If attending a screening of the movie Eat Pray Love gets you in the mood for Italian food, you have two choices. The first — hopping on a plane to Rome — may not be the most economical choice these days, so you’d be better off going with Plan B — eating at one of the Twin Cities’ stand-by, high-quality Italian restaurants, such as Broders’ Pasta Bar in South Minneapolis or I Nonni in St. Paul. Since late June, however, local restaurant group D’Amico & Partners has offered a worthy competitor for your pasta dollars with Parma 8200, tucked into a quiet office park just off Normandale Blvd. in Bloomington. Billed as “D’Amico’s take on a classic Italian taverna,” Parma 8200 admirably blends the rustic dishes that traditionalists crave with some updated touches that those with a broader or more adventurous palate will appreciate.
The antipasti selections are a fine example of how familiar plates can be elevated with a few clever ingredient additions or substitutions. Fried mozzarella may be more suitable for T.G.I. Friday’s than a restaurant that serves $13 martinis, but Parma’s fried Sicilian rice balls ($9.50) were an appropriate — and tasty — appetizer, with a summer-sweet marinara sauce and molten mozzarella oozing out of the spherical starter. The addition of locally grown heirloom tomatoes to a classic Caprese salad ($13.50) enhanced the entire dish, from the creaminess of the bufala mozzarella to the freshness of the basil and oregano. It’s not unusual to spot a watermelon salad ($9) on the menu of a Mediterranean-region restaurant, but pairing the fruit with goat cheese instead of the typical feta put this antipasto in a class of its own. The cheese plate ($9.50 for three cheeses, $14 for five) may have benefited from a few more minutes out of the refrigerator, but the accompanying tomato jam and candied nuts helped to warm up the taste of the slightly chilly burrata, crucolo, and mozzarella.
No restaurant can call itself authentically Italian if its pasta isn’t up to snuff, and luckily, Parma’s noodles — a mix of fresh and dried — deliver. Thoughtfully offered in both primi and full portions, you can enjoy a small amount before moving onto a meat- or fish-centric entree, or you can make pasta the centerpiece of your meal — and you won’t be sorry for choosing the latter option. Though the noodles were cooked just a tad past al dente at times, it was not enough to detract from the expertly made sauces that will make you wish for more bread (or an extra scoop of spaghetti) with which to lap up every drop. Penne with tomato cream, vodka, and Parmigiano cheese ($10.50 for primi, $15.50 for full size) may sound like a safe selection, but the zippiness of the garlic in the sauce made it anything but boring. But the more restrained use of garlic in the fusilli with pesto ($12.50 / $16.50) was a smart choice — for once, the flavor of the sweet basil shone through the dish rather than being overpowered by the allium. House-made ravioli with ricotta, tomato, basil, and fruity olive oil ($13 / $17.50) showcased the freshness of each ingredient to make a satisfying supper that didn’t leave us in a carbohydrate coma.
Similar skill was evident in the secondi (entrees) sampled. Chicken alla Parmigiana ($18.50) featured a dinner plate-sized chicken breast with a crispy coating that mimicked the sweetness of the tomatoes in the marinara sauce. The fork-tender beef brasato ($19.50) may have been more apt for a winter menu, but that didn’t stop us from devouring every flavorful bite of the meat. (The accompanying polenta didn’t merit as much praise.) More seasonally appropriate was the pan-seared salmon with spinach, shell peas, and lemon cream ($28). The perfectly cooked fish was delicious on its own, but that lemon cream turned it into an indulgence, and the peas tasted like they just came from the garden.
The dessert menu weighs heavily on the chocolate side, but it’s hard to argue against the merits of a dark chocolate panino with vanilla gelato for dipping ($7). Imagine the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever had, and then replace the cheese with chocolate. Yep, that good. If you’re not feeling the chocolate love, the butterscotch panna cotta ($7) is worth the calories. The intense flavor of a butterscotch candy married with the silkiness of a panna cotta results in a dessert that’s hard to forget — or share.
For all its high points, though, Parma still exhibits a few inconsistencies. With high-quality Italian fare like this, why does it need to include a hamburger on its menu, especially when it already offers a meatball sandwich? Also, what is Masa’s Margarita doing on the cocktail menu? Yes, it’s refreshing, but so is the prosecco cocktail and the wide range of domestic and imported wines. And while a few service slip-ups (e.g., mixing up who ordered the fish and who ordered the beef) can be forgiven at a new restaurant, other gaffes need to be addressed immediately. If you spill a good part of a customer’s martini on the table — and on another guest’s shirt — the drink should be replaced with a fresh one or taken off the bill. And if a frequently vegetarian soup like minestrone contains meat, it’s great that the server mentions it upon ordering, but that detail should also be written on the menu so diners can make more informed choices from the onset of the meal.
As evidenced by a packed house on a recent Saturday night, Parma 8200 has already found its fans among the community, and that list should grow as more people realize there is life in the Normandale Lake Office Park after business hours. Despite its sleek, upscale appearance, the dining room welcomes everyone from date-night couples dressed in their finest to golf shirt- and shorts-wearing Baby Boomers with their kids and grandkids. You probably won’t feel like you’ve been transported to Rome, but once you taste Parma’s fare, you’ll find that it’s more than an ample consolation prize in place of a trip to the big boot.
BEST BET: The watermelon salad ($9) and the salmon with peas and lemon cream ($28), or any pasta.
Italian cuisine in Bloomington
5600 W 83rd St #100
Bloomington, MN 55437
OWNER / CHEF: Richard and Larry D’Amico / Mike Dalton
Mon-Fri 11am-12am (bar menu between 2:30 and 5pm and after 10pm)
Sat 5pm-12am (bar menu after 11pm)
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes on weekends
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $12.50-28