“Lani” at Valanni

Two words: “fried Oreo.”

That one dessert is lani (“heaven” in Hawaiian) in your mouth. But we’ll get to that soon.

In honor of Fall 2012 Restaurant Week, Luke and I trekked over to Valanni with our friends Wendy and Yanpei. The restaurant specializes in tapas dishes inspired by Latin American and Mediterranean cuisine. The modern interior–a main bar that stretched the length of the restaurant and various smaller tables–served as the backdrop to our two hour dinner. Service was, to put it nicely, “unhurried,” so be prepared for a leisurely meal. Luke, Wendy, and I went with the Restaurant Week menu, while Yanpei ordered à la carte.

GRILLED MERGUEZ (lamb sausage, sauteed peppers, onions): While we imagined that the merguez would come sliced on a plate, it was actually crumbled. It tasted fine to me, although Luke thought it was dry. Good, but nothing that blew either of us away.

BEER BRAISED PULLED PORK FLATBREAD (broccoli rabe, monterey jack cheese): This was also fine, but underwhelming. Could have had a little more meat on top; cheese was also not that noticeable. Luke particularly liked the rabe, which surprised him considering that he isn’t a huge fan of rabe in the first place. Garces Trading Company blows Valanni’s flatbreads out of the water.

WHITE MUSSELS (smoked chorizo, cilantro, mint, roasted corn broth): Wendy made quite the excellent selection with her dish! While it can sometimes seem hard to make mussels special, those were some tasty mussels. They weren’t just bivalves that tasted like the sea; the broth enhanced the mussels with a hint of sweetness from the corn. The generous chunks of chorizo were also spicy and rounded out the savory dish.

After polishing off the appetizers, it was only a matter of time before our entrees arrived. Onto the main course!

GRILLED 8oz FILET (caramelized cipollini onions, bleu cheese-chive-fleur de sel butter, asparagus, roasted portobello mushrooms, red wine reduction): One of our favorite dishes of the night! It was incredibly good; quite flavorful and tender piece of meat (medium rare is the way to go with any steak). The blue-cheese-butter was a welcome enhancement; when it melted into the steak and mixed with the au jus, the explosion of flavors made the filet truly special.

MEAT & SEAFOOD PAELLA (chorizo, chicken, scallops, clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, saffron bomba rice): This was a solid dish overall with a good variety of hearty ingredients. We were both surprised that the dish was a little watery. As a paella dish, it also seemed like there wasn’t enough rice and was mainly lots of “meat and sauce” (which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, just not what we were expecting).

FISH SPECIAL (white fish–tilapia?–with haricots verts and potatoes): Wendy went for one of the day’s specials and was pleased to find that the fish tasted rather mild.

GRILLED 8OZ KOBE BEEF BURGER (applewood smoked bacon, boursin cheese, balsamic red onions, fries, truffled aioli): Yanpei went with the massive burger; it looked fantastic! She agreed that it tasted just as good.

Although we were nearly stuffed to the brim (Yanpei and I both had to get takeout boxes for our entrees), we made sure to save room for dessert! The COFFEE & COCOA POT DE CRÉME (cinnamon whipped cream, chocolate covered espresso beans) was tasty. While much thicker than I imagined, its smooth and creamy texture was luxurious on our tongues.

OREO BEIGNET (vanilla bean ice cream, warm caramel, crumbled oreos): Wow. I was nearly speechless upon having my first true fried Oreo experience. What a place to have it! I was amazed at how the cookie stayed crisp inside the fried dough exterior. The ice cream’s silkiness contrasted the slightly-crisp texture of the Oreo. This easily became one of our favorite dishes of the night.

All in all, it was a very satisfying meal. A walk back to campus was just the ticket for our full bellies.

Luke: ★★★★
Nicole: ★★★★

Valanni ★★★★
1229 Spruce Street
Valanni Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon