BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT (NOT CHEAP) (2002)

Pane Vino Dolce

No doubt this item will cause controversy. Because Pane Vino Dolce is simultaneously the most passionately beloved and the most avidly despised Italian restaurant in the history of Twin Cities dining. It's despised because of its no-credit-card policy (for tabs that usually top $50 a head, with wine), its habit of serving bottled water without explaining that it comes at a price, its lack of a written wine list (and the price surprises that result), and the fact that it's dark and noisy and there's no sign outside to tell you you're there. But we love it anyway! The pasta is always perfect--elegantly seasoned, never relying on winter tomatoes or cloying sauces. The pizzas are always perfect--charred and roasty, putting forth the flavors of bread and fire, not sweet and fat. The bruschetta is always perfect. Lamb, always perfect. In fact, no better rendition of pure Italian food can be had right now than what's served at Pane Vino Dolce. While most American Italian restaurants have made Italian food American, Pane Vino Dolce doesn't. And that's the trade-off: They don't "get" the service conventions we're accustomed to, but other Italian restaurants don't "get" why the rough edges--the bitter black char, the garlic bite, the pasta starch--shouldn't be polished away.

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