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Aug 3, 2008 04:50 PM

[MSP] Al Vento

In searching the board, I found that lots of 'hounds like this place. We went last night with a group of friends. The Turtle and I were most unimpressed.

I had the tortellini w/ chard and ricotta, topped with "mother sauce" (what they call their standard red sauce, apparently). The Turtle had the bucatini all'amatriciana.

We all shared some appetizers and Turtle had a caesar salad. For dessert we had some tiramisu.

The tortellini were fine enough, though I couldn't taste too much underneath the sauce-- which was heavily, heavily, seriously over-salted. The only things it tasted like were salt and basil.

The bucatini all'amatriciana was quite awful: the sauce was mostly tasteless, with zero spiciness (this particular sauce is supposed to have hot pepper and tocino, sort of like Italian bacon). It was rather beefy-- kind of tasted like broth.

The tiramisu was presented prettily, but had bad consistency (rather gritty) and was fairly tasteless.

All in all, our impression of the food was poor. The service was fine, and the place has a nice enough ambience.

I admit: we have very high standards for Italian food. But I'd much rather go to one of our lovely "red sauce Italian-American" type places, since at least they don't pretend to be more than they are.

The only place so far we've had really good, reasonably authentic Italian food is Osteria I Nonni. Are there any we've missed?

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  1. I love Al Vento, eat there at least once a month since I live really close, but I agree that there are some consistency issues within their menu. I ate there Thursday night with my mom. We started out with a crabcake appetizer (very good) and the bruschetta sampler (of the 4 versions, half were good, half were bad. Surprisingly, the traditional tomato/basil bruschetta was really bland). My mom had the beef tenderloin with asparagus and truffled mashed potatoes. I had the seared scallops with spinach risotto. Both the entrees were fabulous. For dessert, we split the tiramisu, which was really bland, as you said above. My mom's comment: "Olive Garden does this better." Ouch.
    I've never ordered pasta at Al Vento, though the risotto has been consistently great. Whenever I've ordered fish or steak, they've also been perfect. The creme brulee trio dessert is also a highlight. Service is always pretty good, and I like the room a lot. I heard that Al Vento is taking over the former Giorgio's spot on Hennepin; I hope they can work on consistency.

    4 Replies
    1. re: drew13000

      I love this place. Really keen atmosphere (sit in back) and awesome service. The staff is more than happy to talk/recommend the food and wine.. the wine recommendations are quite helpful as they are mostly italian, of which many people(myself) know very little about.
      I highly recommend the stuffed mushroom appetizer, any of their pizzas(amazing), or pretty much anything else.. Had an absolutely brilliant Wild Boar Risotto there last winter.. a little firmer than what i would make but really, really good.
      Excited to hear they might be opening uptown! New late night competition for Barbette?
      R.I.P. Auriga...

      1. re: drew13000

        It did occur to us that maybe the non-pasta dishes were their strength-- as no one at our table had any of those. Pasta is tough to do well in a restaurant setting, I think.. But theirs was really quite bad. We definitely agree that the room itself is nice, and it's great to have a restaurant with aspirations like Al Vento in that neighborhood. They just have some work to do on the food before I'd want to go back.

        1. re: mtullius

          I'm sorry to hear you had a bad experience. I've been to Al Vento several times over the past four years and have always had very good food. I haven't had either of the pasta dishes you tried. The pasta I have had has been good, but I do agree that their real strength is in meat & fish dishes. I also like some of their more inventive appetizers, such as the sauteed chard packets stuffed with pecorino served in brown butter sauce.

          1. re: mtullius

            I developed my pasta standards out West in the kitchen of an Italophile representing the Emilia Romagna region. What we get in Minnesota is a representation of what you see in the movie Big Night. A big meatballs, straw chianti bottle reduction of the richest culinary playground in the world. I don't have the money to spend on substandard cr-p. All in all, Broders does a fairly decent job for a simple local joint, but I haven' been there for many years. I find the wait is out of proportion to the quality. I'm curious to hear anyone chime in on the D'amico Cucina level of performance these days.

        2. Thank you! I guess I'm not the only one who has been less than impressed. I've been to Al Vento 3 times in the past 3 months and I plan on never going back. The service is slow and one of the regular servers is extremely rude and impatient. I found the mother sauce to be salty and oily and the tomato and bread soup inedible (and I eat anything). The other diners with me found the pork tenderloin delicious as well as the tortellini and the pizza with artichoke. But the overall complaint was the seasoning. Either too much salt or overly bland dishes. I know it is a neighborhood treasure and the restaurant and porch provides a great backdrop. But that is not enough for me to come back.

          I think the Minneapolis area is in desperate need of an authentic Italian restaurant that represents traditional home cooking without high prices and chain-restaurant appeal. I was really hoping Al Vento would fit this description but the food just is not to par.

          Sorry that my 2 cents were negative. If there are any other Italian restaurant suggestions, please post! For the Al Vento loyalists, let me know of dishes to try and maybe I can be lured back. It seems like they are good with meat and fish. But I'm a sucker for pasta dishes...

          1. Other than Osteria y Nonni, my picks for Italian cuisine are Broder's Pasta Bar and D'Amico Cucina. They represent opposite ends of the price scale. Broder's executes fresh pasta dishes with a light hand with the sauce. The menu changes, but some of my favorites include linguine con vongole (simple linguine with clams, but very fresh tasting) and tagliarini di Locanda del Lupo (a wonderfully decadent fresh pasta with proscuitto, truffles and cream). This place is a great value, too. The other recommendation is D'Amico Cucina. Because of the cost, I only go once or twice a year, but I love their egg yolk raviolo (a big raviolo filled with ricotta and a egg yolk, topped with a browned butter) and their lobster gnocci.

            Still no luck finding great Italian pastries here though. I have resigned myself to waiting until I can get to Mike's pastry in the north end of Boston for my cannoli and sfogliatella (lobster tail) fix.

            1 Reply
            1. re: BigSal

              Ditto for me. My budget hasn't allowed me another visit to D'Amico Cucina in some time, but Broder's Pasta Bar is a go-to standard. And Broder's Cucina Italia--little sister deli to the pasta bar--carries cannolis from a bakery in Troy, NY. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, former food critic for City Pages, did a cannoli quest for a reader a couple years ago. Having never foraged for cannoli myself, I can't personally vouch for the results, but here's a link to her findings:

            2. welcome to Minnesota.

              I kid. I never order pasta dishes at Italian joints because my wife is such a wonderful chef at home that she can beat the heck out of any traditional italian pasta. I love that woman. However, it is interesting to note that at my place of employment, a constant war rages between several groups - those that prefer say Pazzaluna to those that prefer La Grolla. I'm in the Pazzaluna camp and couldn't even begin to fathom how anyone could disagree, until I realized that, at least at work, those who prefer La Grolla are the pasta-eaters of the group. It depends on what you like!

              1 Reply
              1. re: dombey

                We've been to La Grolla a couple of times-- can't remember what we've had, but it surely included pasta. We were exceedingly unimpressed (though we'd probably rate it slightly higher than Al Vento).

              2. I went to Al Vento with some friends on Saturday night. Ish. Service was terrible and the food was just OK. (And can I just add that it was SO DARK in the main dining room that I had to build a bread plate tower to hold the dying votive high enough to see what I was eating.)

                But I digress. Our server repeatedly left the table after taking three out of four orders (drinks, starters, mains, etc.) He brought one starter to someone at our table and then never returned. When we asked about the shared calamari we ordered, he said, that yes, we'd ordered it. And then didn't come back for 10 minutes. Our friend went ahead and started eating. When we asked a second time, he affirmed we'd ordered it. Then about another 10 minutes later, when he arrived with salads, he confessed he just ordered it on the fly because he'd forgotten??? Don't ask about the drink orders. Hilarious.

                The calamari that eventually came was quite chewy. I hate that. I had a mista salad with grilled peaches and goat cheese. It was dressed well and the peaches were a good balance with the goat cheese. But then I had the scallops. Someone mentioned somewhere about the salsa/chutney mix on top of each scallop. Couldn't figure out what it was, so I brushed it aside. The scallops were cooked well. The corn risotto TASTED good, but there was a bit of a crust on the bottom. I have no idea how it got there. Like the plate had been sitting on something very hot? Or maybe it was cooked in a shallow pan- they forgot it was on the fire- and then slid it out like a pancake?

                A friend ordered the melon with prosciutto and balsamic. I guess kudos to American portion size because she received the whole darn melon. Even a woman at the table next to us commented. But it was so soaked in balsamic that she only ate about a third. She did say what wasn't soaked was good.

                I do have to say that the pork my friend tried was fantastic! Melt in your mouth tender.

                We didn't order pasta because folks had said they were better known for their protein. I don't think we'll be going back. Pasta is always a Broders call for me. No question.

                I wanted to like Al Vento. But I didn't.