At North Loop’s new Dario, handmade pasta is the star

My name is Jess and I love pasta.

Fresh noodles and dumplings are the foods I’m probably most likely to overindulge in given the chance.

However, it is very difficult to find very good fresh pasta. The stuffed pasta should be rolled thin and the interior ingredients should have the right consistency – not too thick or chewy, but not too runny either. And die-cut or hand-cut pasta should cook in a flash, leaving a little give in the center.

Pasta – good handmade pasta – is also a lot of work.

So when I saw Dario’s menu, with 10 fresh pasta options, I couldn’t wait to see what the new North Loop restaurant from chef Joe Rolle, formerly of Borough, Il Foro and Martina, was doing.

A few girlfriends and I recently had tickets to a show in downtown Minneapolis, so I made a reservation.

The Wittkamper Studio-designed restaurant, with its retro/modern touches of pastel pink, teal, and white, proved to be the perfect place for a girls’ night out.

We were seated close enough to see the action in the pink-tiled kitchen and to peek at the equipment in the glass-walled pasta room – used by day for mixing and spreading noodles and dumplings and by night as extra seating or space for private dining.

Good cocktails are a godsend for any ladies’ night out, and Stephen Rowe, who worked for a decade at the now-closed Marvel Bar, has created an excellent menu of classic and not-so-classic drinks. Most of the original creations lean toward the low-alcohol end of the spectrum, and a few of us enjoyed the slightly sweet and complex rum-based Kelly Kapowski and the floral and delicate The Gardener’s Break gin.

Dario’s menu, made for sharing, is not just about pasta: raw vegetables, vegetables and main dishes are all available. We were pressed for time, so we decided to start with some veggies, move on to pasta, and try the brick chicken as sort of an afterthought.

The pickled beets featured larger wedges of root vegetables draped with pretty, thin ribbons of beetroot and garnished with a few dill pickle chips and small sprigs of dill. A gribiche sauce, made from finely chopped hard-boiled eggs, tied everything together.

Grilled cabbage, served piled high in a little shack hiding creamy horseradish potatoes, was next, a rib-sticking dish reminiscent of northern Europe. And because we’re good Midwesterners, we followed that with crispy potatoes, topped with creamy melted Comté cheese and caramelized sweet onions. No one complained about the extra potatoes.

And the pasta! It was as wonderful, varied and delicious as I had dared to hope.

Silky spaghetti topped with briny blue crab, sweet Meyer lemon and a little chili pepper. Perfectly textured rigatoni, a bright vodka sauce nestled between the ridges of the pasta, with sausage spiked with fennel for richness. Little agnolotti wraps stuffed with short ribs so tender and beefy they melted on my tongue, accompanied by a funky twist of gorgonzola. And my favorite, the scarpinocc, stuffed with sweet butternut squash, its little dimple is a brilliant vehicle for nutty brown butter and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

The brick chicken afterwards was also fantastic – ultra juicy with a nice sear and a golden, briny, nutty butter and caper sauce.

We didn’t have time for dessert, but given the exceptional quality of the rest of the menu, I can guarantee that when I return, which will be soon, I will take the time to try it.

Dario

Or: 323 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis

Contact: 612-614-2560; dariorestaurant.com

Prices: Appetizers and vegetables, $14-$30; pasta, $23 to $29; fish and meat, $26-$62

Good to know: Parking on North Loop can be a challenge; carpooling or public transportation is a good idea. The pasta is handmade and cannot be made gluten-free. Reservation recommended.

Little Bites are first looks – not definitive reviews – of new or changed restaurants.

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