The name — Sopranos Italian Kitchen — doesn’t really thrill me (didn’t “The Sopranos” call it quits three years ago?), but the idea that J.P. Samuelson (pictured above in a Star Tribune file photo, cooking at his former jP American Bistro in 2003) will be cooking Italian is a major reason to get excited about the latest restaurant from Crave grand poobah Kam Talebi.
Samuelson, one of the Twin Cities’ most gifted cooks (his resume includes stints at Bobino, Solera and the aforementioned JP's, as well as Bouley and JUdson Grill in New York City), is well-steeped in the Italian tradition. One of his career milestones was when he ran the kitchen at the former D’Amico Cucina, and while this new St. Louis Park venture won’t steer in that hyper-upscale direction, it will return Samuelson to a cuisine that seemingly trips off his fingertips.
“Italian food is all about simplicity, but it’s not simplistic,” he said. “The ingredients have to be top-notch, and the execution has to be perfect. We’re going to be accessible, but we’re also going to feature some real foodie items. It’ll be fun, not formal. That’s what people want.”
Prices will fall in the $8-$13 range at lunch, and $17-$25 at dinner. A wood-burning grill will turn out a range of steaks and chops (“Everything from a flatiron or a hanger steak on the low end to a veal chop on the high end,” said Samuelson, noting that the female demographic at the Shops at West End will dicate smaller protein sizes, in the 6- to 8-oz. range), plus grilled pizzas.
“We don’t have a wood-burning oven, so we’re going to do them on the grill instead,” Samuelson said. Other menu items will include house-made pastas, an ever-changing array of antipasti, a tableside Caesar and rotisserie chickens. “We’re not going to be a traditional steakhouse, and we’re not going to be a traditional Italian restaurant,” said Samuelson. “It’s going to be the next-generation Italian restaurant. We’re going to put our own modern spin on it.”
The former Ringo, which is conveniently located next door to Talebi's third Twin Cities Crave outlet -- isn’t being wholly remade (I thought it was a handsome space, but maybe that puts me in the minority), but the setting is getting tweaked with a mix of classic and contemporary fixtures and finishes. That upside circus tent ceiling? It’s history, to be replaced by a dramatic 12-foot glass dome, retreived from the former Sherlock’s Home brewpub. A showy wine tower — a Crave standard — will separate sections of the dining room, and Ringo’s enormous captain’s table will be repositioned as a bread-and-cheese service station. The design work is being done by Minneapolis-based Shea Inc. (which tricked out the Ringo space last spring) and Kamarron Design, a Twin Cities interior design firm.
Construction is set to begin in February, and the doors are scheduled to open in mid-March.
“I can’t wait to get back behind the stove,” said Samuelson, who has already mapped his bike route from his Minneapolis home to the St. Louis Park restaurant. I was just about to say the same thing; I can't wait, either.