If you're looking for the website for Il Gatto, the new Parasole restaurant in the former Figlio space at Calhoun Square, you can find it at IlGattoMinneapolis.com (or even Figlio.com for the time being). Browse the menus and you'll see that Il Gatto is carrying on the legacy of Figlio's famous $3 happy hour as well as the same emphasis on Italian specialties (in case the name didn't tip you off already).
I was fortunate enough to get invited to a test run dinner at Il Gatto on Saturday and I was wholly impressed. I tried the artichoke appetizer, which was a small glass jar of chopped artichoke hearts, mint and red chile flakes. Scooped up and piled atop the accompanying olive oil grilled bread, it was snappy and satisfying without being heavy.
The pasta and entree menu is not overly vegetarian-friendly but I found solace in the standard cheese ravioli with marinara. Nearly all the pastas at Il Gatto are made in-house, and my ravioli had a pleasant chewy texture that only fresh pasta can have. The pureed marinara was very reminiscent of Figlio's ravioli but, thankfully, the 3-cheese blend inside was mostly ricotta and not the cream cheese situation previously presented at The Fig. Also, props for dusting the plate with a little bit of parmigiano as opposed to the heaping handful of mozzarella most mid-priced restaurants gob on top of an already cheesy dish. The other vegetarian pasta option was a tagliatelle with beets, however I loathe those vile root vegetables and await the day when our beloved chefs who are endlessly (and admirably) dedicated to cooking seasonally realize that I am far from alone.
My dining companion ordered the baked oysters with shrimp, pancetta and parmigiano, as well as the boiled gnocchi with lamb ragu. I tried neither, of course, but the man had no complaints.
We attempted to order the limoncello tiramisu for dessert but it was completely sold out, leaving us completely heartbroken.The pain subsided when the chocolate budino arrived at the table, courtesy of the always-amazing Adrienne Odom. It's a warm chocolate pudding cake with a gooey crown of molten chocolate, served alongside a scoop of heavenly salted caramel ice cream. I barely had room for a bite of the spumoni (much less three bites), which was a trio of chocolate, strawberry and pistachio ice creams from Sebastian Joe's topped with hazelnuts, maraschino cherries and pistachios, respectively.
I think it was about this time that the limoncello made its way to our table, served Italian-style from a smiley server toting a freezing cold bottle of the house-made concoction. The presentation here is noteworthy: the bottle is fused inside a small steel bucket of frozen lemons and lemon leaves. The digestif itself is also noteworthy, as it's an ideally sweet, tart, and icy finish to a great meal.
Our server recommended the Pistol Tease cocktail, a sweet citrusy rocks drink with St. Germain elderflower liqueur and a muddled edible orchid. I loved the floral flavors but was a little too sweet for my taste. I did fall in love with my friend's Smitten Kitten, though: a martini of pineapple-infused vodka, cracked black pepper and a kiss of simple syrup.
Price points at Il Gatto are ridiculously reasonable, particularly for a seafood-focused restaurant, with small plates at $4-9, wood-fired pizzas at $9-13 and entrees at $12-25. Martinis top out at $10, house wines (served in Il Gatto's soon-to-be-famous "glass and a half" are just $5 glass/$14 bottle/$26 double bottle, and even top shelf scotches and brandies will only run you between $8 and $11.
Even on a test run night, the service was seamless, friendly and well-versed in the menu, and the course arrivals were timed perfectly, with nothing cold or out of order. We can safely chalk this up to Il Gatto retaining much of the same overall staff as Figlio, not changing the kitchen layout one bit, and putting Executive Chef Matt Kempf at the helm.
I'm not so good with the quantitative math, but I'd say the space's remodel added a metric assload of seating. The main dining room feels about the same, but the bar has moved completely (it now divides the restaurant in half, stretching from the main entrance to the bathrooms), making room for a string of 4-tops in the bar proper, as well as creating an entire second dining area, complete with booths, along the windowed side of the restaurant that overlooks Lake Street.
Oh! And you no longer have to walk through the service stand to get to the bathrooms. They're still in the same spot, but with a less-intrusive entrance that doesn't suddenly make you feel like you should start rolling silverware with the wait assistants.
Dude, Parasole got skillz. Il Gatto will be around for a long, long time; as long if not longer than Figlio's 25-year run at one of the most historic corners in Minneapolis.
Il Gatto: 3001 Hennepin Avenue South, 612-822-1688
Hours: Monday-Friday, 4:30pm-2:00am
Food served until 1:00am Sunday-Thursday, 2:00am Friday-Saturday
Happy Hour: 4:30pm-6:30pm daily, 10:30pm-12:00am Sunday-Thursday