Perhaps one of the best things about the holidays is the chance to see hometown friends who are back in town to visit.

That point was all the more clear this last week, as I had a chance to reunite with multiple friends from high school. Call it lucky, but I continue to keep in touch with about 20 of my friends from good ol’ Mounds View High.

Though a number of us are around the Twin Cities, there’s a few that have moved away, making it all the more crucial to have a great time when they return.

With the holidays, a few friends’ birthdays and a mini reunion in place, there was no better time — I thought — to check out Il Gatto, the transformed Figlio’s in Uptown.

Having been a longtime fan of Figlio’s — and being pretty bummed that I only got to eat at the fine Italian restaurant once before the remodeling began — I was pretty anxious to see what they did with the place.

Turns out, they did a lot. I barely recognized the interior of Il Gatto’s and if it wouldn’t have been for the large windows overlooking Lake Street, I would’ve sworn I was in the wrong restaurant.

It’s definitely a more modern look, but I’m still on the fence to whether it was a change for the better. The place feels a lot smaller on entry than the old Figlio’s, mostly because the bar has been moved back a bit, so it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. Wall-to-wall wine racks provide the backdrop to most of the bar, with the far wall transformed into a wood pile storage.

Still not 100 percent sure what all the wood’s for (that’s what she said?), but it looks very Midwestern and almost cabin-y. Well, cabin-y, if you’re drinking at a trendy Northwood’s bar and traded your lumberjack boots for stilettos.

Anyway, we grabbed a high bar table and started things off right with a glance at the wine list. They had a good selection of wines both by the glass-and-a-half and by the bottle. Not to mention, a list of fun martinis and specialty cocktails cleverly given feline monikers that I’ll be anxious to try the next time. (Also, I got a kick out of the fact that they called their non-alcoholic beverages “spayed.” Way to promote the sober cabs, Il Gatto.)

But with house wine by the bottle at such reasonable prices — heck, I’d even go as far as saying it was downright cheap — it was just too good of a deal to pass up for our table. I enjoyed the house red, for just $14 a bottle, but I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the juice glasses for wine. Maybe this is a trendy new thing that I’m not aware of, but it just doesn’t feel like wine when you’re drinking out of a small stemless juice glass. It kind of felt like communion. And that’s kind of awkward.

Glasses aside, the wine was nice and made for a great start to the evening. It was about this time that we were notified of the late happy hour. From 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Sundays through Thursdays, there is an array of happy hour specials — all for just three bucks. Not bad.

Included in the happy hour special, you have your choice of $3 domestic tap beer, house wine or well drinks. Plus mini burgers, cod sliders, mini pizzas or warm chips for $3. Personally, I think they could’ve come up with a better name than “warm chips” but I digress.

We tried the warm chips and a margherita mini pizza and I’ll be honest I wasn’t all that impressed. I mean, sure it’s three dollars and I won’t complain for any kind of food for that price but still, it was just so-so. The warm chips had an interesting parmigiano sauce with chives but were a bit like glorified nachos.

The mini pizza was really mini and though it was good, the flavors that I’m used to with a margherita pizza just weren’t quite as bold as I was hoping.

Basically, it made me very curious to try a full meal to see how it stacked up to Figlio’s. So with the bar and bar food testing mastered, I headed back to Figlio’s with another friend to catch up and try out the main entrees.

Yes, I went to Il Gatto twice in basically a week, but hey, it’s a new place and like I said, that mini pizza was seriously small.

The dinner menu is structured a bit differently than Figlio’s and seemed a tad bit smaller. Or perhaps it was just that Figlio’s always seemed to have a hundred different things I was eager to try. Another thing different about the menu? It’s a couple of bucks more on average.

I was happy to see that a few of their pasta dishes were, if not the same, at least very similar to a few items that used to grace Figlio’s menu. Fighting the temptation and urge to order my “normal dish” (the cavatappi — with chicken, sundried tomatos and olive oil) I decided to branch out a bit and try the wood-roasted chicken.

It wasn’t anything that I’d probably typically get but it was pretty good. Again, I’m not a food critic nor will I ever pretend to be but for my uneducated palate, it tasted good, featured yummy flavors and well, didn’t suck. It was a panzanella dish and though I’m a sucker for the dried bread croutons, I really think the tomatoes and balsamic should be the star of the show.

Still for what it was and the quasi-hype around it, I would have to give it an overall rating of good, but not great. I’ve had better and I’ve had better cheaper.

I’m still pretty intrigued about a few other features on the menu and would definitely go back to try some more but so far, for this much-talked about transformation, I’m not completely sold. I do like the atmosphere — minus the drunk Vikings fan that nearly fell into our table, more on that some other time. And I did enjoy it as a place for drinks with friends.

But I think there’s just something missing for me that didn’t leave me feeling completely enthused.

I’m interested to hear what others thought of this place. Anyone been there? Have any recommendations on food or drink? And was anyone else kind of annoyed by the amount of sexual innuendos and um, suggestive, almost-prostitution-like, phrases found around this place? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought.


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