Turns Out From-Scratch Dishes with Mastery and Flair
I’m coming to terms with being a snob. For a while, I was in denial—a food critic might be a snob? really?—but I eventually, albeit grudgingly, accepted my diagnosis, and moved on to treatment. My readers know I’ve dined at a few hotel restaurants of late, and found that a great establishment is not necessarily defined by its adjoining property. I also have ventured to different price points, and—gasp!—even the dreaded franchise. Oh, the horrors that destination may produce in the very delicate epicurean mind! But each time I have stepped outside my foodie comfort zone, I have returned with more appreciation for our area chefs. I considered myself officially recovered. Then, this column took me to Woodbury, and I panicked.
Now, I present the last lesson in my road to snob recovery: faith that the entire world is filled with culinary treasures, and if you’re open to receiving them, life has a way of bringing them to you. Restoring that faith is Aperitif, in the heart of Woodbury. Do not let its location trouble you. Executive Chef Chad Grant (formerly of Porterhouse), who moved to the suburb to facilitate a stronger connection between his kitchen and the community it serves, turns out from-scratch dishes with mastery and flair.
Case in point: Shrimp Bisque ($6). Grant’s tomato cream and brandy base serves up a bewitching bit of heat, which is tamed with a generous dollop of fennel foam. Served alongside a fetching little amuse of fried shrimp on toast, it was a dish I simply couldn’t get enough of.
Tuna Carpaccio ($10), with delicately fried and salted caper flowers, sweet tomato remoulade, and fennel chips, is another masterpiece that is easy to share as an appetizer.
I did not skimp on the bread, either. Aperitif’s focaccia is made in-house in its wood-burning oven. In a word, it is fabulous.
It would be difficult to pick a favorite appetizer, but Spicy Sautéed Calamari ($12) was sensational. Grant sautés his calamari to the point of perfection, and leaves its delicate flesh unmarred by the deep fryer. If you have not yet had your calamari trussed up in pine nuts, currants, and couscous with a kicked-up white wine sauce, I would recommend making the trip for this dish alone. Despite being labeled as an appetizer, it easily could serve as an entrée for one very happy, recovering food snob.
To balance out the richness as well as the light heat, we sipped the dry, acidic Elk Cove Pinot Gris ($10/$33) with the foregoing items.
Aperitif is choosy with its wine list. The 2008 Elk Cove Pinot Gris, for example, placed in the top five in the 21st Annual Restaurant poll. Another excellent choice would be Pushback Sauvignon Blanc ($9/$33). Aperitif is the only restaurant in Minnesota to stock this full, slightly tart beauty.
These wines also carried us through to String Beans and Sweet Onions ($9), which takes full advantage of a winning pair: feta cheese and fig vinaigrette. The onions are tempered significantly by their soak in the vinaigrette, yet lend the dish its needed bite.
I hardly could wait to taste the promised Rack of Lamb Special ($28), served atop broccoli rabe and orzo, and scented with cumin. Many restaurants use their “specials” to move inventory before it spoils. This is obviously not the philosophy at Aperitif. Nevertheless, its regular entrée menu is varied enough to offer something for every palate, yet maintain a strong point of view.
Cioppino ($29) once again reveals Grant’s fondness for rich, fragrant broths (this one spiked with saffron), but it does not get in the way of the stew’s real divas: Mexican white shrimp, lobster, clams, mussels, baby scallops, and fish, all bursting with freshness, and eager to take center stage.
The Meditrina Pinot Noir/Syrah/Zinfandel blend ($10) dances with both dishes, with lush berries and spice.
Just when I thought I surely had seen what Aperitif had to offer, our server arrived with a grin, plopping down Molten Chocolate Cake ($6) and Frozen Lemon Soufflé ($6). What a joy it is to have a lava cake actually deliver on its dark chocolatey promise! What’s more, the dessert is a little play on the s’more, with housemade chocolate gelato, graham cracker crumbs, and marshmallow sauce. Lemon Soufflé, garnished with delicate baby fennel, is creamy, tart, and altogether lovely.
Sip sparkling Nivole Moscato D’Asti ($7/28) with either, take in its nose of apricot, and relax. You’re in Woodbury, and life just has handed you a gem.
Aperitif Restaurant & Bar
772 Bielenberg Dr., Woodbury