We’ve been to Bar La Grassa a handful of times. It is one of my favorite places to go out to share a special meal. Why? I am universally pleased by fresh pasta and that, combined with Bar La Grassa’s bustling atmosphere makes for an enjoyable dining experience.
When it is just the two of us, we usually choose to sit side-by-side at the long counter that separates the kitchen’s front line from the central dining room. An open-kitchen in a nice restaurant is no longer uncommon, but spending the meal perched directly at eye-level with the kitchen staff in the midst of busy preparation makes for a fascinating, voyeuristic experience for a diner who is interested in the process behind the product.
To me, the front-row vantage point is a marvel. There is constant, well-choreographed motion. Each person moves though the rhythms of their kitchen duties with the calm agility that comes from practice and repetition.
This kitchen’s output is impressively efficient and quite tasty. Bjorn has occasionally ventured into somewhat adventurous territory, ordering the braised rabbit and sweetbreads that make their way on to the menu. Tonight, we decided to share a few small plates, so he stuck to the meat-free options.
Everyone and their brother crows from the rooftops over the Lobster and Soft Egg Bruschetta at Bar La Grassa. I have no doubt that its is amazing. I’ve found that the other somewhat uniquely topped bruschettas are also fun to try. We sampled the Gorgonzola Picante Bruschetta with Peperonata. The thick slices of bread, grilled before our very eyes are rustic and ample, and the slight char is lovely. For once, a bruschetta that has enough bread to hold its toppings! It’s the little things in life, isn’t’ it?
We decided to share two small pastas, the first, from the “fresh pasta” column on the menu, Silk Handkerchiefs with Basil Pesto. I thought this pasta was tasty, but to be honest, we both agreed my homemade Mandilli de Saea al Pesto is far better! This dish is at its best when a silky, almost transparently thin fold of pasta is just cooked, then gently coated with a melting, creamy pesto that covers each fold in a thin, uniform, glistening green. Rolling delicate mandilli and grinding pesto to the texture of cream is a bit of a persnickety process. It is not conducive to speed or mass production. Bar La Grassa’s noodles were thin, but a little too soft, and the pesto tended to the chunky and too-oily side. It is somewhat a matter of execution, but more a matter of taste and preference, and of course, the effort that goes into making it at home makes it better. I am not the only one who thinks they can pull of this dish just as well meal at home…
Our second pasta selection, from the “filled pastas” category on the menu was the Mushroom and Tallegio Agnolotti. We both liked this dish though by the end, I thought the mushrooms were over-salted. The wrapped-candy-shaped Agnolotti were tender and filled with a perfectly lovely Tallegio. This was Bjorn’s favorite dish of the meal.
One of the feats Bar La Grassa has somehow managed to accomplish is to be at once swanky and unpretentious. To me, this is the perfect combination of characteristics for a restaurant in the Minnie Apple, the hip-n-homey heart of the Midwest. The the restaurant has the typical “see and be seen” vibe of an upscale restaurant yet the hosts are welcoming and always find us a place even when the median fashion sense of the restaurant’s clientele eclipses ours. I have, in fact, seen and said a quick “hello” to Minneapolis food personality, Andrew Zimmern during a previous visit with Bjorn and my mother. In contrast to the overall swankiness, I’ve dined next to a couple decked out in Minnesota Golden Gopher gear from head to toe. The highfalutin to homespun contrast also comes through in the restaurants serving ware. If you are looking at your plate, you might think you are dining in the humble kitchen of an Italian Grandmother rather than the spacious dining room of Isaac Becker, a James Beard Award-winning chef. All the food comes out on heavy, standard-issue restaurantware plates with all varieties of patterns. There is also the pleasant contrast between the kitchen’s credentials to price. The head chef and the restaurant have received plenty of accolades, however, it is possible to have an appetizer, a few small plates and a few glasses of wine or beer and dessert, and still spend under one hundred bucks. And to leave totally satisfied.
We don’t often order dessert, but because of sharing small plates, we still had room. We selected the luscious, Dark Chocolate Pot de Crème with a Hazelnut Nougatine which was a magnificent finish to our meal. I love the fact that it was served in a little canning jar. I stole this idea from Wise Acre Eatery and used it all summer to serve individual portions of salad and condiments. I loved the Pot de Crème. What a treat.
We have found that Bar La Grassa consistently offers a solid Italian dining experience. Bar La Grassa’s execution and noble parentage thoughtfully contrasts with its “room at the counter” welcome and good value. Given the opportunity to gawk into a high-end kitchen while dining from a menu curated by a James Beard award-winning chef, will we go back? You betcha.
*For the record, I used my phone without flash to capture these quick shots, so they are a little lower in quality, but I’m not going to be that person who totally irritates her dinner date and other guest by noticeably photographing her meal. But really, who isn’t documenting absolutely everything these days? If Adam Roberts from Amateur Gourmet does it, why can’t I?