Scusi in St. Paul
Editor’s Note: Scusi is now closed.
Full disclaimer before you continue to read: The cozy space that Scusi now occupies previously housed Heartland, my go-to neighborhood stop for a full pour of affordable wine and a cheese plate that satisfied my belly on many a chilly eve (I live on the same street, so the drive and bike ride were both easy). So when Scusi, the newest member of the Blue Plate Restaurant Company, moved in, I prayed — with nervous anticipation — that it would make a reliable replacement. Turns out, if I practice non-attachment and let go of any comparisons to the previous tenant, it did.
The basic structure is identical to Heartland: bar and open seating on one side, formal dining and an open kitchen on the other. Simple updates, like the addition of televisions that roll old black and white films, checkered tablecloths, and a wait staff wearing matching white button downs and ties, make the space feel different, more Italian. Blue Plate serves a reliable brunch at its other restaurants, like the Edina Grill or Longfellow. Scusi definitely has the same feel: clean, busy, and bright, with servers who hustle.
The pours of wine remain generous. If you sit on the bar side, there’s no chance you’ll miss the wine dispensing apparatus that takes up all the space behind the bar. It holds all their wines by the glass. Each bottle is hooked up to a dispenser, much like a tap for beer, keeping the wine inside fresh. This, according to one server, gives Scusi the opportunity to serve its patrons more unique, sometimes more expensive, wines by the glass (their example was a Shafer One Point Five, priced at $30 per glass).
However, the staff appeared to continuously disregard the taps, opening the case, pulling out the bottles, and simply pouring them into the glass. The splotches of red wine on their crisp, white shirts showed the dispenser wasn’t always the best choice. It was an interesting, and eye-catching, concept. Worth the cost? Hard to tell.
The food is meant to be shared, family style. This will sit well with those who aspire to order as many dishes as possible without getting a judging eyeful from their server. Almost everything is priced under $15 (outside of the more substantial dishes like Osso Bucco and Lamb Shank). Every meal begins with a bag full of crunchy crackers and cannellini bean paste, creamy and light.
The Lamb Pappardelle (below) and Short Ribs (above) were both tender and tasty, a perfect choice to counter the harsh winter weather. The white wine sauce on the Orecchiette had a hint of lemon that could call me back soon — though the addition of asparagus and roasted cherry tomatoes, both of which have very powerful flavors, steal the attention away from the deliciously tangy sauce. The pizza was disappointing,with a papery, tasteless crust, and toppings that, though appealing on paper, begged for more flavor.
There is a very nice cheese and salumi selection, and you can choose three for $9 accompanied by your choice of condiment (the tomato jam and apple shallot compote were especially delicious).
Near the end of dinner, our server encouraged us to come back for brunch. My first thought was that they were vying for morning traffic and were told to sell diners on their brunch experience. But the brunch proved to be, perhaps, better than the evening menu. Similar to dinner, dishes are served family style. It’s a Blue Plate restaurant so they serve the good orange juice, pulpy and fresh. Good bacon, too. The hash browns with Gouda could cure any hangover and the ricotta pancakes with vanilla poached pear alone qualify as a reason to go back.
Two words to define the dining experience at Scusi: hearty and satisfying. The food is consistent and the service pleasant. Though no longer a culinary landmark, Scusi is a welcome addition from this restaurant group, proving their ambition for growth, and evolution from their standard diner-esque menus.
BEST BET: Short Ribs ($11) for dinner, Ricotta Pancakes ($8) for brunch, and half off select wines and all pizza after 9pm
1806 St Clair Ave
St Paul, MN 55105
OWNERS: Blue Plate Restaurant Company
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes
BAR: Beer and Wine
ENTREE RANGE: $8 – $26