Risotto (Minneapolis, MN)

By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The Mix
January/February 2010

After our dinner at Risotto, chef Gabriele Lo Pinto came out of the kitchen to ask how we had liked the meal. It was a praiseworthy meal, and we raved about it -- but what was memorable about that moment was that Gabriele Lo Pinto is Italian. There's some Italian on the Twin Cities restaurant scene, and what's there is good-to-exceptional; but meeting an Italian restaurateur is not as easy as you'd think. Risotto's authentic but small menu will delight you. Almost everything we tried was exceptional.

First courses are divided between antipasti and salads. Our favorite appetizer, the carne alla zingara, is thinly sliced beef carpaccio, marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, and served with goat cheese, capers, and micro greens. These are good strong flavors that work perfectly together. And the ham and cheese crepe, served with portobello mushrooms and a cream sauce, is rich and elegant.

We liked the green bean soufflé, with its melted Asiago cheese; its nutmeg flavoring was a perfect accent. The fried calamari, with red pepper and zucchini and a rich tomato sauce, was the least exciting of the appetizers. Our favorite salad was the spinach salad with red onions, mushrooms, goat cheese, and pancetta, with a delicate honey-mustard vinaigrette. The beet salad in citrus vinaigrette was also very good.

The two risotto dishes we had were quite different from one another but were both delicious, and the table disagreed about which was better. The risotto with prosciutto, shallots, butternut squash, and brie tasted like the best of autumn, while the risotto with sausage, asparagus, shallots, Pinot Grigio wine, and saffron tasted more earthy. There are ways to speed up a risotto by par-cooking the rice in advance, but Lo Pinto does none of that. These are warm, comforting rice dishes, slowly stirred as the rice absorbs the dish's varied flavors. Few things are better on a cold Minnesota night. The clam pasta was only OK. We generally love the tiny clams sautéed in garlic and white wine, but this version, served with asparagus tips, didn't achieve that sublime marriage of flavors we so liked everywhere else on the menu. The kitchen also serves the same clams with a tomato sauce.

After pastas and risottos, the restaurant has three entrees to choose from. The pork tenderloin was delicious, not dry or flavorless as pork sometimes is. It came with an apple-Marsala sauce and a sauté of zucchini, carrots, and red onions. Simple and good. We also really liked the beef tenderloin, with its rich accompaniments of roasted potatoes, porcini mushrooms, and Fontina cheese. The fish option was good, too: arctic char with a dill cream sauce, and baby arugula and crispy carrot shavings.

Desserts are tasty. Risotto's lunch menu is similar, with simpler pasta options and a variety of panini, but risotto only by request (it takes so long to make well). Prices are cheaper and portions are smaller.

The Risotto space has been a variety of other businesses over the decades: other restaurants, gift shops, books and cards stores, and more. It's a fine, visible location and we hope Risotto has settled in for a very long stay.

Risotto
610 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
612-823-4338 • www.risottomn.com

Cuisine Type: Italian
Reservations: Recommended
Diet Choices: Limited vegetarian options

earlier review: Pop!! (St. Paul, MN)
later review: Orson and Plant Cafe (San Francisco, CA)
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