17 December 2015

La Grolla, St. Paul: A pretty good reason to cross the river

There’s a lot of hype and excitement about all the new Italian restaurants opening in the Twin Cities. (Check the third paragraph of Rick Nelson’s year-in-review article for a list.) I’m excited. I’ve often lamented that so many of our Twin Cities Italian eateries just don’t match the quality and creativity of meals I’ve eaten at in other cities.

So really, it’s my own fault for not having discovered La Grolla sooner. Partly, it’s my parochial attitude about going to St. Paul to eat. There are so many good restaurants west of the Mississippi that I usually don’t consider driving to St. Paul. But, I must admit, it seems like my list of ‘exceptions’ – St. Paul restaurants that are worth the trip – has grown to the point where I may have to change my attitude. (See especially Meritage (my favorite Twin Cities restaurant), Ngon Bistro, Muffuletta, and the St. Paul Grill (for lunch). Also, there’s Caffe Biaggio which is a really good Italian restaurant in St. Paul, and somehow I’ve never written a blog post about it.)

So now, add La Grolla to the list. We went with friends on a Saturday night, to have dinner before going to the new jazz club in St. Paul, Vieux Carre. (The jazz club was really fun. Worth checking out.)

The ambiance in the dining room is very pleasant – warm, friendly, brick and plaster walls, high ceilings. We got a table near the front. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable about the items on the menu. She was not particularly attentive, however. After our meals were served, we didn’t see her again until she checked to see if we wanted dessert.

La Grolla has a very nice wine list with an interesting variety of Italian wines. We opted for a Sangiovese, an excellent choice that fit the variety of meals that our group ordered.

My wife and I started with Insalata Bianca. It was a large plate of Belgium endives tossed with fennel, hearts of palm and shaved Parmesan cheese dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. It was very tasty. Our friends also split one of the other salads. One of the quirks at La Grolla, the menu states that there’s a plate charge for splitting an item. We didn’t bother with ‘splitting’ our salads. We just positioned the salad plates so that each of us could reach and share. The salads were quite large. Ours was $9. I suppose if you didn’t want to share and didn’t want such a large salad, you could order a small salad for $6.

Another little quirk – the menu states that there’s a $4 charge for a second basket of bread. The bread was good and the amount we were given in the bread basket was adequate. We didn’t want a refill anyway.

For an entrée, I ordered one of the nightly specials. It was house-made pappardelle noodles with a delicious, briny fish and seafood sauce. The sauce included salty anchovies, fish and seafood with cherry tomatoes and cream. The pasta was tender and tasty. The whole meal was excellent. Here’s a photo of it.  

Two people at the table ordered grouper. Both plates looked very appetizing, and the food was very tasty. But the fish was served with the skin on. One of the meals, the fish separated cleanly and easily from the skin. The other meal, the skin stuck to the fish and was difficult to eat. Was this an indication of uneven preparation in the kitchen? I don’t know. But here’s where we wished the server had been more attentive and checked to see if everyone was satisfied with their food.

The fourth person at the table had veal scaloppini. As much as I liked my pasta dish, I think her meal was the best of the evening.

So, while we had a few concerns, overall it was a very nice experience. I think La Grolla ranks among the best Italian restaurants I’ve eaten at in the Twin Cities. I’d have to say my current favorite still is Trattoria Tosca in Linden Hills. And I owe myself a return visit to Caffe Biaggio. But I certainly would welcome a return visit to La Grolla next time I feel like driving across the river.

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