BEST ITALIAN (NOT CHEAP) - 2006
We spent way too much time and money researching this item this year, visiting well known, super-spendy Italian restaurants throughout the metro. At one, we got absolutely sick on the abundance of oil, butter, and egg yolk—the thinking seemed to be: If you can't cook, why not just feed everyone savory forms of warm ice cream? At another we experienced an astonishing level of hit-or-miss; it was as if the cooks at different stations weren't just working with different manners of preparation, but at different restaurants altogether, some bad. What a joy then to return to tiny, beloved St. Paul family Italian restaurant Ristorante Luci, which embodies everything we love about Italian food and lifestyle. Yes, the tables are close together, but it's that closeness that connotes human warmth. Yes, the dishes are traditional, but when the saltimboca is this legendary, when the handmade pastas are this light, the mozzarella this fresh, and the wines on the list this reliably delicious, you're forced to conclude that this is tradition in the elevated sense of the word, not the fusty one. It's been nearly 20 years since the Smith family opened their first restaurant, and 10 more since they opened globally accented Luci Ancora kitty-corner, but with siblings Stephen, Daniela, and Maria in charge of these St. Paul treasures, we feel like the question of which is the best Italian restaurant in St. Paul might just be answered permanently.