for the love of Italian food

August 29, 2022

many people have asked me if I’ve traveled through Europe yet…hope to answer yes someday, but for now I am happy to live with my romanticized vision of living in a small Italian village in a quaint stone cottage surrounded by gardens…taking a daily stroll to the marketplace to gather my pantry needs

why Italy? their passion for food, the culinary lifestyle of long, leisurely meals with small courses…I adore the cheese, cured meats, and especially the wine…and because their cuisine is defined by the season, the region, and most dear to me, family tradition

unfortunately, it is hard to find an authentic Italian restaurant here in the Midwest…most are chains where the dishes have been adapted for speed in service, the plates piled high with commercially made pasta and worse yet, overly sauced…while looking at their menus I try to just appreciate what they are serving and not be so frustrated by what they are not offering; it works most of the time

there are a few places, however, that I have recently discovered that offer a nice experience…they don’t rush you so they can turn the table, the menu allows you to leisurely enjoy courses and the wine list has a fair selection of Italian wines, not just chianti and pinot grigio

here in Sioux Falls we are fortunate to have R Wine Bar & Kitchen, a family run restaurant housed in the historic Frank Building on the east bank of downtown…the cozy atmosphere of wood and stone welcomes you in to be greeted by a smiling staff…here the menu is organized by the classic courses with a wine list by the bottle that suggests the perfect pairing

there is a delightful selection of dishes, but these are a few of my favorites…I order the fresh ricotta every time, it’s sprinkled with cracked black pepper and sea salt, then laced with a sweet honey…add a dish of olives and the house-made basil pesto with baguette slices, it’s sublime

the braised beef is tender, slow cooked in a delectable red wine and garlic sauce that puddles over the creamy polenta… the local mushrooms and herbs add an earthy finish, accented by the salty parmesan shavings

for pasta, I truly enjoy the rigatoni tossed in a naked garlic sauce with chopped baby kale and local mushrooms…the balls of ground Italian sausage melt in your mouth, you can easily smash them and stir into the pasta…the Sassoregale Sangiovese was a perfect pairing

more pepper, please…

just recently I was hosting a book signing event at WineStyles, a fabulous shop with many small production and stellar wines in West Des Moines, Iowa…afterwards, my friends, Don and Tammy, escorted me down the block to Anna Dolce, their favorite Italian restaurant when in town…owned by a group of innovative restauranteurs, they have created a more upscale atmosphere with a casual menu and very attentive service…the large pepper grinder was a fun touch

our table of eight sat outside on the patio enjoying a perfect summer night…the table was full of food and chatter, all the dishes were delicious from lasagna to pizza, which was wood-fired with just enough ingredients to have great flavor but not so much that it gets messy to eat…the big meatballs were full of savory herbs mixed into the beef/pork mixture…I loved the mussels wading in a light white wine sauce with ribbons of spicy soppresata salami and ample garlic, enjoy with the amalfi salad, the acidity of the sun-dried tomato vinaigrette and the bitter arugula balances the richness of the plump mussels…a shot of sambuca with coffee beans was the perfect way to end the evening

cosa nostra pizza…
zia anna’s meatballs…
mussels in white wine cream broth…
amalfi salad…

the next day, we ventured to Biaggi’s…it was all started by a MBA student, with a passion for Italian food, writing a business plan for one of his classes, there are now well over a dozen of these restaurants in existence making you think it is a chain, but Biaggi’s is privately held

the restaurant has a warm atmosphere with lots of wood and heavy drapery, sitting in the lounge area you have a nice view of the bar and a gated wine room

once seated in an oversized comfy booth, our courteous server brought us a basket of warm focaccia and onion bread, grated parmesan, along with EVO and balsamic to enjoy with our wine

there is a large selection of bruschetta, pizza, house made pasta, and classic Italian dishes to chose from, my favorite was the chicken & sausage vesuvio…the herb marinated chicken breast was tender and juicy inside a crunchy light coating, the Italian sausage, plentiful roasted red peppers, and potato squares added a multitude of texture all begging to be dragged through the roasted garlic pan sauce…makes your mouth water, doesn’t it

buon appetito…