Bar La Grassa

800 Washington Ave N. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 333-3837 • barlagrassa.com

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There is an old saying in the restaurant biz, Holy Fuckoly! I mean I knew it was going to be good, considering it’s the sister restaurant of 112 Eatery, my former favorite in Minneapolis, but I had no idea how good. I mean like world class good. Like Ultimate Italian Restaurant good. Like I-need-to-quote-Bill-Paxton-in-Aliens-2-good- “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.” I never understood what that actually meant until now.

To explain, the linen droppin’ starts in tandem with the eye poppin’ as you pass through the lively dining room on your way to your table, craning your neck at the dishes on other people’s tables like an over-sexed teenage boy walking through Bryant Park during Fashion Week. The piles of jumbo grilled shrimp. The heaping bowls of gnocci. The monumental lobster and egg burschetta. It’s so overwhelming, by the time you get the menu in your paws, you honestly don’t know whether to shit or go blind. So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we deferred to our waiter.

The waiter of which I speak is a half Seminole, half Italian joyful man named Alex, with the longest braided ponytail I’ve seen since Crystal Gayle. But don’t let that throw you. He was ponytailed perfection, nailing it with almost every single recommendation. He was attentive and friendly and masterful at striking that balance between overbearing and MIA.

And now, a dinner so beauteous I actually learned something about myself that night. That I am capable of multiple foodgasms. It started with the best balls of arancini one could ever hope for. Made ridiculously moist with the aid of duck confit, then served over a shallow taleggio pond. But equally life-changing was the soft egg and lobster bruschetta with white truffle oil. An Ultimate on two fronts; scrambled eggs and bruschetta. You simply must get this. You need this. It will single handedly make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you in your life.

For entrees we were in a pasta kind of mood, so we passed on the secondi and doubled down on the primi. One from column A (dry pasta) and one from column B (fresh pasta). Both were stunningly good and equally inventive. The dry pasta being a spicy calamarata with sushi grade raw tuna that melted in your mouth (pictured), cooling the flames. Such a wonderful, textural experience- like the oral equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a hot Summer day.

But as amazing as the tuna pasta was, the gnocci with cauliflower and orange was the stuff of kings. The pillows of potato so unsurpassed I can only recall one equal, the pumpkin gnocci from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And the flavors within it were reminiscent of the brilliance at Piccolo in Venice, CA. Perhaps due to its use of cinnamon and spice. But this was no copy cat. No, this cat was a horse of a different color. Which is even starting to confuse me with the mention of all of these animals. But net, net, just order the friggin’ thing. You will love me for it. And speaking of, you’ll also love me for this tip, there’s a gorgeous $44 dollar bottle of Sangiovese that drinks like champ with all of the above.

The only miss, and by miss I mean mortal, was the crespelle (Italian crepe) with salted caramel gelato. It was certainly good, but after its predecessors, it was condemned to a plight of soaring expectations. I mean anything short of making my face fall off was destined to be a failure. The salted dark chocolate cookie that came with the check, however? Let’s just say I’m scheduled for face replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

***Having been back twice since, I can add a few more dishes in my continued love affair with this restaurant. The first being the Berkshire pork tenderloin with salsa de peperone. It’s pretty incredible, making it a VERY tough choice between this and the pastas above. The chicken is also quite good, breaded and squashed a bit, but juicy as all get out. And while very good, not sure it’s worth passing on some of the other stars I’ve suggested. For smaller plates the shishito peppers were good, but pretty standard (to be read like Dr. Evil). And having now tried two of their other bruschettas, I strongly urge that you stick with the lobster, because the drop off is steeper than Mt. Everest. And last but not least, dessert continues to be where BLG struggles the most. The Pot du Creme was just okay and the ice cream, while the clear winner of the three desserts I’ve tried, is not exactly a tour de force.

5 teeth

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Eataly

200 5th Ave. New York, NY 10010(212) 229-2560 • eataly.com

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I see a lot of people struggling with their expectations for this place, hence the lower than normal reviews on Yelp for a Batali restaurant. That said, this isn’t a restaurant. It is more of a “market,” or as I like to call it, an Italian gourmet food bazaar. And personally, I think it’s the best thing Batali has ever done. By a wide margin. And I’ve eaten at 6 of his restaurants prior to this (Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Tarry Lodge, Mozza & Mozza Pizzeria).

Sure, the place is chaotic and noisy. But if you leave your preconceived notions back at your apartment and go with an open mind, you will see that chefs can be creative in other ways besides what’s on your plate.

That said, the food is excellent, and I have fully completed the rounds, eating at all seven (La Pizza, La Pasta, Verdure, Pesce, Manzo, La Piazza & Birreria) of the restaurants within Eataly, plus the sandwich counters, the fresh pasta counter, cheese case, patisserie, gelato shop and bakery. And this place never ceases to amaze. I mean just think about how difficult it must be to serve this kind of quality at that kind of scale- it’s a feat unlike any other and they pull it off day in and day out. I literally defy anyone to name a place that compares on both scale and quality. It just doesn’t happen. Because normally big means bad. So hats off to Eataly for being a delicious anomaly.

But most of all, I applaud Eataly for not making this place feel like a gimmick or theme restaurant. Granted, the name is quite tragic, but nobody’s perfect.

P.S. A few tips: 1) If you don’t know which olive oil to pick in the section toward the left rear corner, just lean over the aisle and ask someone coming out of  Manzo’s kitchen (their top of the line meat restaurant) which oil they are currently using. They are always kind to point it out, and it’s WAY better than what you’d get at O & CO, but for half the price. 2) Pawlet in the cheese case is incredible. As are many of their cheeses, including the taleggio, fresh ricotta, fresh mozzarella and grana. If you get the ricotta, I highly recommend the almond honey (antipasta case right side of main hall) and a loaf of rustica from the bakery. 3) At the stand up restaurant in the center, do NOT get the fish sandwich written up in New York Magazine. I have no idea what that critic was thinking, but it is literally the ONLY thing I have ever hated at Eataly and Ive easily eaten here over 50 times.

5 teeth