Saturday night and the streets of Uptown were deserted. Bomb scare? Windchill? Pig flu?
No, cat fever. The entire zipcode had squeezed into the confines of Il Gatto — “the cat” — in Calhoun Square. At the hostess stand, Minnesota Nice gave way to body-checking. Words not entirely in the Christmas spirit were hurled. Bills in high denomination were offered to the keeper of the list.
OK, I exaggerate, but the point is, Parasole, the hospitality corp that’s got a corner on the corner — China Latino and Stella’s, too — decided to retire Figlio and reinvent the space for another run as casual Italian dining. Good idea? Well, just you try to muscle your way in.
Worth the effort? (Wait: Would you repeat the question? The din is pretty loud in here.) Verdict: Kitty rules. The menu is accessible (the only possible threat to a Norwegian palate is the squid-ink pasta with sea urchins, actually the least tasty of the fare we tried, so that gets you off the hook). Service is super-friendly and informed; portions are XXL and suitable for sharing, and the only entrees over $20 fall in the seafood column. And they’re practically giving away the wine, starting with $5 for a glass-and-a-half of whatever grape somebody stomped that morning. (We enjoyed a $7 glass-plus of Primitivo and, on a second visit, a bottle of Malbec, $19.)
Fluffy probably would lobby for the seafood entrees, hoping for a kitty bag. Instead, we pigged out on the porchetta. It’s insanely delicious and destructive in equal measure —definitely a don’t-ask, don’t-tell kind of dish, composed of an inch-thick round of pearly pork, so tender you won’t need your dentures. It comes rubbed with garlic and (watch out!) banded with an ultra-tasty, rich and melty cummerbund of fat. Not only fat, but the addictively crispy, fat-soaked skin, called cracklings. The dish is further embellished with a sweet-savory blend of mustard and stone fruit to offset a food-induced coma, plus a heap of mealy roast potatoes.
We’d started with the wood-grilled asparagus — not so innocent as it sounds, either, because it comes with a lightly-poached egg on top, to pierce and dress the veggies, along with a dusting of Pecorino cheese. Fantastic! A lighter option is the field green salad, spangled with dried cherries and bits (you’ll need a microscope) of pecans and Gorgonzola.
Pastas are meant as full-bore food, not primi, and the Carbonara number proved textbook-perfect, dotted with pancetta and topped with yet-another egg to puncture. But the Stratocasta — that squid-ink and seafood rendition — tasted merely like mushy hotdish. And the gnocchi came buried most inappropriately under an avalanche of ragu. The short ribs, served with a generous side of saffron risotto, proved another addictive way to offset the ravages of winter.
By this time, the dessert list ($7) made our eyes glaze over. Valiantly we split the sage panna cotta (light on the sage, if you ask me), accompanied by a compote of Port-soaked pears. Nice, but not compelling. But we left purring.
Lake & Hennepin