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SAINT LOUIS – Many of my wine writing friends and wine drinking friends tell me to write more about food and my hits will increase. I know they’re right. I do try to write about food and dining when I travel personally or on business.

I’ve had business reasons to come to this city on a few occasions but never an overnight. So when a group of us had to hit the Gateway to the West overnight we made plans. We were in the city for College business Saturday afternoon.

We had lots of recommendations for an Italian restaurant on the city’s iconic “Hill” district and settled on LoRusso‘s. It proved to be a great choice!

Our table was ready upon arrival which always gets me off on the right foot. We had two experienced wine drinkers, two young wine drinkers, and two current students so four wine drinkers.

We started with great bruschetta and the iconic toasted ravioli. Several of the guys had the standard dinner salad while I opted for the evenings salad special which was a thick slice of toasted bread, gorgonzola cheese, and then smothered with Roma tomatos with a drizzle of olive oil and fantastic balsamic vinegar.

The highlight at LoRusso’s was the entrees, as it should be at any great restaurant. One of the guys had wonderful/spicy Cioppino. A couple had pasta/seafood combinations and two of us had beef tenderloin dishes. I had marinated then breaded tenderloin medallions which were charbroiled and served in lemon wine sauce. It was topped with prosciutto and mushrooms. The steak was perfectly cooked to a a nice medium rare and the flavor combinations were simply off the charts. It was one of the best dishes I’ve had in any Italian restaurant. It included several side choices; I had simple pasta in olive oil.

When asked, no one wanted dessert. Then when the waitress brought around the always-tempting dessert tray to show off the goodies – six desserts were on their way. A couple of the guys had blood orange gelato, one had this marvelous chocolate iced white chocolate/devils food cake with crazy raspberry sauce. I had the cannoli, the only low point of the meal. There was nothing wrong with the traditional Italian dessert, I’ve just had better in any number of Indianapolis Italian restaurants.

And that brings us to the wine. LoRusso’s wine list was top notch. They had wines from all the major wine regions of the world and great selection of Italian reds. The list included $200 Brunello down to $30 Valpolicella offerings. I didn’t  want to pay $70 for a Valpollicella so asked for a little assistance. The hostess, and one of the owners, recommended a couple of wines.

Since we had two novice wine drinkers I wanted something a little lighter. The owner suggested a Langhe Nebbiolo, which I was surprised to see on the list for a reasonable $38. The Bricco  Enrichetta 2010 wine was fruity, not nearly as dry as much Nebbiolo and perfect for our appetizers and salads. I thought it was nice and the younger guys loved it.

Interesting enough, everyone loved the bigger wine much more. The recommended Ruffino Modus 2008 blend of 50 percent Sangiovese, 25 percent Cab, and 25 percent Merlot was a great bottle. It sold in the restaurant for $48. (More on the price below.) It was a perfect pairing for those of us with the steak dishes but the other guys liked it as well.

If you’re in St. Louis, it’s hard to go wrong with Italian anywhere on the hill. But I can personally vouch for LoRusso’s as one of the best Italian restaurants I’ve ever enjoyed outside of Italy.

Since we had the young guys it was appropriate to visit Delmar Avenue, an entertainment area at the heart of a number of college campuses. It has bars, shops, live music, and all the spirited atmosphere you’d expect in a college town. We walked the sidewalks and read the embedded stars, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring notable St. Louis legends.

A visit to the area is not complete without a stop by the Blueberry Hill. Once a month legendary rock icon Chuck Berry still performs there. But it’s a tough ticket. Berry will pick up his guitar Wednesday night and play the Blueberry for his 86th birthday celebration! That’s amazing!

Saturday mornings for me are often a little wine shopping. After an internet search and some reviews, we settled on visiting the nearby Wine Merchant on Hanley Ave. It also proved to be a great choice. They’re known for their Burgundy supply and it wasn’t hard to see why. I was incredibly impressed by the staff knowledge and ability to match the right wine to just what the customer wanted. They also had a nice selection of cheese from around the world. It’s a great shop. I signed up for their email newsletter for their deals and Burgundy offerings.

Oh, that $48 Ruffino Modus Super Tuscan we had at dinner retails at about $23 at Wine Merchant. That’s a typical restaurant markup and only one I’m willing to pay when enjoying a great restaurant. It was worth the $48 at dinner, but a very good value for a more reasonable $23.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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