Monello // 1115 2nd Ave. S. 353-6207 www.monellompls.com
A way with horses can be pretty thrilling, but I’ve just encountered an even more amazing talent: The Pasta Whisperer.
That blessed individual works in the kitchen of the Hotel Ivy (Mike DeCamp, formerly of La Belle Vie, heads the team) in Monello, its ristorante dedicated to the best-ever way to ingest carbs. The new room is slick and urbane in design, its servers warm and polished, the noise level subdued, the valet service free — a formula for success indeed. Top that with a collection of some of the very best pasta dishes in the metro (oh, let’s be honest: in North America), and we can crown Monello as the pleasantest of all our newly launched Italian endeavors in which to spend an evening.
The short menu starts with crudo, but by now that concept is ready to show up at McDonald’s. A small list of first courses follows, which sound good enough but didn’t inspire us to dedicate $16 to $22 to the experiment.
Next the shock-and-awe section, better known as pasta, available in half or full portions ($9–$12/$16–$19): eight gotta-try renditions. To stop folks like me from a meltdown of indecision, the kitchen kindly offers a pasta-tasting menu: four pastas, a cheese course and dessert, $65. Two of us split a single menu, with the addition of an entrée (which proved unnecessary, portions were so generous) and rolled away from the table, as stuffed as the cappeletti.
First up, however, a miniscule amuse involving a jumpin’ ancho pepper and chorizo (what part of Italy is that, again?), along with well-made focaccia. Then the real fun begins: fullbodied gemelli twists tossed with sweet, meaty chunks of blue crab, creamy avocado and smooth botarga cheese, all awash (a little too generously) in a bright lemon beurre blanc.
Next, squares of fazzoletti tangled with succulent chunks of lobster, along with hazelnuts and a hint of saffron under a (talk about trendy) Prosecco foam — and lots more butter. Then, as antidote to the winds of winter, torchio mingling with braised rabbit, batons of beets, crème fraiche and artichokes. Run that focaccia through the broth because you won’t want to waste a drop. Finally, packets of agnolotti plump with sweet and hearty sausage, served among beet cubes and goat cheese.
We then split an entrée (choice of beef tenderloin, halibut or branzino, $29–$35, an all-too-small selection, I’d suggest). The branzino, firm and pearly, swam alongside nicely chewy clams with hen of the woods mushrooms amidst a clean, green shout of basil — very good, but at that point, our eyes were glazed.
The petite bite of cheese — a supple, full-flavored three-milk robiola, reignited us. It’s served with a sweet puree of pear and subtle hint of allspice. Then dessert — a miraculous pumpkin crème brulee (but too little of it) accompanied by cubes of molasses spice cake (ho-hum), a sweet-tart green apple emulsion, apple matchsticks and apple butter.
Wines BTG are a little spendy (beer and cocktails bear less sticker shock), but hey: This isn’t a joint in which to show up in blue jeans and runners, this is a Dining Experience (without the starch that tired term implies), and a lovely addition to downtown.