It's All Your Fault

5325 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.; (612) 827-7376
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11:00 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday 11:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.

Frankly, I blame you. Yes, you. And don't try sneaking off now--we're going to have a little talk. Oh yes, we are.

See, I went into this job a mild-mannered reporter, dedicated to showing you the highs and lows of Twin Cities food life--what? You don't think I was all that mild-mannered? Well, nits to you, buddy, I was meek as a spring lamb, and if you don't believe it, choose your weapon and we'll meet in the alley.

Michael Dvorak

Location Info



5325 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

Where was I? Oh yeah, meek. Meek as daisies in May. Then came millions of meals. Billions of meals. Trillions and gillions and hillions of meals, every single dastardly one for you. And now I've got a hide as tough as last week's crostini. A heart as black as the bitterest tapenade. And expectations--ugh, you don't even want to know. I've got expectations like a prom court at midnight. I'm ruined. Wrecked. Chewed up and spit out.

It all hit me the other night coming out of Prima. "Well?" asked a friend, knowing that I had just finished my final visit. "I don't know," I sniffed into the evening air, "I wish they used fresh pasta." Fresh pasta! When I was a dewy-eyed child, did I ever think about fresh pasta? Fresh pasta was like spring hail to me--I knew it was out there, but we crossed paths infrequently. Out of sight, out of mind.

But now I cross paths with fresh pasta all the time. In fact, it mistakenly filed a restraining order against me last spring, but like I explained to the judge, anyone can break into the wrong hotel room and hide in the wardrobe. Besides, that's another story entirely. What I've got to ask, now that I know that making fresh pasta is not that big a deal, and buying it is even less of one, is this: If you run a restaurant that focuses on pasta, why not make that small effort?

Not that I haven't had some very good food at Prima. The vegetariana salad was excellent--greens dressed with a vibrant vinaigrette and jazzed up with slices of marinated, roasted eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper, topped with a crunchy little cloud of shredded carrots, all making for vast variety and interest in a simple vegetable composition. A caprese salad of tomato and mozzarella also gave evidence of skillful, thoughtful preparation: The fine balsamic syrup drizzled over the dish really made the ripe tomatoes pop. (All Prima salads cost $3.50 for a smallish half order, and $6.95 for an enormous full order.)

A few of the appetizers stood out, too. Crisp, but not hard, crostini slices made a good platform for a blend of cooked fresh spinach and plump little golden raisins, again dressed with that sweet, potent balsamic syrup ($3.95). Grilled eggplant roulades were tasty little roll-ups of that grilled, marinated eggplant around a chèvre mixture.

But on a menu as brief as Prima's--only two dozen dishes, based on few ingredients combined and recombined à la Chi-Chi's--the flubs are magnified. An herbed garlic bread ($2.95), two pieces of bread wiped with pesto and topped with melted cheese, is the sort of mushy home cookin' you expect in rural supper clubs. Prima's Caesar salad is shlumpy in the extreme: The gooey, mayonnaisey dressing has no zing, kick, punch, or otherwise noticeable flavor. The bland Parmesan decorating it dangerously resembles that pre-grated, anti-caking-agent-coated stuff that comes in bags, and I wasn't any happier to see it on pastas like the rigatoni bolognese ($8.95), large tubes of pasta dressed with an otherwise competent meat sauce. Or on the penne alla puttanesca ($6.95)--smaller tubes of pasta with an otherwise fine version of the piquant tomato sauce featuring cured olives, capers, and anchovies.

One of the big draws at Prima is supposed to be the bargain factor: In fact, the menu announces, "In an effort to offer value-added pricing, we are unable to accept credit cards." And while the puttanesca, at $7, is certainly a fancy-restaurant best buy, it's hard not to notice that the same money could have fed a family with a tub of sauce and a pound of fresh pasta from Broder's: Just add boiling water, drain, and combine.

Other pasta dishes resembled nothing so much as a college student's first effort at a dinner party. Spaghetti with white clam sauce ($9.95) was memorably clueless: Thanks for topping the dish with six fresh clams in their shells, but no thanks for boiled spaghetti with about a teaspoon of fresh parsley and the barest hint of garlic. If you can't make this classic dish big, full of clams, and stinky, why bother? Penne alla salsiccia--pasta with bits of sausage, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and ricotta ($9.95)--were fine, if nothing special; ditto for the fish specials I tried at Prima, like a crusted, fried fillet of halibut ($15.95) in lemon sauce, served alongside some odd mashed potatoes mixed with corn.

So if I'm so smart and all this is true, why has the place been jam-packed since throwing open its doors in April? Ah, shaddup. Opening a successful restaurant in southwest Minneapolis is like shooting fish in a bouillabaisse. That part of town could support another ten restaurants serving healthy, reasonably priced food--especially salads, pastas, and glasses of wine, because that's what upper-middle-class people have for dinner these days.

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