The quick answer? Yes. Il Gatto (2.0), the newest iteration of the former Figlio, is better, more refined, and more assured than when it first strutted out. The old Il Gatto suffered Uptown’s ubiquitous flaw, that of style over substance. Touting the concept “Uptown Italian,” it served up easy, predictable dishes with a few unexpected twists. I think in my first review I called it good, not great.
But changes have been afoot. First, Parasole reworked the room. Now you can see all of Lake Street through floor-to-ceiling windows. Backlit jewel-toned bottles glow on the new mirrored bar, and the dining room—with more booths and fewer tables—has less clatter and din. Gone are those frat-boy references to cats, cheap wine, and women, much to everyone’s (especially the servers’) relief. Next, the menu got a buffing from consulting chef Tim McKee, the James Beard Award–winning toque behind La Belle Vie, Sea Change, and Solera. In one bold stroke, the place seems, well, alive.
With McKee and his associate Jim Christiansen (also of Sea Change) at its helm, Il Gatto touts food, and it should. “Soon as I heard McKee was cooking here, I applied for a job,” said our server, insisting we try the fonduta—a poached egg that splits sunshine over gooey truffle-scented fontina cheese and grilled asparagus with toast—fingers only, please.
McKee has dubbed the guanciale pizza his “baby.” It’s a lightly charred beauty of cured pork, figs, and tangy goat cheese drizzled with balsamic, and it sure is easy to love. Another beauty of a dish layers gossamer ribbons of hand-rolled pasta with tender rabbit bolognese. Wood-roasted chicken and fragrant porcini in rustic cornmeal maltagliati is a flavor-packed surprise. Dig into tender pork encased in crispy sausage or the lovely meatball sliders, simple and good.
Don’t miss the sides. Try the roasted cauliflower, studded with golden raisins kicked up with chili, or the melting, garlicky kale and pancetta. Complaints? A few. Delicate skate drowns in pungent puttanesca; roasted chicken, while juicy and moist, is over-spiced. Some dishes I loved the first time weren’t executed as well the second time. And Figlio’s calamari and tortellini alfredo remain on the menu for comfort’s sake.
Come dessert time, a crostada holds tart apples in its feathery, buttery crust; the chestnut cake, a throwback, is delicate, old-timey, and not too darn sweet. “Is your cappuccino not dry enough?” asked our server, hovering over my tablemate’s cup. It was good coffee, but the housemade limoncello struck the best note—so yellow, so naughty, and so nice. On the corner of Lake and Hennepin, the city’s ultimate catbird seat, Il Gatto has sprung to life.
Beth’s Rating: 84
See Il Gatto’s RestaurantRater score at mspmag.com.
GETTING THERE, GETTING IN: Parking in Calhoun Square ramp and two-hour street meters. Reservations are recommended on weekends. HOURS: M–Th 4 pm–1 am, F–Sa 3 pm– 2 am, Su 3 pm–12 am NOISE LEVEL: Medium to high KIDS: Kids menu available, as well as small plates of meatballs, burgers, fries, and pasta. CARDS: Amex, Discover, MC, Visa ENTRÉE PRICES: $10–$27 S ACCESSIBLE
3 Great Plates ...
1. Pesce Spada Sott’Olio
Chunks of swordfish preserved in peppery olive oil tumble over each other like satin pillows on this long, pretty plate.
2. Mint Fazzoletti
Grass-colored pasta handkerchiefs hold tender lamb in a rich, herb-scented ragu.
Sweet, delicate sea scallops atop wheaten farro and butternut squash puree are at once elegant and earthy.