My publisher and I had walked down six blocks of Washington Avenue and were in dire need of sustenance – solid sustenance. We had plenty of liquid sustenance to that point. Our last hope for a good meal on this end of Washington Avenue rested under a glowing sign that read “BLG.”
It stood for Bar La Grassa, and Bar La Grassa turned out to be exactly the hero we needed.
The Basics: You can find Bar La Grassa’s website here. Be warned: They don’t open until 5:00 p.m. on any night of the week. The executive chef/owner is a James Beard award-winner. The menu is here. Check this out – they share their playlist with you here. Notice three songs by an act called Group Sex. Also, I’m definitely not the first person to review this place.
Make your reservations, kids: Pubby and I caught a break with two open seats at the kitchen bar; otherwise, their next open table wasn’t until 10 p.m. I enjoyed their kitchen bar concept. They don’t have a ton of beers on tap, but they had something for both of us while the cooks put their show on before us. Pubby was still on his Minnesota Carona kick; I had an oatmeal stout, the exact name of which escapes me.
Aside from the kitchen bar, BLG’s interior is almost exactly like that of Butcher and the Boar – something markedly less surprising having learned La Grassa alums number among Butcher’s brain trust. It seems like BLG seats many more people than Butcher, putting more bustle into their atmosphere – not in a bad way, it just is.
Back at the bar, right in front of the show, Pubby and I noticed the seats to our left engaging in what I would call “genius things.” Bowls were lined up like a buffet section, and the two men were taking from them at their will. Pubby inquired.
“What we do,” the man explained, “is order like four of their small plates, then just share them all.”
I had done something like this in my Green Mill heyday during happy hour app specials, but that was with five or six people and 8-10 plates. I had never thought to do with this a dinner layout. I didn’t think that would be viable. Apparently, it is! And it can be done at La Grassa, as many items on their pasta-centric menu can be ordered half-or full-sized.
My picks: Pasta negra with sea urchin, chili, mussels and tomato; and cavatelli with braised rabbit. Pubby’s picks: Penne rigate with shrimp and vin santo, and the crab ravioli (I think). They can spice up any dish, which appealed to us.
As we waited, a small soup dish with cauliflower and peppers in broth was brought out with toothpicks for plucking. It was good, but it also represented the closest thing to a negative I have for this place: This dish was just as good and just as proportionate as what we had just paid $14 for at Borough.
I’m not sure what about the pasta negra dish gave it such a Caribbean vibe – maybe it was the greenness, or the presence of aquatic meat – but I much enjoyed it. It was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so.The mussels on the pasta negra gave its plate a classy touch, but wrenching them out of their shells gave it a barbaric edge. Imagine a hot chick belching. It was kind of like that.
The cavatelli looked like the maggots they’d make you eat on Fear Factor, but I’d clean that tank out if maggots tasted like this. There wasn’t a ton of rabbit meat, but there was enough to work the meaty texture (heads out of the gutter, people) into every bite. When I got tired of the variety by itself, I started mixing pastas together on the same forkful. While the negra clashed with everything else (again, maybe because it was green), the cavatelli was the most complimentary.
The portions were solid. We dangled on the precipice of “too full,” but not quite, when the bowls were cleaned out. In most cases, two half-dishes together cost a nudge more than what you’d get at, say, the Olive Garden, except you’re eating two superior dishes. In sum, you definitely won’t look at a half-portion of cavatelli and think, “I paid nine dollars for THIS!”
What’s more, the diners around us added to the experience. When the genius plate-pushers left, they were replaced by a pair of dining connoisseurs also, who informed me of Butcher’s roots in BLG AND told me BLG’s owners also own the 112 Eatery. That’s what they call in the business world “a killer reference.” 112 just moved to the top of my hit list.
On my right, a man and his date were drinking their wine all snobby, dressed all GQ but not really, but you can’t really experience Minneapolis without running into “them” once in a while. I’m pretty sure the guy was on the cover of Twin Shadow’s “Confess” album (great album, by the way).
You’d go on the quality alone, but you don’t have to at BLG because the versatility of their menu makes eating there a good time. It isn’t simply “look at the menu and order;” it’s “look at the menu and decide what would go well with that, whether it would be good spicy, etc.” Having done this, I don’t know if I’d ever go there any order one full-sized dish.
Anyway, just get here. The next time you want pasta. The next time you want great food. The next time you try Borough and you’re over it before you can order an entree. Just get here. It’s great like Mama’s in St. Paul, but a different great. Most of Mama’s glory can be snapped up in one order of mostaccioli because they use the same drop-you-dead-but-it’s-a-happy-fricking-death sauce on everything. But if you want it all at Bar La Grassa … you’re going to have to work for it, because there’s a moan waiting behind everything on the menu.