Barbaresco in the Barrio

Pane Vino Dolce
819 W. 50th St., Minneapolis; (612) 825-3201
Hours: Daily 5:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.; cash or checks only

When Pane Vino Dolce opened last May, the buzz in the air was immediate and furious. Everyone wanted in to the restaurant without a sign, without a wine list, without a reservation policy. The inevitable result: Two-hour waits, a constant camp-out on heretofore sleepy West 50th Street, ordinarily staid south Minneapolitans sipping Barbaresco--Barbaresco!--on the curb--the curb!--before sitting down to dinner at 11:00--11:00!

Eleven? I heard that and figured I'd wait for the buzz to burn off on this small, dim, super-romantic storefront that is the newest venture of chef David Hahne and his partner Carlo Macy, a pair of Giorgio veterans. I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I gave up and put in some doorway, bench, and curb time myself, and now I think I can pretty confidently report that the buzz--and the wait--are going to be permanent. This place is magical.

Teddy Maki

Location Info


Pane Vino Dolce

819 W. 50th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Category: Restaurant > Fine Dining

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

The magic starts out front when a server or someone approaches your little group: Red or white? Dry? Sweet? There's no paper wine list at Pane Vino Dolce, the servers just know what they have in their constantly changing selection of a dozen or so predominantly Italian bottles, and you have to tell them what you like in order to get anything. Of course, when someone asks me sweet or dry, I have to answer "round," which netted me a glass of 1997 Bertani Catullo, a nicely structured, very pretty blend of cabernet sauvignon and corvina, the amarone grape ($6.50 a glass/$35 a bottle.) Out on the curb, you also learn to appreciate the budget wines the restaurant prides itself on, like a jammy, snappy '98 Calatrasi primitivo (Italy's version of the zinfandel grape $4/$17.50). A glass of wine or two also livens up the betting on whether the Bryant Avenue bus will make the traffic light.

Once you've made it inside, the rabbits start flying out of the hats. The room itself is terribly romantic: limestone tile floors, artsy mottled walls, tin ceilings, a candle-holding chandelier, and candlelight generally. In fact, the flickering shadows rather blur the line between romantic and flat-out dark, but once you're inside, you're inside and it's bad taste to point out the bunny leg sticking out of the breast pocket, isn't it? Well, as long as I've pointed out that wrinkle, I might as well go on: The restaurant is also painfully noisy. All those hard surfaces and all those pinot grigio-soaked patrons means you'll be shouting too. Bring your friends with hearing aids, and they'll never forgive you.

But if you don't bring your friends without hearing aids, they may never forgive you either. Once the food begins to arrive, the ruckus ceases to matter. An appetizer special of "crustoni" (bigger and more tender than a crostini, $6) was one of the best things I've had this year: Two slices of house-made bread topped with sautéed kale and big, chewy pink chunks of pancetta. The bread was lush from a glaze of fruity olive oil and smoky from a meeting with a hardwood fire, the pancetta was resilient and salty, the kale was simply stunning, bright green, holding its mineral-fresh taste but gaining silky subtlety in the preparation. Mussels ($6.95) with tons of garlic and lots of red-pepper flakes, were a rugged pleasure, all ocean and fire. Cod croquettes ($5.95) were fantastic, crisp-crusted and not at all oily, tender, salty, perfectly finished with a sweet, vinegared raisin-and-red-bell-pepper sauce. I can't remember the last time I was so uniformly impressed with a restaurant's starters.

The pizzas I tried were truly lovely, and I'm sure one of the main reasons the restaurant has attracted something of a cult following in its neighborhood. A tender yeast-dough crust is seared till dark, bubbled, and paper-crisp, and then topped with either roasted portobello mushrooms, onions, and sweet nuggets of roasted garlic topped with mozzarella ($7), or a gorgeous, spicy tomato sauce with capers, garlic, and dollops of goat cheese ($7.50). Salads were good, too. A mixture of baby greens was spruced up with marinated melon ($5.25). A plate of cold, sliced roasted beets and cucumber ($5) was attractively unfussy, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and studded with a few clumps of Gorgonzola.

Actually, if you're a cheese-eating vegetarian, there's a lot to argue for Pane Vino Dolce being one of the best vegetarian restaurants in town. As evidence I offer the spaghetti in tomato sauce--yes, the lowly spaghetti in tomato sauce. Order that humble standby here and you get a big bowl of perfectly al dente noodles--chewy, resilient, springy--served with chopped, oven-roasted tomatoes, fresh basil and about two dozen cloves of browned, nutty, roasted garlic, which gives a toasty perfume to the whole dish. It's absolutely wonderful, and at $6.95, with a glass of $4 primitivo, I could see eating this every night. Assuming of course, that Hahne and Macy don't change the menu and drop the spaghetti altogether--which they may well do, since they're planning to break out a fall menu about a week after this hits the streets. Hahne says the upcoming fall and winter menus will feature richer sauces, and more stews and fricassees.

Next Page »