Gianni’s Serves Super Steaks and Service

by | Nov 2017

Gianni’s Steakhouse

Photo: Emily J. Davis

Enjoy the season with fine dining.

White-tablecloth dining is alive and well in downtown Wayzata. Gianni’s Steakhouse showcases elegant steaks, chops, seafood, lake fish and salads in a tradition that goes back more than 20 years.

When it’s time to celebrate, this is the place. You’ll find truly nostalgic steakhouse fare, including fine wine, tableside salad, chilled shrimp, papallete potatoes—and, of course, the steaks. But the occasion need not be a fancy one (although Gianni’s does anniversaries, birthdays and other milestones exceptionally well). With gracious service and an expertly prepared menu, an ordinary day turns extraordinary here, whether it’s dinner out with the family or a happy hour toast. A top-quality steak accompanied by a generously cheesy papallete and glass of wine will take the chill out of any fall evening.

A Lake Minnetonka institution, the dinner-only restaurant bestows casual elegance at every point. Gianni’s staff extends first-class service that is appropriately welcoming and paced. “It’s a neighborhood restaurant that happens to serve the best steak ever,” says owner Terri Huml. Her goal is to do everything in the finest way possible for an overall superlative guest experience. “We’re not just in the restaurant business; we’re in the hospitality business,” she says.

Gianni’s commitment to great food and service, period, is evident in its loyal customers. “Seventy percent of our customers are repeat,” Huml says. When local residents come in, they are likely to see people they know. And out-of-towners visit Gianni’s, too. “Believe it or not, we get a lot of visitors from China,” Huml says. “One of our staff [who recently returned to school] speaks Chinese and greets them in Mandarin.”

Gianni’s has a dedicated staff of 47. “The line cooks have been here since we opened in 1996,” Huml says. “It’s a great place to work… This is like family, and we treat everyone as such.”

The approach offers delicious results to diners. In the kitchen, Gianni’s takes no shortcuts in food preparation and uses fresh ingredients; the meats and seafood are never frozen.

Of course, steak and seafood dominate here. “We have menu items for every price range: $15 hamburgers, $25 chicken dinners and $28 steak,” says Huml. The selection covers all the steakhouse staples plus lighter foods, including salads. New temptations are always on the horizon. A kale and quinoa salad with smoky almonds is a vegan option, and meat-eaters can add free-range chicken or tenderloin on top for additional protein.

Meats are sourced from Niman Ranch, and only the top two percent of cuts make the restaurant’s grade for prime beef. Steaks are cut by hand in-house and dry aged. It’s a laborious process, but the caliber of the final product reflects the extra care. Steaks are grilled to order at 1,500 degrees. A good outer char seals in melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Want a classic recommendation? The filet mignon is “to-die-for good,” Huml says. The bone-in ribeye is another popular choice for beef; any bone left in the cut increases the flavor of steak.

Even the little things make a big difference. The roasted garlic bulb that accompanies beef dishes is a garnish to be savored. Use the garlic instead of butter to smear over toothsome white bread; happily, the bread basket is kept filled throughout the meal.

To fill your “meat and potatoes” supper, opt for the papallete potatoes. Butter (and a lot of it) transforms shredded potatoes into a thick, crispy disk, and cheddar, sour cream and onions oozes out of every bite. Two pans are required to cook the potatoes  to an even golden brown. The dish’s enormous size dictates sharing.

For greens, the spun salad exhibits particular charms. Live drama unfolds as it’s prepared tableside. A cloth-covered cart, brimming with tidy bowls of vegetables, meat, seafood and condiments, appears. The server makes the salad to order with command precision, including the guests’ choices—options include red onion, black olives, pickled peppers, tomatoes, croutons, blue cheese crumbles, bacon bits, egg, shrimp, anchovies and Caesar dressing. With a touch of the hand, a filled stainless steel bowl spins in an ice bath. The quick motion of two over-sized spoons helps the salad whirl into a completed toss.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Dozens of wine and hand-crafted cocktail choices, along with snacks, fuel a robust happy hour. Even the popcorn has a luxuriant bent, with white truffle oil, sage and parmesan cheese. “It’s a great happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m.,” Huml says. (Happy hour is Monday-Saturday.)

An ever-changing wine list boasts a couple hundred vintages, and Huml is proud of what Gianni’s has to offer. “We just won an award from Wine Spectator Magazine,” she says. Only 13 restaurants in Minnesota attained the award of excellence. Gianni’s wines hail from California, Italy, France, Spain, Argentina and beyond.

After indulging in a steak with all the trimmings, a dessert might be in order. Continue your luxurious meal with housemade crème brûlée, key lime pie or other sweet lures. Gianni’s also has drinks that are suited for dessert time: ports, Scotch, whisky and even old-time ice cream drinks are on the roster.

From time to time, Gianni’s sponsors themed wine dinners, special promotions and other events. Want to plan a private get-together? A room is available for wedding parties, grooms’ dinners and other group gatherings. (Call ahead to book, and plan in advance—Huml says the private dining area’s schedule fills up quickly.)

During boating season, take advantage of the dockside to-go service. A golf cart delivers takeout orders to boats along the Wayzata docks. And while we’re at it, since Minnesotans are always thinking about summer, we’ll mention the beautiful patio. Gianni’s Lake Street location offers scenic water views and excellent people watching. Ready for June yet?

Table Top

Set your harvest or Thanksgiving tablescape with suggestions from Excelsior Florist.

At Thanksgiving, everyone gathers around the table—so a festive floral arrangement is a perfect focal point. “They are a work of art in the middle of your table,” Excelsior Florist owner Karen Frazier says.

The scent of freshly arranged flowers (yep—even in late fall) invites smiles and pleasant conversation. “Centerpieces make wonderful hostess gifts, because it’s something they don’t necessarily buy for themselves,” Frazier says.

Her suggestions for Thanksgiving tabletop arrangements reflect the harvest theme: Mums and hydrangeas are good starting points, but fall centerpieces can (and should) showcase more than just blossoms. Consider adding gourds, pumpkins, dried seed pods, pheasant feathers, cattails or wheat. Varied textures add visual interest and bring the vibe of the crisp outdoors in.

Colors mirror the season, too, with roasty shades of orange, yellow and brown. While earth tones are the primary focus, don’t be afraid of bold colors. Add the unexpected with a splash of contrasting color. Karen Frazier suggests ruby red and other jewel tones.

Plan the centerpiece to match the shape of the table: a round arrangement for a round table, and a rectangular arrangement for a rectangular table. Repetition of shape balances design.

Baskets and cornucopias make good fall containers. “People bring them in and we refill them,” Frazier says. “There are some people that stick to that tradition. It’s a family tradition to bring in a basket or cornucopia every year…It’s family time, and that’s the No. 1 thing,” she adds.

Budget at least $50 for a professionally made centerpiece, and plan ahead. The holidays are a busy time for everyone. “A week would be nice, but we can do it in a day or two,” Frazier says.


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