Raising the bar

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November 9, 2009 // UPDATED 10:08 am - November 9, 2009
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
Snooze, you lose — and I’m not talking about airline pilots. I danced off to Europe for a binge of eating only to discover that some of the best food from the continent was right here in my hometown. And Bar La Grassa doesn’t require frequent flyer miles nor trading up to euros.

The hot new Warehouse District venue is the love child of two pro restaurateurs: Isaac Becker of 112 Eatery as the kitchen god and Josh Thoma (Solera, et al) running the front of the house — a house which could pass for a charming French brasserie, from polished wood floors to marble-topped tables and a zinc counter facing the working kitchen, arguably the best seat in the place.

The menu veers more toward Italy, and what Italian trattorie of today are actually cooking, which doesn’t involve hulking plates of lasagna.

It does involve limoncello, however: reason enough to plead for a rez if you’re close to addicted to this Italian firewater disguised as lemonade. The kitchen brews its own and serves it in a shot glass ($8).

If you pair it with what I now decree as the world’s best bruschetta topping — soft, creamy scrambled eggs clotted with giant hunks of sweet, tender lobster and sent out with a spritz of truffle oil just to prove that more is more — you could easily fall into the habit of telling your obliging server, “Just keep it coming.”

But don’t. Exercise your built-in Minnesotan restraint and move on to the fresh pasta, made in-house and served in app or entrée portions (around $8 and $16). My friend’s ravioli — floppy envelopes stuffed with pure, sweet crab — were faultless. My orechiette (“little ears”) pasta, dense with a braised-rabbit ragu, proved hearty enough to forestall the falling snow. But our shared plate of gnocchi (gnocchietti, actually: dime-size snippets that miraculously achieved the perfect balance between tenderness and heft) came strewn with bits of crunchy cauliflower and a light but intense sauce of bitter orange pumped up with chili-pepper flakes. OMG!

Secondi (most around $16) are straightforward, true Italian style. The porchetta proved an icon of comfort food: pork shoulder slow-braised juicy and meltingly tender. Even better, the house-made trio of pork sausages: sundried tomato-basil, white wine and garlic, and spicy Italian. (And no wonder: The chef de cuisine used to butcher meat at Clancy’s.) Pair either plate with a bowl ($5) of soft, deliriously creamy polenta enriched with cheese.

Desserts are a well-edited list of sweets (and savory: cheese drizzled with honey, $6–$8). Next round, it’ll be the lemon-lavender semifreddo drizzled with blueberry coulis. Or not. Maybe I’ll just have to keep re-ordering the crespelle — a pair of slender crepes rolled in a salted butter and caramel sauce, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Fair warning: I should let you know that La Grassa means “the fat one.” Let’s just leave it at that.

Bar La Grassa
800 Washington Ave. S.