by Nancy Stiles
Traditionally, St. Louisans looking for great Italian food head straight to the Hill. These days, though, the love is spread out a little bit more. There are still decades-old, classic restaurants on the Hill, but it no longer has a monopoly for that perfect first date spot, complete with pasta and good wine. Check out our current favorites -- and let us know yours in the comments.
Acero (7266 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-644-1790)
Jim Fiala's Acero is entirely unlike the traditional Italian restaurant. It's elegant and spare, with the menu to match. The front patio is delightful in warm weather, and your server will explain the provenance of everything, down to the Buffalo's milk cheese. The star, though, is the egg raviolo: egg yolk wrapped in delicate pasta, served on a bed of mascarpone, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Giovanni's on the Hill (5201 Shaw Avenue; 314-772-5958)
On the other side of the spectrum, Giovanni's is a Hill institution. Impeccable white tablecloths, deferential waiters, perfect Alfredo sauce, and a famous guest list to boot. Giovanni's counts multiple presidents, Oprah and even Frank Sinatra as guests over the past 40 years. Try the veal chop with black truffle sauce or the lobster risotto. It's the place for fine dining, Italian or not -- consider it the little black dress of restaurants.
Mad Tomato (8000 Carondelet, Clayton; 314-932-5733)
Chef Vito Racanelli Jr. just keeps getting better and better. First Big V's, then Onesto, and now, the great Mad Tomato. It's rustic, but still upscale -- entrees are served in cast iron skillets. There are also delicious Neapolitan-style pizzas and antipasti that shouldn't be ignored. Our favorite is the "Hunter's Egg," an egg poached in tomato broth over polenta. Or go ahead and get a whole rack of lamb, if that's what you're feeling. Either way, you'll leave full and satisfied.
Lorenzo's Trattoria (1933 Edwards Street; 314-773-2223)
Lorenzo's is another Hill go-to, but it gives you a more casual setting without downgrading the food. The osso bucco is basically a religious experience: fork-tender braised veal shank with marrow (a.k.a. the "butter of the gods") inside, complete with a marrow spoon so you can spread it on some warm bread. Just try not to fill up on those tasty breadsticks first.
I Fratellini (7624 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-727-7901)
Zoe Robinson Pidgeon may be busy expanding her Frenchrestaurant in Clayton, but before Bar Les Freres, there was I Fratellini. It's tiny, too, but somehow just right. Chef Ny Vongsaly's menu has classics like short ribs braised in red wine and can't-miss appetizers like Belgian endive stuffed with fresh mozzarella and then wrapped in prosciutto. Feeling frisky? Try the rabbit-spinach ravioli. Oh, and definitely save room for dessert.