When I became a food writer for Lavender, I was absolutely ecstatic. There was only one nagging, horrid little thought in my head—that one day in the distant future I would somehow tire of writing about food, food, and more food. Food is one of my lifelong passions, but it occurred to me—at that very moment—that there are only so many adjectives in the English language to describe the scent of lamb.
Every now and then, a certain element of fatigue can creep in when eating out so often…I believe this is true of any frequent diner, critic or otherwise. I’ll put it this way: if perusing a menu is no longer as much a pleasure as it is a perfunctory exercise, a visit to the Butcher Block is in order. The appetizer list reads like a delicious bit of food erotica—to the point where my ordering the beef tenderloin Carpaccio ($11) was simply inescapable. I’m very glad I succumbed; delicate, paper-thin tenderloin is lightly drizzled with olive oil, and then crowned with peppery arugula, parmesan and a wedge of lemon. If you have no stomach for raw meat, then I truly feel pity for you, for this Carpaccio is divine.
I’d like to think that even if some countess in the 1950’s hadn’t taken a strange fancy to eating raw meat (or so the origin of Carpaccio story goes), head chef Filippo Caffari (I Nonni) would have come up with something similar on his own. Years ago, Caffari was a Master Butcher in Rome, and he brings both skill and passion to getting the most from his meats. Sprinkled throughout the menu are his efforts to expand our use of an animal. As a once-vegetarian that deplores wasting food—especially animal products—what can I say? I’m a fan. Scrolling through the current menu, one will also find veal liver and intestine, but there are also plenty of dishes to please more conservative eaters. Caffari also cures his own prosciutto, and his small kitchen makes just about everything from-scratch.
If the Carpaccio falls outside of one’s comfort zone, I’d recommend the Grilled Octopus ($13) as a first step. Simply prepared with lemon and olive oil, octopus shares most of its taste notes with the humble chicken, however it is more tender, moister, and noticeably richer.
Post octopus, we moved on to two salads, the Avocado Fritto ($10) and the Radicchio Balsamico ($10). As its name would suggest, the Avocado Fritto features luscious slices of deep-fried avocado, nestled on a bed of arugula and sweet onion. The radicchio is lightly-dressed, and gets most of its flavor from diced grilled pear, walnuts, and sharp Pecorino Romano cheese. Even at a kitchen that places such a strong emphasis on its meats, these salads were interesting, well-conceived, and surprisingly hearty.
A citrusy glass of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc ($7/23) eased the transition from the salads to our pasta course. It was difficult to choose from the Butcher Block’s host of appealing pastas, but with the help of our server, we settled on the Black Monk Ravioli ($15). Monk fish is somewhat comparable to lobster, but milder. This preparation, sandwiched inside house-made squid ink pasta, and loaded with a ridiculously rich cream sauce, definitely benefits from a glass of wine that can lend a little acidity.
The raucous party of wine enthusiasts behind us was already oohing and ahhing over their Short Ribs Cacciatore ($21) by the time that ours arrived. Its slow simmer heightened the flavors of its broth, and rendered the meat fork-tender. Served with sautéed onions and roasted potatoes topped with homemade horseradish aioli, I found my ribs to be a tad on the salty side, but overall very enjoyable.
The Grilled Salmon ($19) with sautéed mustard greens offered one more reason to celebrate the Butcher Block’s grill—it’s one of the things the kitchen does best, and their menu suggests that they know it.
The Dolci Misti ($18), allows one to take a few bites of everything on the dessert list, but if I have earned your trust, then please take my word for it: the Tiramisu Limoncello with mascarpone and house-made limoncello is easily the best on the menu. Delicate and tart, it is the perfect finale to a heavy meal.
It’s true that the Butcher Block wrestles with an awkward space, and its decor is a tad loose on concept. But that’s just fine with me—If I must choose between a white tablecloth and a fantastic meal, I will happily indulge in the latter. Bottom line, if you’re craving variety and a no-nonsense kind of kitchen, the Butcher Block is worthy of your attention.
308 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., MN 55414