When a new restaurant opens in Cooper Young, I add it to the top of my must-visit list. But when an old friend opens a new restaurant in Cooper Young, I go running. Josh Steiner and his friendly staff have turned the "cursed" corner of the foodie intersection into a lunch and dinner hot spot, all due to the creative execution behind Strano Sicilian Kitchen and Bar. Opened just a few weeks ago to the public, the Italian kitchen is innovative and impressive, especially for a chef/owner my age!
Chef Josh immediately greeted us with a warm smile and hug. His genuine passion and grit were obvious as he explained the inspirations behind his rich menu. I requested that Josh pick out his favorites for us to try, adding a mystery approach to the "classic casual" dining experience. Immediately, he told us to order the following: fried olives, fennel all' arancia salad, grilled swordfish, and rack of lamb.
After ordering, you will be offered a complimentary choice of one of five bread options -- pizza bread, that is -- with infused lemon olive oil. I never, ever turn down bread and butter; but this unique starter immediately set Strano apart from any other Italian restaurant in the city. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the bread was addicting.
The olives were simply awesome. Super crisp and crunchy. I usually associate "fried" with grease, but this wasn't the case in the least. Plus, I am a huge olive fan, so the tang of a piping hot, cheese-stuffed green olive was fantastic. I wish I could replicate this finger food for a party!
The fennel and orange salad literally shaped the restaurant, according to Chef Josh. While there's a lot going on on the plate, each ingredient represents a Sicilian flavor component that has driven Josh to his culinary success today. See those unrecognizable yellow discs on top of the spring mix? Well, those are drops of olive oil, which have been transformed into solid discs on Chef's "anti-griddle." I watched the magic happen back in the kitchen -- liquids are cooled into a frozen solid consistency, which then reverses into a melt-in-your-mouth experience as soon as you take a bite. My mind is still blown over that artistry!
And holy moly, those lamb chops. The plate was sprawling with color and technique. The five lamb chops were plump and juicy with a sweet balsamic glaze. I was so into that glaze, that it became my new dipping sauce for the pizza bread. The grilled vegetables (from squash and zucchini to asparagus and a dome-smoked artichoke heart) were beautifully overwhelming. My mom and I couldn't manage to finish this plate, even together. So, while expensive on the menu, the size of these dishes were well worth the price.
The swordfish completely contrasted the lamb chops, which I found to be a nice juxtaposition on our table. A simple bed of housemade tagliatelle (my favorite pasta shape) was tossed in white wine, olive oil, lemon, and caper. The sizzling swordfish steak, lightly charred and seasoned with black pepper, was a lovely portion. I enjoyed (almost) every bite of this modest, clean plate.
And a surprise almond tiramisu to finish off the night? Yes please. Josh's spin on the classic was as sweet as it was innovative. Almond brittle pop rocks covered the top layer; and yes, the pop rock effect actually worked! Again, mind blowing.
Chef Josh's effort and culinary technique shine through every single plate. I look forward to sharing many more experiences in Strano -- I've got to try the famous Sicilian pizzas and paninis for lunch on the patio. Thank you, Josh, for showing Memphis that anything is possible with grit and passion!