Mancini's great for reunions, local wine, Pawlenty sightings

Mancini's is kind of like Christmas. You love it while it lasts, but it's really best just having it once a year or so. That way, when the time comes, you can relish anew the novelty of the redhued straight-out-of-the-Sopranos steak den.

Admit it, you go more for the atmosphere than for the grub itself anyway.

The St. Paul landmark makes a great place to meet up with friends you haven't seen in a while. No party is too big for Mancini's, the meat-and-potatoes fare is consistent and pretty universally palatable (as long as you're a meateater) and the ever-present din is a nice companion to catch-up conversation.

On a recent visit, I was reminded that the restaurant serves wine made especially for them by Cannon River Winery: Mancini's Levee Red, a blend including Minnesota Foch and Frontenac grapes and the West 7th White, made with Chardonnay and Minnesota LaCrescent grapes.

Each are $26/bottle and $6/glass.

True to form, the St. Paul institution is also apparently a frequent haunt of Gov. Pawlenty. He and his wife were seated next to my group when we went.

Is it time for your annual visit yet?