03 February 2007

Lunch at Al Vento, Minneapolis, MN

It was a pretty cold Friday afternoon, the beginning of the coldest weather we’ve had in Minnesota in several years. I met my friend (and occasional guest blogger) Patty at al Vento, located in a pleasant residential neighborhood in south Minneapolis, near the Minnehaha Creek and Parkway. It was sort of a belated birthday lunch and celebration of Patty getting a new client for her communications consulting business.

The décor of the restaurant is pretty sparse. I may have made a mistake choosing a table by the window. We got a draft from the door whenever it opened. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for al Vento, it didn’t open too often. Patty commented that it was a little chilly at our table.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch … which means the service was kind of slow. But we weren’t in any hurry, so that didn’t bother us. The server was friendly enough, just slow. It wasn’t like he was busy with other diners. During the hour and a half we were there, there were only five or six tables of other diners. We had to ask for bread (which was very good, but served without butter). He didn’t offer dessert. Patty ordered coffee. When he brought it, he brought artificial sweetener. Patty asked for sugar, by the time he brought it her coffee was cold.

We each ordered a glass of Mattei Barbera. (It’s kind of ironic that al Vento’s style of cooking is southern Italy, but the winery is from northern Italy.) The wine mellowed after being poured. I thought it was hearty and full-flavored, particularly good on a cold afternoon. By the way, the wine was half price at lunch - $3.50 for a generous size glass.

Patty ordered a gold beet salad with fennel vinaigrette and warm goat cheese. I’m not a big fan of beets, but Patty said she is. Unfortunately, she said that the salad was kind of tasteless, except for the cubes of roasted beets, which were too scarce in the salad. My salad was mixed greens with roasted pears and goat cheese. I liked my salad very much. The pears were sweet with a warm, roasted flavor. The goat cheese provided a pungent counterpoint to the pears. (Another server complaint – he forgot to offer cracked pepper for our salads.)

For entrées, Patty ordered bucatini all' amatriciana with tomato and pancetta, and I ordered pappardelle with braised duck ragu and goat cheese. We both liked our meals quite a lot. Hers was a bit spicy. The server told her it would be. She said that it would have been too much for someone who didn’t like spicy food. Mine was wonderful. The pappardelle was cooked just right. The duck ragu had plenty of meat in it and the sauce had a very nice blend of seasoning. In this dish, the goat cheese complemented the duck ragu (whereas it contrasted the pear in the salad).

My understanding is that al Vento is in a space where another neighborhood bistro had been previously. I think it’s the kind of restaurant that will survive or ultimately fail, depending on whether the local residents eat there regularly. I hope the thin crowd on the Friday we ate there was a symptom of the cold weather, and not an indication of neighborhood apathy for the restaurant.

I would go back. The half price wine alone made it worth the trip. On the other hand, Broder’s Pasta Bar is much closer to my neighborhood, and I like it better. But I wish al Vento well.

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