“Oh look, someone else is moving into Figlio!” You’ve heard that before. In fact, it’s safe to say the only thing as memorable as the once-iconic eatery at the corner of Calhoun Square is the near-cursed inability of successors to maintain a foothold in what would seem an otherwise prime restaurant location.
Will this latest entrant into the fabled space last, you ask? For the first time in a while, the answer might just be yes. Especially if Chef Todd MacDonald has anything to say about it. And those who’ve eaten his food. Which I have. Lucky you.
Enter Parella. The self-described contemporary Italian eatery, named after a town in Piedmont, Italy, offers up rustic fare. Seafood and pasta are highlights, as is pretty much anything that comes out of the original woodfired oven.
I walked through the doors of Parella with friends for an early dinner one beautiful August afternoon, struck at once by how bright and open the space is. Its contemporary, modern decor is elegant without being stuffy. A theme, we soon came to learn, repeated far beyond just the decor.
We started our trip across the menu with the salmon crudo, gently cured, nestled atop smashed peas and pea tendrils. Sounds delicious, right? It was. Bright and alive as most of the seafood was, including the white anchovies with charred long beans. The octopus with white beans was a personal favorite; tender, yet satisfying.
Moving along to a healthy selection of first course dishes, I began to see the method to Chef’s anything-butmadness. The green salad, for example, is not your typical green salad. Like so much of the menu, Chef takes the commonplace and turns it into something special. In this case, with the help of 20 greens and herbs, Sicilian pistachios, and Pecorino. And since the combination of greens will change with the seasons, your likelihood of having the same salad twice is nigh on impossible.
If there was a favorite among the first courses, the baked goat cheese with olive toast was it, hands down. As in, keep your hands down, away from the goat cheese, so I can have it all to myself. What more is there to say? Warm toasted goat cheese spread across crispy olive toasts. You want this.
Almost as bad as you’re going to want the pasta. There is bucatini and pappardelle, but my money is on the simple and heartily satisfying whole wheat spaghetti with anchovies and parsley pesto. Peppered with crispy garlic crumbs, this dish still calls my name. It’s the epitome of comfort food. As in, the next time I am sad, depressed, or otherwise fed up with the world I will seek out this dish. And it will hold me. Awkwardly and in public, yes, but I won’t care. Moving along.
Onto second courses, and both the wood grilled salmon and brick-pressed half-chicken were table favorites. Tender and moist atop a bed of rich sunflower puree and wilted arugula, the chicken was particularly delightful. Again, as with so much we tasted, Chef surprised us with seemingly straightforward dishes. Making baked chicken memorable is not easy.
No matter how extensive your trip across the menu at Parella is, do yourself a favor and save room for dessert. Or don’t, but you’re still getting dessert. If you miss putting former Bachelor Farmer pastry chef Khanh Tran’s delectable creations in your mouth, I pity you. The panna cotta, in particular, was a crowd pleaser. We literally fought over who got to finish the luscious layers of cream, grapes, lychee, and granita. Despite the fight, there were no losers. Everyone who got a taste was the better for it.
As was our entire table by the end of the meal. As would anyone be after paying Parella a visit.
Look, there are numerous places to eat in Uptown. Many of them mediocre at best. Bright, shiny objects offering up trendy dishes with little or no substance. Parella, on the other hand, has a soul. The soul of Chef Todd Macdonald and his entire team. And soul, after all, is exactly what this space needs to succeed.
3001 Hennepin Ave.