From the first taste of Foie Gras / Lardon Salad to the last bite of Tres Leches Cake, you can tell 112 Eatery is a rare sort of restaurant. The unassuming, relatively small downtown Minneapolis restaurant consistently provides, as it promises, “fine dining without the formality,” with excellent service and an expertly executed menu. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Bar La Grassa, a collaboration between 112’s two-time James Beard Award nominee Isaac Becker and front-of-house go-to man Josh Thoma (of La Belle Vie, Solera, and Barrio), would be a hit along similar lines.
The polished tables and dark wood paneling provide classic appeal, which is complemented by arguably the best seating in the restaurant: the modern-style “kitchen table” pasta bar. Perched upon one of the high bar stools, the diner is afforded the perfect vantage point from which to watch the many kitchen staff grill sliced eggplant, orchestrate food delivery and timing, and occasionally chat with diners.
Despite an initial impression that the dining demographic was comprised of the type of people who seem to seek to “see and be seen,” the personal experience shared between server and diner was anything but pretentious. Our server’s down-to-earth manner put us at ease with the more obscure items on the menu; my dining partner’s spilled drink was shrugged off with a well-tempered joke. His recommendations and assistance resulted in a balanced and complementary personalized tasting menu.
Bar La Grassa, like 112 Eatery, caters to a diverse crowd: Not only are appetizers and bruschetta reasonably priced, but pasta dishes are available in half- or full-size portions. These smaller portions are ideal to accommodate a smaller appetite or a broader, self-designed tasting menu; they also make the place seem more financially attainable for frequent dining.
Apple and Prosciutto with Gorgonzola Parmesan Dressing ($6) is light and crunchy; the gorgonzola imparts a bit more substance and flavor without overpowering the sweetness of the apples. A somewhat heavier Ricotta Pizzette ($6) was comprised of a deep-fried flaky shell stuffed with melted ricotta — the delicate flavor of the ricotta was present, and the temperature (while still hot enough to maintain the melted cheese) was just cool enough to avoid a burned mouth. Bruschetta with Soft Eggs and Lobster ($13) transcended the breakfast connotation of scrambled eggs and instead imparted an earthy, herby flavor contributed in part by chives and truffle oil. Tender lobster and perfectly crisped bread (crispy around the edges, yet not so dry that the dish falls apart upon eating) completes the dish.
Orecchiette with Braised Rabbit ($8 / $16) would be a hit with those most comfortable with Northern Minnesotan cooking: tender rabbit was cooked to lose the gamey taste in favor of its more delicate underlying flavor and was paired with chewy, starchy medallions of fresh pasta. Calamarata with Raw Tuna ($11 / $22) plays on the senses, pitting hot pasta described by our waiter as “similar to calamari rings in shape” in a slightly spicy sauce against a cold mélange of chopped sashimi tuna with a strong cilantro flavor. Though this daring dish may provoke a range of opinions from diners, it’s an inspired creation.
Desserts were equally delightful. The Salted Butter and Caramel Crespelle ($6) was essentially a pair of crepes oozing with hot caramel and paired with vanilla bean-flecked ice cream. The creamy Lemon Lavender Mousse ($6) had a delicate floral flavor and was topped with a light, crunchy wafer (“almost like the top of a crème brûlée,” according to our waiter).
Overall, the food and service provided were both top-notch: The menu caters to diverse tastes, while the waitstaff accommodate the most experienced fine diners and more casual customers alike. 112 Eatery, lauded by critics both local and national, set a high standard. However, it is clear that Becker’s latest project holds the same ideals of unpretentious fine dining — and succeeds. Just over a week in, Bar La Grassa has already hit its stride.
BEST BET: The Soft Eggs and Lobster Bruschetta is delicate yet flavorful; its tender shellfish and crunchy-chewy bread comprise a well-balanced bite that’s hard not to like.
800 Washington Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
CHEF / OWNER: Isaac Becker
Full kitchen service until closing
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-35