3001 Hennepin Ave.
It’s back to the future at Calhoun Square. Parella, the latest in a cavalcade of Italian restaurants to hit the streets this summer, occupies the prime corner where, for decades, Figlio commanded the Italian dining scene.
The uncomplicated white interior — lots of sunlight — takes a back seat to the food, as was no doubt the intention of the foodie investors who revived the venue for its much-whispered-about debut and placed their son, Todd MacDonald, in charge of the kitchen.
As might be expected from the near-professional diners behind the launch, the products chosen are first-class, starting with the offer of complimentary sparkling water, bread from St. Agnes, and top-shelf olive oil in which to dip it. And someone clearly has devoted time to training servers (almost a lost art these days) — at least ours, the aptly-named Angel, who answered all our queries with the polish of a quiz-show winner and timed our courses perfectly.
From the antipasti ($6–$12,) we started with a jar of pureed eggplant, smooth and smoky, layered with juicy salted tomatoes as a taste/textural wake-up. Warm toasts are at the ready for spreading. Next, from the primi ($9–$14) we lapped up the offbeat and inspired composition of sweet shrimp with calamari joined in a lemony broth with fresh cranberry and fava beans — color and crunch — along with chicory leaves. (A choice of crudi — called “crudo” here — also is available, as in every ride-the-trend café this season.)
On to the pasta choices (half portions $11–$21): Ours were built upon clearly house-made noodles timed to the millisecond, as if winners in a marathon (which indeed they are). The nice bite of the enticingly unkempt pappardelle set off the juicy, full-flavored wild mushrooms in which they tangled, along with a hint of sorrel and shower of Parm. Superb! So was the strozzapreti number, which incorporated nuggets of sweet and spicy sausage, fennel pollen and a tangy spritz of lemon. The kitchen had just run out of the veal tortelloni “tonnato” or I’d probably have swooned on the spot.
From the seven secondi (most $24–$34) we made two swell selections — first, a whole, wood-grilled branzino, upon which I honed my boning skills to achieve the sweet white flesh, abetted by a porcini mostarda and served with a side of spaetzle (OK, German pasta) grass-bright with arugula. Our second choice, the suckling pig, was sold out, so on to Door Number Three, the touted brick-pressed chicken, served upon a sunflower puree, more arugula and sweet garlic: an overwhelmingly sweet and — for me — unpleasant combo. (When we mentioned this, the only flaw in a lovely meal, the kitchen graciously and unexpectedly removed it from our bill.)
Next time: a side order of watermelon and peaches with almonds and basil. Or the roasted cauliflower with pine nuts and olives. Or — maybe — dessert ($6–$10), which we couldn’t manage: the usual cake-cum-panna cotta-cum-gelato lineup. Cheers for the all-Italian wine list, too.