For as much as Minneapolis’ food scene is thriving, there are some troubling holes in its repertoire. Good Korean food is pretty tough to find (although The Rabbit Hole is really fun). The skyway has too many Subways and too few literally-anything-elses. And for the love of all that is holy, can someone please learn that Sushirritos are a thing and take all my money? Kthanks.
The really baffling one, however, is a lack of good Italian food. No disrespect to Bar La Grassa, as they’ve been holding things down with mad success for years, but can someone help a fratello out (that means brother, apparently)? Finally the cavalry has arrived. Within about a month of each other, Il Foro, Parella, and Monello opened, all claiming to be dishing out some next level Italian food. Monello won the social media lottery (i.e. they tweeted us back first [we’re needy]) so we decided to try there first.
The day of our meal, we all discovered Chris must now be keeping his calendar in Eastern Time, because he ended up at our 7pm reservation at 6pm. Luckily, I was nearby and we tried out Monello’s bar while Matt and Brad made their way over. Our drinks we both really great. I had some sort of herbal rum & coke (with homemade cola!) and Chris, as is tradition, ordered “the girliest drink on the menu.” Our bartender also excitedly told us about the bar downstairs, Constantine. When the bartender who just served you delicious cocktails is basically telling you that you should be drinking at a different bar, you have to investigate. More on Constantine later.
Once we got seated, we decided we were going all in on pasta. A bold move at an Italian restaurant, I know. Monello also had an impressive menu of crudos, and by “impressive” I mostly mean just “long” because I didn’t know what a crudo was and was surprised when I found out how many there were. Basically when you think of a crudo, imagine those scenes where some unsuspecting dope gets really overeager when the serving platter comes, only to see a few tiny bites of artfully arranged raw ingredients underneath when the cover is removed. That being said, we ordered two of them, because we gotta earn that Fancy in our name. We went safe (yellow tail) and not so much (sea urchin and bone marrow). The yellow tail was really refreshing. The sea urchin and bone marrow was confusing, as one might expect. I couldn’t tell if I liked it because my mouth didn’t know what it was eating, or because it was actually good. My other companions were more confident about their satisfaction. They must eat more sea urchin at home.
Next we had a few appetizers and the first of the pastas. First was the octopus, which has become an old hat for FDC (side bar: if you’ve ever tried to learn a foreign language, you likely have some awareness of the impossibility of translating idioms into a different language. Imagine telling a new English speaker that octopus had become an old hat. What fun!).
The octopus was unfortunately disappointing. It got scorched a little too much on the grill, so it lost a lot of flavor. You never want to use the word “gritty” to describe food. Save that word for comic book movie reboots only, please. The other appetizer was a vegetable tart, which was actually very similar to the tart we had at Heyday, just without the liver (i.e. it was way better). The first pasta was Monello’s take on a plain spaghetti, which sounds boring, but it was actually really good. The tomato sauce was flavorful and spicy, and then used a bizarre noodle I am dubbing funnoodlecini, for its resemblance to everyone’s favorite pool floatie.
The next round was a triple threat of pastas, all of which were pretty spectacular (albeit lacking in funnoodlecini). The rabbit and artichoke pasta was rich and flavorful. The roasted beet, goat cheese, and sausage dish had a lot of fun textures. The star was probably the mozzarella and pesto tortellini. It was oddly refreshing, something I didn’t know tortellini could accomplish. It was probably the broth with the tortellini, which was made with camomile tea. How they made that work is beyond me. Someone watching us eat would have been pretty entertained seeing each of us try to get as much broth as possible with a fork. It was that mind-bendingly good.
After that was…more pasta. We were still hungry (the small plates, while reasonably priced, are indeed small) and went with the lamb ragout and the blue crab and avocado pasta. The former seemed like a safe bet, and it was actually pretty bland (the unanimous least favorite of the pastas). The blue crab pasta, on the other hand, was fantastic, probably my favorite of the night. Avocado in pasta was another pretty difficult concept to fathom, but all the citrus flavors, seafood, and textures meshed super well together. Having that crazy combo way outshine the traditional marriage of lamb, eggplant, and mint made me like the one and dislike the other all the more. We finished our meal with a scoop of gelato each, which was a good way to say arrivederci to the meal. Caramelized banana gelato? Hellz yeah.
At one point the general manager, summoned by Matt’s social media-ing, stopped by to chat with us, which is becoming one of my favorite parts of our meals. We talked about some of our favorites (Spoon & Stable, Brewer’s Table, Revival) and then she asked about Heyday. We mentioned that the chef was clearly talented, but the service was a little slow and awkward. Well we mos def jinxed ourselves because from that point on especially, the service at Monello was…a little slow and awkward. It seemed like meals there are deliberately paced slowly, which I appreciate to certain extent when I’m having a nice meal, but the tempo seemed a hair off. A meal pushing three hours in a non-crowded restaurant is a bit strange. That being said, other than the couple misfires, Monello is certainly a worthy champion in bringing Italian food to Minneapolis. They also made the meal extra memorable as they printed a custom menu for us as a keepsake, listing out the exact items we ordered, wine and all (very useful for food bloggers that fall behind and need something to refer to a month later). After we paid our bill and Matt bailed, it was time to head downstairs to Constantine.
Constantine is, for lack of a better word, nuts, but in a good way on all fronts. The decor looks like it was done by a hipster castle architect. They make their own pop tarts in house. And then there are the drinks. Take mine for example. The first four ingredients listed were queso, corn, cayenne, and cream. You might be thinking, are you sure you didn’t just order Mexican corn on the cob? Well you’d be partially right, because that is exactly what the bartender wanted the drink to taste like (and look like for that matter). After a few tentative first sips, my brain unraveled what Constantine had created and it was good. So good. Chris and Brad’s drinks were inventive and delicious as well, though not quite at the mad scientist level. I mean a frickin’ Mexican corn cocktail? COME ON. Constantine is basically the level of cool where it’s even a fun place to go the next day and drink a glass of water while you wait for the bartender to find the credit card you’d left there. You know, that hypothetical situation that didn’t happen to me.
Having been to Monello (and then to Parella a few weeks later), I am happy report that we have some good new options in the Twin Cities for places to ciao down (yeah, I went there).
And now, without further ado, the return of:
Alright, loyal FBC readers, let me level with you: I really don’t remember the Monello bathroom that well. Maybe it was because I was frantically trying to figure out the bus schedule from downtown Minneapolis to Edina on my pre-Obama smartphone. Maybe it was because I had just finished off the girliest-sounding drink on the hyper-cool Constantine’s drink menu. Maybe I was still reeling after watching two forty-somethings sucking mad face across the room in the aforementioned hyper-cool Constantine. No matter.
What I can do is give you my bleary recollections of the bathroom, which should serve as a signpost to any FBC enthusiasts willing to venture into the semi-unknown of the Monello bathroom:
- Very clean, pleasing atmosphere.
- Music, maybe? I honestly don’t remember, but I remember the bathroom’s vibe being not sterile, despite the abundance of white and chrome.
- There was a mirror
- The bathroom was not actually in the restaurant, it was down a level in the hallway between the hyper-cool Constantine entrance and the stairs to go back up to Monello.
- There was some sort of gourd on a table outside the bathroom that was either weird or cool. That drink I had at Constantine was pretty stiff, so I cannot recall which at this point.
Overall, two out of five flushes for this bathroom. The whole ‘not actually in either the restaurant or the bar’ thing really brings it down. That, and my memory. That gourd was so weird/cool, though.