It’s worth the drive to Excelsior to enjoy Biella’s superlative cuisine and wine offerings.
In my 10 years in the Twin Cities, I’ve grown accustomed to having more than 20 different restaurants within a five-minute drive of my home. Apparently, I’m not the only one who is reluctant to travel more than 10 minutes to get a good meal. Restaurants outside the metro loop often have a hard time attracting diners from the heart of the city, even if they are only a 15-minute drive away. Now that gas prices have risen yet again, I am not one to advocate needless travel. However, as many of us are cutting back on vacation time and other little luxuries, a trip out to Excelsior can work wonders for the weary city dweller.
Antique shops, chocolatiers, and clothing boutiques line Excelsior’s Water Street, so named for its proximity to Lake Minnetonka. After enjoying the lake, and strolling around what was once an 1850s destination community, return to Water Street, where Biella offers an opulent, chef-driven menu at suburban prices. The building has changed hands and purposes many times since it was completed in 1883, but a well-worn wood floor and spots of exposed brick honor the original structure. The open dining room, complete with its beautifully restored tin-tiled ceiling, still manages to capture a feeling of warmth and intimacy.
We began with Caramelized Sea Scallops ($14/$26). A delicate sear left the plump scallops’ flesh tender and juicy at the center. Accompanying mango and citrus salsa with roasted jalapeño and cilantro were robust enough that I’d recommend enjoying at least part of your scallops without it. However, a blood orange gastrique was the perfect intermediary for both scallop and salsa.
The Catalan Salad ($9) evoked the flavors of what is now Northwestern Spain, Andorra, and Southern France near the Mediterranean. The salad began with a base of mixed baby greens lightly tossed with a Dijon and Manchego cheese dressing. Ripe briney olives, red onions, grape tomatoes, egg whites, and oven-roasted potatoes showcased the region’s fondness for assertive flavors and simplicity.
With both our sea scallops and salad, we sipped the New Harbour Sauvignon Blanc ($9/$33), which is crisp, dry, and suitably understated, with notes of citrus. The wine list at Biella is a practical one, allowing for a variety of occasions, palates, and budgets. However, it also seems to put a priority on not offering the same bottles you’d find at another menu just down the street.
If the Catalan was a model of simplicity and restraint, the Lobster Ravioli ($12/$22) was its opposite. Artichoke hearts, local asparagus, black tiger shrimp, and sea bass complemented the beautiful squid ink-striped ravioli. All were then enveloped by a rich, sensual truffle-and-herb butter sauce. This dish evolved, one bite at a time.
A glass of Italian Arneis ($9/$33) made for an interesting pairing—the arneis grape has only recently begun to become popular after years spent basically as a filler. With new cultivating techniques, the spirited and finicky grape has been developed into a nice alternative to pinot blanc.
Having spent some time in Chile this past year, I have been missing good sea bass. Though we are nowhere near Chile, or any coast for that matter, once fish has been frozen for shipping, it can be defrosted anywhere to the same effect. Once again, Biella’s chef proves his proficiency with delicate seafood, and employs truffle oil to great effect, lending its perfume to rosemary red potatoes, oyster mushrooms, green beans, and a goat-cheese cream sauce.
The menu also features pizzas and a variety of meat dishes, but it was time for us to move toward dessert. The list changes daily, but that night, we were favored with a vintage recipe: semisweet lemon crème and strawberry coulis, decorated with an orange/almond tuile—a perfect summertime treat.
In the seven years it has been open, Biella has certainly caught on with the locals—in fact, some regulars dine there a few times each week. However, this popularity has sometimes led to its being overbooked and, quite frankly, overextended. The staff is now compensating by being a little more conservative in scheduling, so reservations are always helpful, especially on weekends. If you’d like to enjoy its fare outside the dining room, Biella also offers wine dinner cruises throughout the season—check the website for upcoming events.
227 Water St., Excelsior