Editors’ Note: Il Gatto is note closed.
The Parasole restaurant group’s newest eatery (built on the final resting place of the long-doddering Figlio) is proudly describing itself as “Uptown Italian,” a designation that makes an experienced diner worry a bit. Uptown’s a charming place, but not something that necessarily makes a good adjective for a new restaurant. After all: What does “Uptown” mean in this sort of a context? Overpriced? Too cute by half? Watered down for the cheechakos? An Italian menu that manages to work steaks, hamburgers, and french fries into the mix also sets off quiet alarm bells.
It’s not, however, possible to ignore Parasole’s impact on the local scene, so we went, and entrusted our meal selection to the advice of our opinionated waitress. This turned out to be a wise decision.
Here then, are five observations from the meal:
1. Get the Sausage Sandwich
Our actively helpful waitress (see “The Staff’s Terrific,” below) pushed a sausage grinder on me as a staff favorite. Lo and behold, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect restaurant staffers to dig: rich in punchy flavor, simple to make, and easy to eat. A thoroughly toasted bun contains a house-made sausage that’s rich in spice and heat, topped with a spreadable Italian cheese called stracchino that packs its own pepper and herbal kick. Asparagus gives the sandwich a bit of vegetal balance and a pleasant textural snap. The overall package is great — balanced, flavorful, filling, and a mere $10 — including about a pound of decent fries covered in herbs and grated parm.
2. Some Boorish Branding Choices Were Made
The humor that pervades the staff T-shirts and overall branding of the restaurant never gets beyond wordplay alluding to whores and whorish behavior, which, har har, gets old after you spot the second or third reference to “cheap” wine and rooms being rented by the hour. Yes, slutty women are funny. Yep. Got it. Prostitution. Har. The “Ah, Phuket” T-shirts at Chino Latino are Thurberesque by comparison.
A menu reference to non-alcoholic drinks as “spayed” was a particularly fratty touch. Having thoughtful non-alcoholic options for designated drivers, the underage, and the habitually sober is a nice gesture, but it loses some of its charm when you imply that the person who skips alcohol is having a partial experience drained of pleasure.
A paper sack full of house-made spiced doughnuts (“bomboloni” on the menu, $7) is a bit of an odd way to end a meal that might normally be followed by panna cotta or spumoni, but it’s also really entertaining. The bomboloni come out with three dipping sauces including a decent caramel, a somewhat underpowered chocolate, and a strawberry coulis. Best of the three was the strawberry option, which popped with bright flavor and proved to be the liveliest counterpoint to the warm spicy doughnuts.
4. Wine is Central
Visually, wine bottles dominate the room and set the mood for your meal — good luck staying away from the wine list, particularly after a basket of the adequately crusty bread arrives along with a saucer of herbed olive oil. Il Gatto works on a carafe-served “glass and a half” system for its house wines, which is a charming way to do business (and a fine deal at $5 per serving.) Its other wines are priced at $7, $9, and $11 per glass — and neatly organized by price on the menu. Italian wines dominate, not surprisingly, but choices from Australia, California, Argentina, and Germany also make appearances.
5. The Staff’s Terrific
Before we headed out to Il Gatto, we’d heard from other Heavy Table staffers that the staff was really on its game. This turned out to be true. From the hostess to our waitress to the busboy who boxed up our food, the Il Gatto team was cheerful, focused, competent, and, in a word, welcoming. Whatever training or hiring program that’s in place seems to be working; kudos to the team for a job well done.
Italian in Uptown
3001 Hennepin Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole / Matt Kempf
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-23