Off in the bottom right corner of Bar La Grassa‘s menu is a short list of “contorni,” side dishes to accompany main courses or serve as antipasti. Generally simple preparations of quality ingredients (think roasted cauliflower, seared asparagus, braised artichoke, or grilled fennel), contorni are meant to play a supporting role. But on rare occasions, these sidekicks outshine the stars, like an opening band that outperforms (and pisses off) the headliner. This is exactly what occurred on a recent visit to Isaac Becker’s sleek Italian restaurant in Minneapolis’s North Loop.
After ordering bruschetta and pastas to share family style, we searched for some foliage to balance out our carbo-loading. A new menu item, grilled escarole with salsa di pepe and sheep’s milk cheese ($7), caught our eye. Before our attention could wander off to a different section of the menu, our enthusiastic server gushed about the escarole and sealed the deal.
While sampling an assortment of tasty pastas, a few solid bruschetta, and our lone contorno, we reached a spontaneous consensus: The new kid on the block blew away the menu standards. The escarole kicked ass. Its grilled leaves were smoky and sultry, the sauce tangy and tantalizing, and the snowdrift of Manchego light and luxurious. The dish was exceptionally balanced, super flavorful, and just flat-out awesome. It’s big enough to share, but vegetarians should be warned: Although it’s not listed in the menu description, there’s fish sauce in the dish. In trying to work out how we could describe it, we landed on “Italian kimchi.” It’s delicious.
When we return to Bar La Grassa, we’ll order backward. Rather than begin with a pasta, meat, or fish and then choose sides to complement it, we’ll build our meal around the contorni. Only the waitstaff will be surprised to hear us ask, “What goes well with grilled escarole?”
Bar La Grassa, 800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis; 612.333.3837