Inspired Appetizer and Wine Pairings in the Lake Minnetonka Area

Smart appetizer and wine pairings.
Wash down your order of softshell crab with a cup of Kariho cold sake.

Is there an app for that? Sure—an appetizer, that is—and with it, a well-matched glass of wine. Chefs who value first impressions strut their stuff with starters, which explains why a restaurant’s appetizers can be more interesting than the entrées. A meal of appetizers offers an excitingly diverse variety of flavors; throw in the perfect glass of wine, et voilà: dinner. If we had our druthers, we’d subsist on appetizers and wine alone—elegance and simplicity in itself.




Bacio’s plump. round crab cakes might as well be named crab balls. The loosely bound chunks of lump crab collapse with the first touch of a fork, rich in flavor yet miraculously light in texture, cleverly laced with lemongrass and vanilla. A glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc was a no-brainer: The astringent notes of grapefruit and gooseberry handily countered the richness of the crab cake. Three stand-up sauces—sweet chili, lemony vinaigrette and lemongrass aioli—do dipping duty but they are almost superfluous. We insist you try the crab cakes naked so you can appreciate this delicate marriage of crab and herb. Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, $11.50; crab cakes, $14. 1571 Plymouth Rd., Minnetonka; 952.544.7000



Gianni’s Steakhouse

Another great thing about appetizers? They’re fast. If you’re short on time, you can still enjoy high-class nosh. Case in point: the beef tips starter at the much-publicized temple of meat, Gianni’s. Generous nuggets of high-quality beef are simply sautéed in beef fat and served in a tangle of snow peas and pea shoots. Two accompanying sauces steal the spotlight: a spicy, tart chili and deliriously creamy horseradish. We craved a fishbowl of a big red to heighten the robust flavors, and were introduced to a spicy, complex Malbec from Argentina—a match made in heaven. We savored the combination at the lively bar and felt oh-so-urbane. Malbec Piatelli Argentina, $11; beef tips, $10. 635 E. Lake St., Wayzata; 952.404.1100


Blue Point

Blue Point serves up dozens of their eponymous oysters, freshly shucked and ensconced in a glittering bed of ice. Each fat oyster is bracing and briny, like a waft of sea breeze. Nothing but Champagne can do these mollusks justice—or, in our case, a modest bubbly from the Columbia River Valley in Washington. We chose well: Each sip was as zingy and nose-tickling as the oysters’ fresh horseradish garnish. A squeeze of lemon completes the scene, but you can go for cocktail sauce or champagne vinaigrette as well. The final question remains: to chew or not to chew? Domaine Ste. Michelle blanc de noirs, $8; Blue Point oysters, $1.80 each. 739 Lake St. E., Wayzata; 952.475.3636



Their tagline is “The Wine People,” so it makes sense to stop at Haskell’s for a casual sip and bite. This fun, friendly joint happens to be connected to a liquor store, so the wine prices are jaw-droppingly low. We ordered up a basket of the ever-popular deep-fried calamari and washed it down with a large glass of cold, clean pinot grigio, lemony and sharp—do we detect a hint of melon?—which easily cut the fat and the salt of the extra-crunchy calamari. We found ourselves wrangling over the last savory crumb. Travanto pinot grigio, $6; calamari, $10. 1 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.0937



McCormick’s Pub and Restaurant

We love to throw ourselves into the hands of a savvy server and eat whatever it is that they recommend. The able bartender at McCormick’s suggested the antipasto plate and pinot noir pairing—a dynamic duo indeed! The wine was earthy, with lively notes of cherry, spice and caramel. The bounteous meat and cheese plate was stunning: soft pink and white slices of mortadella and peppery discs of finocchiona (fennel) sausage; a nutty gruyere, crumbly bleu d’Auvergne and warmed camembert. The best part may have been the embellishments: a tart-sweet rhubarb cherry compote, Marcona almonds, thinly sliced apple, cornichons, spiced walnuts, olives, pickled jalapeno, and two kinds of mustard. Humble crackers made an unobtrusive conveyance. We concocted myriad combinations of cheese, meat and garnish, and the sturdy pinot noir consistently kept apace. Sequana Sta. Lucia Highlands pinot noir, $11; cured meat and cheese plate, $15. 331 Broadway Ave. S., Wayzata; 952.767.2417

Christos' Taverna Platter pairs perfectly with a full-bodied red like Agios Onoufrios.


Yumi’s Sushi Bar

The softshell crab appetizer at Yumi’s is as breathtaking as the spacious new location. A single fat crab, bisected, lounges on a pristine white plate like a precious object for contemplation at a museum. Don’t contemplate too long: it’s best hot, with a quick dip in citrusy ponzu sauce. The exterior is delicately crispy, while the interior answers with soft, sweet crabmeat. Cold sake is called for here: not exactly fruit of the (grape) vine, but the perfect beverage pairing nevertheless. There is a whole page of sakes to choose from—a bit confusing for sake newbies like us, but our affable server gave us a short primer and recommended one suited to our preference (dry). The crystalline liquid was poured to overflowing, thus ensuring good fortune. Kariho sake, $11.95; softshell crab, $11.95. 217 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.1720




A taverna platter at Christos includes a chorus of taste sensations such as marinated octapodi, garlicky hummus and smoky melintzanosalata (eggplant spread). A fluffy pile of hot pita bread goes a long way, while cucumbers, olives and pepperoncini add crunch, tang and zip. The menu boasts a selection of 14 Greek wines, which warrant a recommendation from your server. The Agios Onoufrios—named after a saint from the island of Cyprus—is a spicy, full-bodied red made from cabernet sauvignon and indigenous Cyprus varietals. There’s plenty of garlic in these appetizers, but this wine will not be intimidated. Agios Onoufrios, $7; taverna platter, $11.95. 15600 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka; 952.912.1000


Blvd Kitchen and Bar

These wings are hefty and smoky enough to entertain a red wine, but since it is chicken we decided to stick with a traditional white wine pairing. We went big and bold with an oaky, buttery chardonnay from the Russian River Valley region in California. The pairing was well-wrought. We happily gnawed away at nicely charred chicken bits dunked in blue cheese cream, fortified by frequent slugs of this golden elixir. Buehler, Russian River, $11; wings $9-$10. 11544 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka; 763.398.3200




Biella offers a tempting selection of piccoli piatti—small plates—but it was the chef-driven lamb meatballs that claimed our hearts. Three golf-ball sized spheres were dolled up with a citrus and shaved-celery salad and sweet apricot-mint compote on a foundation of bright pink harissa aioli. The tender meatballs were intense with dusky Moroccan spices, cannily tempered by the ethereal salad and sweet compote. A glass of earthy, spicy rosso di Multipulciano both accentuated the Moroccan flavors and cleared the palate with an efficient tannic astringency. Nottola Rosso di Multipulciano, $8; lamb meatballs, $11. 227 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.8881