While recently traveling with Dominic Baker, the chief engineer and international sales manager for Focal loudspeakers, we took one of my better dealers in the St. Louis area out to dinner. The dealer suggested LoRusso's Cucina on the famous "Hill" in St. Louis. I had never been to - or heard of - LoRusso's Cucina. But according to one of the guys, it's one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
Rich LoRusso is a third generation Sicilian whose grandmother baked bread in a backyard oven on the Hill when Rich was a young boy. With is wife, Terri, they opened LoRusso's in 1986. They bill the restaurant "Not Your Usual Italian Restaurant".
Although part of the Hill, LoRusso's is further west of the bulk of the Hill area restaurants. Located on Watson Road west of Hampton and near Arsenal (see map), it's no wonder why I'd never seen or heard of LoRusso's in the past. Well, I was excited to try a new Italian restaurant in St. Louis.
LoRusso's has ample parking on the west side of their building. And it's well lit, too. It's a short walk to the front door of LoRusso's. Once inside, you're greeted by a hostess just inside the front door. Actually, Terri LoRusso was the one who seated us at a table for six just inside the main dining room.
The atmosphere is similar to many Italian restaurants/supper clubs that I've eaten at in the past. Lots of dark wood walls, dimly lit, but not too dark. The tables are spacious and give you a lot of room, but not too large where you can't carry on a conversation with the person directly across from you.
The dinner menu is vast and varied. They also feature a number of nightly specials of either a seafood or pasta dish. That evening their seafood special was a pan-seared scallop dish served with a white wine and lemon sauce. That sounded good.
In fact, a lot of stuff sounded good. The tutto mare is always a great St. Louis Italian dish and I'm sure LoRusso's did a fine one. They also had a tortellini with tomatoes, peppers and chicken dish that evening for their pasta special. Their regular tortellini looked great, too. And they had a cannelloni dish with tubes of pasta stuffed with beef, veal and spinach. Oh, man! I was having troubles and I wasn't even halfway through looking at the menu.
The rest of the menu featured chicken, beef, and veal entrees. I was so torn on what to get, it all sounded so wonderful.
But before we ordered, we decided to get a bunch of appetizers. Being that it was Dominic's first trip to St. Louis, we had to order the local favorite, toasted raviolis. And we also ordered a couple plates of the Scampi Spinachi - jumbo shrimp grilled, then served over a bed of cooked spinach leaves and drizzled with a spicy lobster broth. And we also ordered up the Calamari and a plate of the grilled eggplant - thin strips of eggplant lightly grilled and served with roasted peppers, mozzarella, olives and sprinkled with asiago cheese. We were hungry.
When it came to ordering dinner, I let everyone order before me - mainly because I STILL didn't know what to get. One of our guests ordered the scallops special, and another ordered the tortellini special. One guy ordered the tenderloin Mudega - marinated and breaded tenderloin medallions topped with prosciutto, wild mushrooms and a white wine sauce. And the other guy ordered the Ziti con Vodka - ziti served with Italian sausage in a spicy vodka sauce.
Dominic ordered the Pescatore Linguini - linguini with shrimp, scallops, mussels in a tomato sauce. And when it came to me, I was still in the dark as what to order. Our waitress finally talked me into getting one of their house specialties, the Chicken Joshua - a marinated chicken breast, grilled and topped with Fontana cheese, served with grilled asparagus with a tomato white wine sauce drizzled on top. Sounded great.
In the meantime, I also ordered a couple bottles of wine from LoRusso's very extensive wine list. We got a couple of the 2001 Jordan Cabernet's from the reserve wine list - a great old standby wine that never fails to please. And it was reasonably priced at $80 a bottle. I've seen this priced at well over $100, upwards to $130 a bottle, in restaurants.
The food came and the presentation looked great. We all dug in. Everyone said their food was superior. Except me - it always happens. The chicken was overcooked and tough. The asparagus was limp and tasteless. It was not a good meal.
But the rest of the dishes looked and smelled wonderful. And from the expressions of satisfaction from everyone, it turns out I had the dud meal of the evening.
I wasn't going to complain, but one of the guys - the one who recommended the place - told the waitress that my dinner was sub-par. He said, "I've eaten here for over 15 years and have never gotten a bad meal at this place. This guy brought us here this evening and his meal was not up to LoRusso standards."
I was somewhat embarrassed that he made a fuss, but he said, "No, no. Rich is the kind of guy who would rather be told about a bad meal than to have one slide by."
The waitress left and Terri LoRusso came over to apologize. She said that Rich was not the chef that evening, it was their second line chef. I told her that it was no big deal, the chicken was a little over-cooked (actually, it was WAY over-cooked). She asked if she could comp us on desserts and we couldn't say no - although we were all just stuffed.
She had the waitress bring out the dessert tray and she tempted us with tiramisu, cheesecake, chocolate cake, and other scrumptious looking items. I went with the tiramisu, which - I was told - is made by an old lady especially for LoRusso's. It was good, but not as good as the tiramisu at Missouri Baking Company.
The bill for the six of us - including wine - came to just under $500 with tip. These guys deserved the meal. They're a good dealer for me and good guys. We had a great time and even though my dinner was not that great, I'll be back to LoRusso's. But I won't be ordering the Chicken Joshua.
(Update - I have since been back to LoRusso's on a couple of occasions and DID NOT get the Chicken Joshua. I got a pasta dish one time that was outstanding and in the summer of 2011 my wife and I went there with our friends and their son after a Cardinals game. I had the meatloaf special that evening that rivaled the taste sensations of my meat loaf. Everyone raved about their food. The Chicken Joshua from my first visit was obviously an anomaly and I was going to do a proper update - complete with pictures - but I accidently dumped all the pictures from LoRusso's as I was trying to save them on my computer from my phone.)