Editor’s Note: Parella is now closed.
The restaurant scene in the Twin Cities is booming. A few new excellent places seem to pop up every couple of months, and if you can’t get into one dynamite spot, there are plenty of others. Along with putting out delicious, interesting food, restaurants are upping their service game. Professional, friendly, and informal (read: not stuffy) service is becoming the norm. Local eateries, bars, and coffee shops routinely show up on national “best of” lists, win prestigious awards, and garner national press. It is within this context — this bounty of deliciousness — that we found Parella wanting.
Located in the old Figlio space in Calhoun Square, Parella strives for Italian chic. The space is well lit and airy, but lacks character. Perhaps aware of this paucity of personality, a server during our first meal explained that the gray mark on our wobbly table was a sanded-down bullet. He failed to mention, however, the gap between the booth’s bench and back. We learned of it when our credit card slipped into the abyss. After a failed extraction attempt, we informed the manager of our problem, and he said he’d dive in at the end of the night. Perhaps he didn’t make it out, because we never heard from him.
On all three of our visits, the staff was enthusiastic and friendly, which compensated somewhat for middling service. The same server who eagerly highlighted the table-bullet and took us on a long-winded “tour” of the menu (in which he strongly recommended a few sub-par dishes) didn’t describe components of dishes or ask why we took only a few bites of several items. With only two or three tables, a frazzled lunch server forgot us several times, seemingly because a patron sent back a flatbread. Still, we likely wouldn’t have focused so much on these (and other) service mishaps if the food had bowled us over.
Cured meats from Red Table ($6 each) and a sunny plate of thinly sliced raw scallops, lemon, and pepper ($15, above) grabbed and held our attention until our plates were cleared. A fresh, creative dessert featuring silky panna cotta, granita, and lychee ($8) kept us nearly as engaged, while a few other items piqued, but didn’t hold our interest.
A refreshingly simple salad of greens and herbs ($8) was bright and flavorful, but suffered from too much dressing and not enough pecorino. We also enjoyed a dish of calamari, shrimp, fava beans, and chicory ($14), even though it lacked the smoke from the wood oven that our server had promised. Baked goat cheese and tomato sauce was tasty, but tiny for $13.
The majority of dishes just didn’t live up to the hype or high prices. Although strongly recommended by an eager server, the brick-pressed chicken ($27, below) was moist … and that was about it. A listless sunflower puree took the dish from not bad to sad. We felt similarly about an underseasoned tuna tartare ($16), tough cast-iron mussels ($16), and workmanlike, salty orecchiette with cured pork jowl and kale ($12, above). Had the kitchen not burned the bread of the house panini ($12) we would have enjoyed this Italian-style ham and cheese.
Three dishes captivated us — but for the wrong reasons. When served whole grilled branzino ($25), two of our dining companions whispered in unison, “What is it?” They didn’t refer to the fish, but a mound of slimy purplish creatures on top of the fish. Mollusks? Gummy worms? We settled on sauteed mushrooms before sweeping them to the edge of the plate. Confusion turned to exasperation as we dug in — the fish’s skin was so burnt that the flesh had a distinct flavor of carbon. The side of flavorful spaetzle was the dish’s only redeeming factor.
We felt just slightly better about the baked gnocchi ($10). Although more attractive than the branzino, the dish of gummy blobs floating in tomato sauce should never have made it out of the kitchen. The same was true of the panzanella ($6, above). Coated in mashed avocado and doused with too much vinegar, the soggy bread salad looked even worse than it tasted.
If Parella hopes to overcome its seemingly cursed location, both its front and back of house staffs will need to step up their game, and soon. With the aforementioned abundance of excellent eateries in the Twin Cities, diners don’t need to settle for expensive, uneven food and service.
Paige Latham contributed to this review.
Modern Italian in Uptown, Minneapolis
3001 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis 55405
Mon-Thu: 11:30 a.m.-midnight
Fri-Sat: 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Sun: 10 a.m.-midnight
OWNER / CHEF: Michael Larson / Todd MacDonald
ENTREE RANGE: $12-$32
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No