steaks, family-friendly kids meals, and affordable panini lunches are all welcome additions to the local food scene, as is the restaurant’s novel house-wine system—kegs of wine from California’s Coppola winery are sold fractionally by quarter-liter, half-liter, and so forth, and taste juicy, fresh, and delicious. But in addition to the elevated restaurant and the family-friendly restaurant inside Sopranos, there’s an utterly indifferent one that serves fiercely chewy meatballs and flabbily underpowered linguini with clams. What’s a discerning diner to do?
Whatever you do, always, always get the ever-changing antipasti bar assortment. It invariably contains some lovely surprises, like an oil-cured tuna and white-bean salad or mostarda-marinated almonds alongside precisely cut pithless orange segments. Then beeline for the appetizers, summoning every crudo and tartar available (the lamb with pesto was intensely seasoned and charming) as well as the light-as-a-feather calamari.
Still hungry? The caesar salad was good, and would be the perfect complement to a shared steak. This is the kind of meal that summons the greatness of chef J.P. Samuelson (formerly of JP American Bistro, one-time top toque at D’Amico Cucina), now the head chef of Sopranos. Samuelson has staffed his kitchen with cooks from the Twin Cities’ top restaurants—Heartland, the Bayport Cookery, Bar La Grassa—and the restaurant has proved popular; they serve some 500 people on a Saturday night. Still, how many of those people are dining at the great restaurant, and how many at the indifferent one I cannot say.
Order right and you’re in the best Italian spot in the western suburbs, order wrong and you’ll cry into your meatballs.
Ideal Meal: The antipasti platter, the calamari, a pizza, and a carafe of wine. Tip: Dishes work best to share and graze; pretend you’re in Tuscany at a family-style feast. Hours: Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Friday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sunday 4 p.m.–10 p.m. Prices: Lunch, around $12; dinner appetizers, $9–$13; entrees, $15–$30. Address: 5331 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park; 952-345-2400; sopranosmn.com