Anytime someone mentions the restaurant Bar La Grassa, it seems an overwhelming amount of compliments are soon to follow.

And the list of accomplishments and awards for this North Washington Avenue hotspot seem just as endless.

It was enough to make me highly anxious to grab a table at the Bar and see what all the fuss was about. Having lost a former fav Italian spot when “Figlio’s” was remodeled into a mangy cat, I was excited for the chance to rediscover Italian cuisine.

The restaurant itself has a very trendy feel, with a bar and dining area dimly lit with a mixed crowd of everyone from hipsters to businessmen. The smells coming out of the open kitchen was probably the first thing I noticed upon entering the dining room. Cozy tables fill the room in an atmosphere that mixes class with comfort to perfection.

The menu is simple and to the point — and the best part, the prices are very reasonable (and after you’ve tasted the food, reasonable turns into straight-up bargain.)

However, being a newbie to the food world, I’ll admit — there were a few items that threw me for a loop. With such a simple, understated — in a good way — menu, there were a few items that I could only recognize as terms from my “Top Chef” watching days.

I’d heard from a number of people that you simply can’t go wrong with menu selections at La Grassa, so that was encouraging. The menu is organized into a few simple categories, beginning with an antipasti or bruschetta then easing into fresh or dry pasta and entrees.

I decided to take my boyfriend as my date to experience La Grassa, thinking since he’s Italian, we couldn’t go wrong. But though he may enjoy a good pasta and bruschetta, he will not eat cheese. (Seriously, don’t get me started. I’ve tried. He lives in Green Bay, is from the country where ricotta and gorgonzola rule the land and doesn’t like cheese. Sigh.)

So needless to say, our options were a bit more limited than me, the cheese lover, would’ve gladly indulged in. Not that it mattered, however, because everything was seriously spectacular.

We started with the marinated pork shoulder bruschetta, which was tender and juicy and a perfect, cheeseless solution. (Basically the only one, but that’s neither here nor there.) The next time I go — perhaps without my date, hehe — I definitely want to try the soft eggs and lobster bruschetta, which both sounded and smelled delicious with a capital D.

We chose three pasta small dishes to try and taste as much as we could, since everything looked fantastic. We started with penne rigate with shrimp and vin santo, which was a perfect blend of rich, creamy pasta and savory shrimp. The sauce was both silky and a bit spicy and loaded with flavor. I think it definitely was both of our favorites.

We also tried the fusilli col buco with pork sausage that had a hint of spice to an otherwise classic dish. That extra spice, both in the red sauce and the pork sausage, made the dish spectacular. I found myself trying to savor each bite in the hopes of having enough to take home for a second meal. No such luck.

Our final pasta was the orecchiette with braised rabbit — a bit of an “out-of-the-box” selection for the two of us but I had heard great things and have been curious about rabbit since seeing it featured on the Food Network.

The dish was like a big plate of comfort. The braised rabbit was tender, rich and fall-off-the-bone delish. It tasted like a cross between rotisserie chicken and duck. The brown sauce was savory and added a light saltiness to the handmade pasta. The difference between the dry and fresh pasta was definitely apparent and while both were tasty, there’s just something to be said for fresh, handmade pasta.

Three small dishes was the perfect amount for us. We ended up with a bit of leftovers but had we been able to stop eating sooner, I’m sure it would’ve been more. I’m a big leftover fan but unfortunately with Bar La Grassa, it’s just not possible. It’s too good.

And still, after the meal was finished and we began to waddle our way out the door, I continued to check out what others were ordering, compiling a “next time” list in my head. It’s safe to say, this will be a two-parter for sure. Hopefully next time, I’ll talk about their dishes with cheese.

Sara Boyd is a web producer and columnist at WCCO.COM.


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