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Published May 27, 2013, 11:30 PM

Review: Sarello’s doesn’t overwhelm diners with decor, but food’s still top-notch

MOORHEAD – I think Sarello’s has had its Signature Sea Bass ($36) on the menu since there have been sea bass.

By: Eric Daeuber, Special to The Forum, INFORUM

Sarello’s Restaurant & Wine Lounge

ADDRESS: 28 Center Mall Ave., Moorhead

CUISINE: Fine dining

HOURS: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

PHONE: (218) 287-0238


ALCOHOL: Full service

DRESS: As you like

CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

FOOD: ★ ★ ★ ★

SERVICE: ★ ★ ★ ½ stars

AMBIANCE: ★ ★ ★ ½ stars

MOORHEAD – I think Sarello’s has had its Signature Sea Bass ($36) on the menu since there have been sea bass.

I last reviewed Sarello’s in 2002. When I looked at that weathered bit of journalism after my most recent visit, I noticed I had ordered the sea bass back then, too, and the mussels in white wine sauce. I wouldn’t have thought that one’s culinary memory for excellence could store that kind of impulse for as long as it has. But there it is. Every bit as flaky, every bit as firm, subtly sweet and crusted with bread crumbs to give contrast and texture. Dare I say light?

And perhaps this is where Sarello’s excels. It’s not a bold place. There is a hint of high opera about Sarello’s to be sure, but everything points to the experience, not the stage. It is “La Bohème,” not “Turandot.”

Sarello’s has been in the same strip mall in Moorhead for a very long time. It has outlasted just about every fine dining establishment that existed when it first opened its doors, and it hasn’t changed much. For those who are regular customers, this doesn’t matter. It’s a kind of homecoming, like eating in your own dining room. You don’t notice the ceiling. But for those making their first visit, there’s no hiding that the space doesn’t speak of history and it isn’t meant to make a statement. It’s a relatively basic place. But, everything from the walls to the tables is dressed for food.

And the food is well presented. More importantly, the food itself is appropriately dressed.

The ravioli ($28), for example, is stuffed with ricotta, fontina and Parmesan and then tossed with lobster and put to plate in a mild lobster sauce sprinkled with chives.

There is something of comfort food in the presentation and something of uptown in the ingredients. It’s a combination well suited to the down-to-earth with taste.

Sarello’s does beef and bacon well enough, too, the best example being the bison sirloin ($29). Not strictly beef, it still smells of prairie grass and charcoal. Topped with a blackberry sauce and served with charred asparagus and a smoky baked potato, it’s a meal as masculine and diverse as the ravioli is subtle and concurring.

House-made gelato rounds out the meal. Simply put, it’s among the best anywhere.

Service is excellent, if a bit casual for an establishment with this kind of menu, although that’s clearly the trend, as regrettable as it might be.

The wine list is exceptional and it reads like a novel with a character for every story you might bring with you to the table. Highly recommended for any palate to go with any dish at any time, but especially in the summer, is a Steinfeld Grüner Veltliner ($31), or any Grüner Veltliner. It’s a crisp, clean, cool-climate Austrian wine with a spectacular finish. If you must have something leathery and smelling of mocha to go with your sirloin, you can stay this side of $40 with the Tenuta Monteti Caburnio. The wine list changes regularly, but you’ll find wines like these somewhere in the racks.

It’s hard to imagine that this gem has slipped off the radar screen, but if it has, it’s time to reacquaint yourself with some honest dining. This particular restaurant has been a community favorite for a long time, and with good reason.

This review was written exclusively for The Forum

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com