Photo by Eliesa Johnson
Monello chef Mike Decamp
After years in the modern French La Belle Vie kitchen, current chef at Monello Mike Decamp's favorite thing to eat isn't octopus or foie gras, but Bucatini all'Amatriciana. That's telling.
It’s safe to say that 2015 is the year that Italian restaurants returned to the Twin Cities with gusto. I remember back in 2009 when D’Amico Cucina finally closed, after moving from its iconic Warehouse District location to the Chambers, I wondered if Italian had run its course in this town. Carbs were the enemy, and we were becoming an interesting food city with young, edgy chefs who, though they might have cut their teeth in the D’Amico universe, were eager to define the food scene in their own terms.
We weren’t completely bereft. We always had Broders’ as our rock, we embraced Bar La Grassa as it brought us our third James Beard Award, and, heck, even the original Buca was great before we exported it across the country and ruined it.
But I can’t seem to remember a year so heavily tilted to one cuisine. In 2015, we got Monello, Parella, Lela (to an extent), Il Foro, Victor’s on Water, Scena Tavern, Zio Cucina at the Mall of America, Z Italiano at Southdale, ie Italian Eatery in south Minneapolis, and it doesn’t stop there. Besides Tim Niver’s coming Mucci’s, on West Seventh, the shuttered Trattoria da Vinci in Lowertown will rise again as Parco 400 from chef Troy Unruh, who has cooked at the famed Del Posto in NYC.
So what’s going on? Was the hole really that big? Are we rejecting Paleo and gluten-free tendencies with our Northern stubbornness? Some have suggested that it’s about the economics of pasta, long a moneymaker on a menu. It’s true that a bowl of garganelli is going to cost less/make more than a bowl of beef, but I think there’s something else going on.
After years in the modern French La Belle Vie kitchen, current chef at Monello Mike DeCamp’s favorite thing to eat isn’t octopus or foie gras, but bucatini all’amatriciana. That’s telling. I think this Italian renaissance has more to do with a pendulum swing toward the heart of eating. While we’ve been enthralled with the foams and spherical gravies of molecular cuisine for some time, we’ve also been craving something bigger: an emotional attachment to what we’re eating. It’s been about the head for so long, and now it’s time for a little heart. Can you think of a cuisine more rooted in that ethos than Italian? Italian can be fancy or plain, rich or poor, big flavored or starkly simple, but no matter how it’s presented, if it’s done well, it overflows with passion and heart.
As we close this year that has been filled with uncertainty, tense race relations, a divided political spectrum, and an all around shaky world, I’m more than grateful that our local chefs have opened their kitchens to Italian cooking to offer us bowls of comfort, plates of heart, and dining rooms where we might find a moment of assurance.