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Tim McKee....and Il Gatto?

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Very interesting. I wonder if any Chow-hounders have been Il Gatto in the last couple of weeks, since McKee has spent more time there. Personally, though I understand McKee's link to Il Gatto through his earlier days at Figlio, I still wonder about this partnership. In spite of Dara's ridiculous statement in Minnesota Monthly "Everything I’ve had so far at the new Il Gatto leads me to believe we may be looking at the birth of the best Italian restaurant in town." (Dara's going further and further off the deep end in a sad attempt to stay relevant, but that's a topic for a different post...), given the other Parasole holdings, it's very hard for me to see McKee doing to Il Gatto what he did for Sea Change, bringing the same quality as at La Belle Vie, or the same style as Solera. Those crowds (though different from each other), are very different than that that goes to Hennepin and Lake. What are other takes on this?

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La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

Solera
900 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403

Il Gatto
3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

Sea Change
806 Second Street S., Minneapolis, MN 55415

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  1. I normally wouldn't be one to defend Dara, or Parasole, for that matter. But there are only a tiny handful of restaurants vying for the title of MSP's best Italian. Furthermore, there is reasonable debate as to whether a fantastic(!), pasta-centric restaurant like Bar La Grassa qualifies as true Italian. If you call BLG Italian, then there's your winner hands down (though Dara would likely disagree, having described BLG as an "underperformer").

    But I digress... The pool of quality Italian food in the TC's is surprisingly shallow, and Parasole or no Parasole, letting Tim McKee run the kitchen has elevated Il Gatto on my must-try list to a solid "Hell Yes!" Quite an upgrade from, "Only if dragged by D-bags."

    So long story short, I'm pretty excited to check out the new Il Gatto, especially after the new menu is in place in October. Uptown definitely isn't my favorite scene but if anyone can rescue it from culinary mediocrity it's Tim McKee.

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    Il Gatto
    3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

    Bar La Grassa
    800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401

    1 Reply
    1. re: keithinmpls

      I agree that with McKee in the kitchen, hand-picking a chef de cuisine, and revamping the menu, it's well worth a try or 3. I'm not doubting the Il Gatto has the potential to become an excellent restaurant. I really like McKee, and think he's one of the more talented chefs in the TC. Only Parasole or an Uptown location can prevent the kind of success he can bring.

      But it's still a far cry to claim that it's the birth of the best Italian in the Twin Cities. I agree completely that there's a dearth of very good Italian here. IMO, Bar La Grassa is the best "modern" take on Italian, while Osteria I Nonni is the best "classical" take on Italian in the area. I don't see Il Gatto supplanting either one of those.

      But for that matter, what, exactly, qualifies as "Italian"? Would Piccolo qualify as Italian, because it uses many ingredients common to Italian cooking?

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      Il Gatto
      3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

      I Nonni
      981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

      Bar La Grassa
      800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401

    2. I still don't get what the name, aside from being Italian, has to do with the concept. I'm cat-lover, but I just don't see the appeal of a place called Il Gatto.

      But, I'm glad McKee's getting some good work, and I'm glad he's kicking the food up a notch.

      ~TDQ

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      Il Gatto
      3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

      2 Replies
      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        According to some early impressions after the transition from Figlio, the new name offered the opportunity to pepper in plenty of not-so-subtle sexual innuendo and genitalia references. Perfect for Uptown, where douchebaggery has been refined to an art form.

        I wonder if all that nonsense has survived the McKee transformation...

        1. re: keithinmpls

          Charming. Well, none of it seems to be on the website now.

          ~TDQ

      2. My fav is I Nonni, but I worry about therir business - has been very slow. They have shut down their offshoot, BIBO - hope this isn't next.

        Has anyone dined at this White Bear Lake Italian spot? Some friends gave it a local rave: http://www.acquawbl.com/Menu.html

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        I Nonni
        981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

        2 Replies
        1. re: rp1760

          Acqua is exceptional. It's too bad that it is so tucked away...if you don't know exactly where it is, you'll never know it exists (similar to Margaux's Table, only a few blocks away).

          The ongoing 3 course/$30 menu (5 choices per course) is an outstanding deal.

          1. re: rp1760

            "My fav is I Nonni, but I worry about therir business - has been very slow. They have shut down their offshoot, BIBO - hope this isn't next."

            i do not know what to make of the Bibo deal, i nonni's partners in bibo, mark prokop and jj lennon, ended up having their entire shopping center foreclosed on (dakota county Case No. 19HA-CV-10-5328). so i guess you should not think of bibo's closing as reflecting badly upon inonni. perhaps it was just an extremely unfortunate choice of business partners.

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            I Nonni
            981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

          2. That new menu is a serious upgrade. If they are knocking out those dishes at a high level, I could see where it could compete with I Nonni.

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            I Nonni
            981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

            5 Replies
            1. re: kevin47

              I went to Il Gatto on Sat night after reading Dara's blog. Some thoughts.

              First, some of the interior reminded me of going to a Macaroni Grill. They had a center area with stacks of dreid pasta and containers of tomato sauce. I was half expecting someone to offer me some cheap Chianti.

              Second, we were told that Tim had re-done the Entrees so we decided to go more with those than try the pastas. All the entrees our table tried were oustanding. I ordered the Chicken. I never order the chicken but I thought it was one of the best I have had ina long time. It was heavily seasoned with Turkish spices and peppers. The flavors were great. People at our table also loved the short ribs and the scallops. The scallops looked really amazing. I had the ceasar to start which was very flavorful. I also ordered the radish side dish that Dara loved. It was very good but not to die for.

              Finally, we got the chocolate fondue for the table for dessert which was very nice.

              I really liked the food. I don't know how traditonal Italian everything was (we did not have pasta or the pizza) but the food was really good. I will go back to try the swordfish and some of the other items. Kudos to Tim Mckee and Parisole for joining together to make good food.

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              Il Gatto
              3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

              1. re: Latinpig

                Heading there for dinner tomorrow. Will likely follow Latinpig's lead and order the chicken, but has anyone been recently and have ideas?

                1. re: fromtheD

                  Update following visit...

                  Dear Chef McKee, thank you for stopping by to see how our meal was. I am sorry I was to much of a wuss to actually tell you in person that my dish was not good. I had the trofie pasta. The pesto was ok, but really dry. And since the dish came out lukewarm, it sort of clumped up. Also, you need to have more than 4 shrimp in it - at $18, I expect more. The fries were also served cold, so getting food out at the right temp looks like an issue. The pizza (Guanciale) was excellent and the salad (pear and prosciutto) was good. Our server mostly ignored us, which maybe helps explain the cold food.

                  1. re: fromtheD

                    fromtheD, did you tell the manager and not just post this here? You really need to tell them personally what was wrong with the meal so they can deal with the situation. Not really fair to tell them after the fact.

                    1. re: SmartCookie

                      No, I didn't. We were with another couple (who picked the resto) and it would have been awkward. Frankly, I am not sure what a manager could have done (made our waiter pay attention to us? Send new food out?) We also knew it was a place we wouldn't go back to - the menu wasn't interesting enough to deal with the hassle of Uptown and the expense. For the kind of money we spent, we could go to Bar La Grassa or Meritage.

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                      Meritage
                      410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                      Bar La Grassa
                      800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401

            2. Went to Il Gatto Friday night. First specifics, then broader comments.

              Space - The restaurant is broadly divided into 2 spaces. One is on the Lake Street side, and encompasses window seating with "high" tables, some booths, and the bar. Predictably, it's a little louder. The other is the main dining area, which is a little more subdued in terms of action and noise, but a little brighter in lighting. Both are very nice spaces, both appropriate for the Uptown location. We sat on the bar side, by a window.

              Drinks - the specialty drinks menu is pretty standard. Two "St. Germain" liquor drinks, which fits in line with that liquor's current popularity. Many of the flavored martinis. Nothing special, except the "Branca Bomb", which if you like Fernet-Branca, as I do, it was a nice surprise (and a tasty drink). Otherwise, nothing really to knock your socks off, but completely what I would expect from a Parasole restaurant in Uptown.

              Starters - My girlfriend and I shared the Pulipo - barbequed octopus, rice beans, greens in a preserved lemon vinaigrette, and peperonata. This dish was superb. The octopus was excellent - 2 large legs, succulent, tender, smoky, with a sweet tangy BBQ sauce that was used judiciously. The rice beans were cooked perfectly, and counter-balanced the slightly bitter greens very well. This dish was awesome.

              There were other starters that looked interesting - a preserved swordfish, a steak tartare, and roasted beets with buratta and hazelnuts. Some of the other starters are what you'd expect for a Parasole place in that location - a frito misto meant to be shared must be the most popular appetizer by a longshot - we saw many coming and going while we were seated. Also a clams dish that looks similar to the typical mussels appetizer, meatball sliders, and a heirloom tomato with grilled bread, garlic and basil. (I think you'll see a trend here...)

              Mains - I had the Razza alla Puttanesca. I like both skate and puttanesca, so it seemed like a good bet. It was very good. The skate was very well cooked - crispy outside, tender inside. Great taste. The puttanesca was good. Not great, but good. The tomatoes used were very good, very tasty. The rest of it was a little...lacking. It wasn't a very sharp puttanesca - it was a safe one. There were some capers, but not many. I doubt there was any anchovy in it - if there was, it was not obvious. No heat either - while I don't want a fiery puttanesca, to me, there should be a little heat there. This one had none - then again, being served with a fish, I can overlook the omission of chili pepper. The dish featured braised fennel. It was there - there were several pieces of braised fennel - but it was a weak, washed out fennel taste. It just didn't have that strong fennel taste I'm used to when cooking with fennel. Overall, the dish was very good, but not excellent. It didn't knock my socks off. It was a great idea, but the flavors just didn't all seem quite there.

              My girlfriend had the "Pansoti" - stuffed saffron pasta with ricotta and walnut sauce. It was OK. It was "meh". The walnut sauce was mild, at best - very little walnut flavor. The dish seemed very one-dimensional. IMO, the pasta should have been stuffed with something more than just ricotta, to complement the walnut. Maybe a light squash/pumpkin type stuffing. And the walnut sauce needed a lot of help - roast them, toast them, saute them, smoke them, add some walnut liquor. Maybe a combination of the above. It just needed something. To me, a walnut sauce served on a plain-ish pasta needs to taste like you stick some pasta in your mouth, grab a walnut, shell it, and stick it your mouth and chew it all together. Did I also mention the pasta was a "saffron pasta". Neither of us found the slightest hint of saffron.

              The wine list is OK. It leans towards Italian, which I guess is natural given the theme of the restaurant. For the by-the-glass selections, there's something for everyone. The glass of Grillo/Viognier I had was OK, but it was served a bit warmer than I would normally like.

              Service - Hostess was very perky, bubbly, friendly - what you'd expect. We had reservations, and were seated immediately and offered the choice of bar area or main dining room. Our server was good - she described the dishes fairly well. She also suggested the Viognier to go with my skate dish, and I'm not sure that was really the best pairing - but hey, I went with it, so my bad. Some of the silverware we got was dirty - some stuck on food bits. That's not acceptable anywhere, especially at a place where you're dropping $100 for 2 people.

              Overall - it was OK. I'm not really sure what to conclude. On the one hand, given that it's kinda a revamped Figlio, the changes are fantastic. It's head and shoulders above Figlio, and not even fair to use the two names in the same sentence. From that perspective, Il Gatto has gone in an excellent direction.

              But on the other hand, it just doesn't quite achieve. And you can see a "Jekyll and Hyde" sort of thing going on. The appetizers seem McKee-influenced. Again, the Pulipo was fantastic, and there are many adventurous and interesting looking starters that I would try. But from there on, the menu starts to fall apart. The pasta dish GF had was OK. I'm not sure I'd really order any of the pasta dishes on the menu. Maybe a couple - there's a crab, fennel, chervil linguini one that looks interesting. The Secondi dishes looked a little more interesting...kinda.

              I can see McKee's influence. Many of the dishes I easily could have seen in some variation at Solera - that influence is clear. But for pasta, based on this one experience, I'd say Bar La Grassa and Broders are the clear tops.

              In short, my GF said she wouldn't go back. That's quite a comment from her, given that she really enjoys everything that she's had from a McKee joint. Me - I'd go back because there are some appetizers I want to try, but other than that, not really. Great ideas on the menu, but I'm not sure the execution has really come together. At BLG and Broders, the pasta dishes are all very well executed, with distinct flavors that work together. Here, with the exception of the Pulipo, the flavors were muddled or muted. But in the end, given the prices, dirty silverware, and just OK dishes, I won't be going back for a while.

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              Solera
              900 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403

              Il Gatto
              3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55408

              Bar La Grassa
              800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401

              1. I went back on Sat. night. First, they have no real wine glasses. We had brought our own wine and they offered me a small water glass. I inquired what happened to all the glasswear from the previous restaurant. Our waiter ending up having to go next door (?????) to get us some crappy Libbey type wine glasses. Thank g-d for them because we were facing a Sideways type moment with a bottle of 1970 Latour. My advice is if they want to be taken seriously, stop acting like a Macaroni Grill.

                We had the Uovo Fonduta and the Funghi pizza to start. I liked the Fondue but found the Pizza unremarkable. I had the roasted beet salad which was very good. My guests ended getting some pastas which they really did not care for. One dish they could not eat at all. I had stayed away from the pastas on my first trip and continued that trend by having the chicken again which was still very good. My assessment now has changed. If you are looking for a place with above average pasta and pizza, i would go elsewhere. If you go for the entrees, I think you will have an enjoyable night.

                FYI - The service was not great. I think he ignored us after we asked for wine glasses.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Latinpig

                  None of their restaurants have good stemware. You think Manny's would but you have to ask for Riedel's.

                2. I think City Pages just did a piece on Tim McKee about this