I’ve been exploring my Italian roots lately through food. Lies. I have no Italian roots. I grew up eating pasta from a can and thought my aunt, Kay, was super fancy the way she pronounced it ‘EYEtalian.’ Times have changed. I can now tell the difference between tortellini and tortelloni. And my current food tour of Italy is nowhere near an Olive Garden. It’s still EYEtalian, though, but that’s for Aunt Kay.
And, boy, would Aunt Kay be impressed with all the fancy Italian food in Minneapolis. Last month, you might remember, I dove headfirst into Parella in Calhoun Square. Remember the whole wheat spaghetti with parsley pesto and that cool, creamy panna cotta?
This month, I had the pleasure of finally dining at Il Foro in downtown Minneapolis.
Just as Parella was born out of the ashes of another great restaurant from Minneapolis history, Figlio, Il Foro, too, has a lineage to be proud of. And in awe of. The now temple to modern Italian cooking was originally built in 1914 as a theater, later becoming the storied Forum Cafeteria and a host of other restaurants through the years.
Walking through the bedazzled Deco doors of Il Foro one late summer Friday afternoon, I was blown away at the interior.
Before you take your seat, wander around the place and soak up all the delicious décor. Seriously, your eyes will get just as much a feast as your appetite.
We started with the tomato cucumber salad. Sounds simple, but there is a lot happening in this bowl. The fresh, peeled tomatoes and crunchy cucumber sit atop a green gazpacho with dollops of pecorino fresco. A spoonful and you’ll swear summer just happened in your mouth. Summer on the Mediterranean.
On to the bruschetta. You’ve never eaten a bruschetta like this. This is not Costco bruschetta. It’s not even fancy Italian market chichi bruschetta. It is a defies-description-even-though-I’ll-try-and-describe-it bruschetta. Chanterelle mushrooms snuggled into the richest, creamiest nonlivery liver mousse you’ve had. Smear a bit of the neighboring taleggio fondue and huckleberry preserves onto your bite and, bam, all the flavors. At once.
Everybody who’s anybody has a crudo. Il Foro has three and we had the tuna. This finger lime-topped tuna crudo swimming in tomatillo and avocado crema is the perfect palette brightener.
When it comes to the pasta, you expect greatness at the place that prides itself on “a modern approach to classic Italian cooking.” Lucky you, you’ll get greatness at Il Foro. The red wine rigatoni was creamy, salty, and perfectly peppery. I ate the entire dish myself.
The tortellini with a bolognese filling were swimming in a chicken and parmesan broth that you’ll wish you had a great big soup bowl of.
The parmesan agnolotti with sweet corn and summer truffle was the table favorite. The contrast of the rich and creamy sauce with the fresh bite of summer sweet corn was memorable. As in, I still remember it. As in, I think about it every day.
Not that we needed a main course, we went with the block cut New York strip, topped with a sweet corn raviolo. Seriously, can you ever get enough of fresh summer sweet corn? Do I even need to ask the question? Any time you see corn on Il Foro’s menu from now on, order it.
We ended the meal with a dessert I have to believe will soon become an Il Foro classic, if it hasn’t already. The chocolate olive oil cake, filled with an EVOO caramel, sits on a wonderfully tart, zesty passion fruit purée. Get it, split it, or hoard it all to your lonesome. And there’s olive oil in it, so it’s heart healthy. Hey look, healthy dessert! Bonus points, Il Foro!
I can’t recommend Il Foro highly enough. I walked away from my table happier than when I walked in. That’s a huge indication I’ll be back. And you should too. Executive Chef Joe Rolle and the entire Il Foro team have taken a beautiful, historic space and festooned it with a friendly ambience and food that lives up to their mission. Best darn EYEtalian food I’ve had in a long time.
40 S. 7th St., Minneapolis