First-rate pasta comes to the North Loop

Celebrated chef unveils his latest venture: Exquisite noodles.

Kara Nesvig

Bar la Grassa ADDRESS: 800 Washington Ave. N. PRICE: $6-$80 Before I begin to sing the praises of the new North Loop eatery, which fills the real estate left by Cuban-themed Babalu , I have one very important piece of advice: make reservations. Bar la Grassa is packed. ItâÄôs 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night, prime time for dining in the Twin Cities, and we cannot move. The aisles are busy and cramped as hostesses confirm reservations and placate guests while the bartenders whip up cocktails and pour glasses of wine. The pasta bar and restaurant is the pet project of celebrated local chef Isaac Becker, who helmed the 112 Eatery, and Josh Thoma of La Belle Vie and Solera. ItâÄôs a classy joint, a restaurant venture to be proud of. From its antique light fixtures salvaged from an estate sale to its dark, smooth flooring to its red and white dishware, itâÄôs as if the Moulin Rouge became a âÄô70s cowboy bar. Dishes clatter over the piped-in soundtrack, an eclectic mix of downtempo, opera and Johnny Cash . (A photo of a smiling Cash hangs over one booth.) I order a glass of Prosecco , a sparkly Italian white wine, and my mother tries a Peroni , the âÄúBud Light of Italy,âÄù according to our waiter. A waitress brings by a small dish of fava beans, peppers, cheese and cauliflower in vinegar and olive oil; we are to stab toothpicks in this tiny wet salad. ItâÄôs not for me, but the bread that comes along next definitely is: itâÄôs warm, dense, thick and perfect. Bar la GrassaâÄôs menu is split into six sections: antipasti, bruschetta, dry pasta (imported), fresh pasta (prepared in house), secondi (dishes to share) and contorni (side dishes). As an appetizer, we try the olivada and goat cheese bruschetta; IâÄôm used to huge portions, so the two tiny pieces of bread it arrives on is startling, though lovely. My mom gives it two thumbs up, but again, thereâÄôs something I donâÄôt love about olives. Our waiter explains the different pastas on the restaurantâÄôs diverse menu. Each dish comes in two sizes; small portions run from $6-$10, and the larger sizes for about $16. This is no Olive Garden with a miniscule selection of noodles, but rather one that mystifies me with its enormity. ThereâÄôs bruschetta with eggs and lobster, crab ravioli and a $35 shellfish platter to share, just to name a few of the menuâÄôs highlights. We decide to try the bucatini with bolognese ($7), the popular orecchiette with braised rabbit ($8) and the papparadelle with veal ragu ($9). Having been a bit lost with all the different styles of pasta on the menu, our waiterâÄôs help was much appreciated. Our dishes arrive at the table and the conversation stops. WeâÄôre too busy stuffing our faces. The bucatini has an herby zip; itâÄôs been made with a creamy, tomato-based sauce. The papparadelle has a hearty meat taste like familiar comfort food, and the orecchiette noodles are slippery and sweet, complemented by the delicate rabbit. Each dish is a mastery of texture and taste, and the portions are perfect for our palates. We decline dessert, though tempted. Bar la Grassa offers local fave IzzyâÄôs ice cream as well as an assortment of cakes and cheeses. Their dessert wine and port list is staggering (just like their wine list, though itâÄôs spendy) and IâÄôm pleased to see a raspberry wine included. IâÄôll be back for that, and IâÄôll most certainly be back to Bar la Grassa when IâÄôm in the mood for inventive pasta dishes. Eat that, Buca!