Now Open: Randolfi's
Randolfi's has closed. I can talk to you about the commonalities and differences of Cambodian, Thai, and Vietnamese food for hours on end, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what the difference is between garganelli and farfalle pasta.
I didn't grow up on Italian food. Our Jewish household was a pork-free zone during my youth (it's now filled with pork), which cut out all the delicious sausages and meatballs my friends were eating. Add to that a diabetic father who claims to avoid carbs and you're not eating much pasta.
Occasionally we would go to cheap American Italian restaurants St. Louisans pride themselves on, but even then my brain knew it wasn't worth my time. I know some are going to vehemently and rabidly disagree with, but I think most of the ‘famous’ Italian food on The Hill is outdated rubbish.
It’s American Italian food, not unlike American Chinese food. Watch any travel show where they go eat in Italy and tell me how many times you see them get an enormous plate of red or white sauce, noodles, and hunk of meat.
My love and understanding of Italian food has grown at breakneck speeds over the last 5 or so years. Part of which came from watching Anthony Bourdain's Italian travels or from eating Japanese-Italian food in Singapore, but most from the wave of new, modern Italian restaurants St. Louis has. Places like Acero, I Fratellini, Katie’s Pizza, and Pastaria.
Like chef-owner Mike Randolph's Publico does with Latin American food, Randolfi’s aim is to take the familiar Italian food and elevate it through technique and innovation, giving St. Louis a new taste of what modern Italian cooking can be.
Randolfi's replaces The Good Pie, Mike's well-loved Neapolitan pizza place in The Loop. The interior has been revamped to create a modern but homey vibe, with contemporary light fixtures, tiled floors, and a tin ceiling. I thought perhaps that Mike decided to go with the Italian-theme because of the famous blue oven (it's not easy to move an oven the size of a car), but it goes deeper than that. Two months after Publico opened, Mike's father passed away. "He was Italian, so I thought this would be a good way to pay tribute to him and his family," Mike said.
The first iteration of the idea was rustic Italian, but Mike, "quickly came to realize I had no interest in doing rustic Italian. I thought let's do this my way, let's do it the way we did Publico. It's evolved from there."
I spent a few days with Mike and Russ Bodner ("Russ came on as a sous chef and after working with him, he's now the chef de cuisine."), getting an insight into the opening of a restaurant that I'd never seen. That ranged from the mundane—breaking down boxes, cleaning out freezers, doing dishes—to something I find fascinating: watching a dish come together.
Watching Mike & Russ bounce ideas off of each other to create the best dish went so smoothly, it made me wonder if it was a set up (they promise it was not). In seconds, the gnocchi dish went from pulled rabbit to duck confit. The mussels pasta went from good—but plain—to fantastic in under ten minutes.
All pasta and pizza dough is made in house, just like the tortillas at Publico. The way Mike sees it, "if you're not controlling the base ingredient, you're not controlling the final product."
I dined there this past Sunday for their soft opening, which is where most of these shots come from. A couple of dishes came from some pre-opening tastings. As this was a soft opening, realize that the dishes may be totally different or not even there when you go.
The menu, previously just pizza and salad, is now split into five sections— antipasta, pizza, pasta, meat & fish, and dolci—with about 25 options to choose from. Drink options are immense, just like Publico.
Our first starter was the Hot Salami, a play on the St. Louis classic. I won't go into how it's made (let's just say it involves a pig's head being boiled and pulled apart), but the flavor is excellent, especially when paired with the pickled mustard seeds and roasted garlic.
The Salmon was one of my favorite dishes during the menu testing and it remained one of my favorites last night. Lightly cooked salmon is plated with dollops of smoked horseradish cream, bread, lemon, and herbs. That smoked horseradish cream alone makes me want to order the dish. I want steal it and dip fries into it.
The entrees were all solid. We got the whole roasted sardine, accompanied by a green bean almost-Caesar salad, as well as the perfectly poached black cod.
Pizza was a must-order. I'd had issues in the past with The Good Pie's pizzas being inconsistent, but if they keep up what they served for the soft opening, they have me as a fan. We went with the classic Margherita, though next time I'll be getting the Attina, "the town the Randolfi clan comes from. It's 100 miles inland, between Rome and Naples, just a little mountain village, a market town." The Atina is topped with porcini mushrooms, prosciutto, and an aged Baetje farm goat cheese (aged goat cheese was common in the area).
Pasta is the restaurant's focus, and the ones I've enjoyed all the ones I've tried. My favorite has probably been the duck confit gnocchi, which is simply duck confit and pillowy gnocchi. The salami ragu combines the incredible flavors of Salume Beddu's salami with a slightly sweet, slightly acidic corn soup. The fresh chili mugnaia is a dish traditionally served during the chili harvest in Italy. The noodle is thick—that’s what she said—and typically one single strand, mixed with banana peppers, cubanelles, and arbol chiles.
The desserts were just as enjoyable as the rest of the meal. The chocolate salami with dark cherry and hazelnut cookie dough is perfect for chocolate lovers, while the rest of us can enjoy the seasonal roasted peaches.
I'm always happy to see new businesses going into the Delmar Loop, but I'm extra happy when it's a place serving good food. Even at the soft opening, I thought everything was pretty solid, which is always a good sign. I'm excited to see what Mike and his team do in the coming months.