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Luci: Ancora vs Ristorante - MSP

I tried Luci Ancora for the first time this weekend and despite the fact that I had a nice time with my friends and had good service I was unimpressed. They had a four course tasting menu for $29.99 which sounded like a really good deal. A homemade sausage first course followed by salad or soup then a pasta dish and followed by something called "Hawaiian Sunfish". Of all the courses only the pasta dish was really worth remembering. The homemade sausage was kind of odd -like a slice of meat loaf. It tasted OK with a nice basil chiffonade on top, but it looked unappetizing. The salads were completely unremarkable either a mista or ceasar which differed only by either having croutons or tomatoes and carrots (I guess I should have had the soup). The pasta dish was really good. Served hot with bacon, carmelized onions and tomatoes. The last course was done well. The fish was well seared and not overcooked but completely bland. The last course also included a nice spinach bed. When I got home I looked it up and "Hawaiian Sunfish" is just a euphemism for tilapia. Then we had a creme brulee and coffee which were nice. What I am wondering is whether it is worth going back to try Ristorante Luci? Did I make a mistake by not just having pasta? What are others opinions of these places? Perhaps I just feel bamboozled by ordering "Hawaiian Sunfish"

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  1. Sorry everyone. This is an MSP post. Both restaurants are in St. Paul, Minnesota.

    1. To me, Luci Ancora falls into the broad category of restaurants that I'm perfectly willing to go to but do not seek out. I'm happy to go if someone else recommends it or if I'm going to O'Shaugnessy (at St. Kate's across the street) to hear music. But I've always found something lacking, especially for the price of the meals there.

      I've heard better things about the Ristorante, but have not been - partially because of my experiences at Ancora.

      1. Though the menus and personalities of the two restaurants are different, I don't personally think there's a giant difference in overall quality between the two. Ristorante is smaller, more intimate, and has the "prix fixe" menu (or whatever the proper term is in Italian...) and tends to be more leisurely in terms of pacing.

        If you weren't bowled over by the chow at Ancora, you're probably not going to be bowled over by the chow at Ristorante. These are both perfectly nice places, but neither in my opinion is knock-your-socks-off exceptional. I think the atmosphere is nice and the food is good. Also, I like that they try to source their ingredients locally. I like their occasional specials.

        (Note to self: don't fall for the "Hawaiian Sunfish" ploy now that you've been duly warned.)


        1. Been to both. Not recently. Ancora 1x and that was enough forever.

          Ristorante is pretty dang good for this neck of the woods. But I've heard & read about some "just ok" moments. However, I've been pretty pleased the 3-4 times I've been. Most recent visit was early 2007 & it was fab.

          1. Seems to be really well loved "sacred cow" status, but I'm not surprised by your report. Local ingredients emphasis certainly not apparent on the menu. The Hawaii reference is a hoot since an 8 oz. filet would cost about $2.50 wholesale (probably less from Sysco). Considering they probably cut it smaller this $29 prix fix seems expensive.

            3 Replies
            1. re: blowphishery

              Hmmmm, I'm intrigued by your "sacred cow" comment as there are plenty of people on this board, including me above, who think it's merely "good", not great or outstanding and have posted that. I don't think it's awful, though, either.

              I think your point about the "Hawaiian" fish is hilarious--agreed, why call something Hawaiian if you've already said you're sourcing locally? However, I think it's possible to source locally without "featuring" local ingredients and I still think that's a virtue.

              I mentioned Ristorante's prezzo fisso (I finally remembered) menu as an indicator of pace, not value, since the OP was asking about the difference between the two restaurants and I thought only Ristorante had the prezzo fisso. But, upon re-reading, mnmitchall's post, I see that Ancora offers the prezzo fisso, too. I agree with you that they are serving smaller portions with the prezzo fisso, though they are quite open about it. In fact, doesn't every restaurant do that? You can't serve multiple courses of full portions without patrons walking out feeling stuffed. Still, I think $30 isn't bad for four courses. The better value seems to be (I've never tried it myself) the $40-for-two prix fixe dinners at Ristorante on Tuesdays.

              But, I will reiterate a point I've made before and that is, I've always been puzzled that the Twin Cities doesn't have great Italian food given the genuine Italian presence it has had for several generations now. I don't have any Italian restaurants in my rotation of favorites.

              P.S. to mnmitchalls--I've always been happiest on my few visits to the Lucis when I've ordered the pasta...


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I agree that $30 for a "tasting menu" as they called it was a good deal but I still feel snookered by the Hawaiian Sunfish. I thought it would be opah or something more flavorful. I am also looking for that genuine Italian place. I thought Ristorante Luci might have been a contender with the cool PBR sign on top.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Wait, TDQ, you've been to I Nonni, right? You don't consider it great Italian food? Just curious....

              2. Ristorante used to be a very very good experience. Ancora not so much. Sounds like Ancora's now in the to be avoided category and if that's the case, I'd guess Ristorante has probably gone down a notch or two.

                1. It is a good thing that I checked this board after I visited Luci, or I may have been dissuaded from trying it. This restaurant was not recommended by anyone but we like to try different places and the truth is that we have found maybe one or two places in the Twin Cities that offer good Italian...and it's still not on par with what we find in Chicago.

                  It is the exception for me to walk out of a dining experience and rate it an A.
                  This was an A for exceeding all expectations.

                  Mussels in a tomato and (brussel sprouts??) sauce. Excellent. The mussels were small but the taste popped, in a good way.

                  The Caesar salad was simple but delicious. The croutons were seasoned well and placed just before plating.

                  We split a Spaghetti Carbonara...The pasta was perfectly cooked and the egg, bacon and seasonings complimented each other perfectly.

                  My wife had the Scallops and she was found of it. I thought they were good, but I have had better. I recall having better at the Dakota and possibly at Babalu, years ago, before they closed.

                  I had the ranch steak with a pesto puree. Perfectly prepared and presented (could have used a little more seasoning).

                  Our service was outstanding. A very young but mature for her age, 22-year-old, who knew the menu and offered exceptional insight.

                  Our bill was $145 (including a bottle of Spanish red) and we left there feeling it was worth every penny.