Much anticipated Il Foro, the new concept by a dream team of restaurateurs and chefs, is currently deep in the throes of construction. And even though some of its beams and studs are exposed, Il Foro is still as stunning as a beauty queen in silk and sequins.
As I tour the space, and chat with executive chef Joe Rolle, I find out that both he and it are studies in contrast.
"I just want to be totally badass and humble," says Joe Rolle, executive chef of Il Foro and possibly the best chef around here you've never heard of. You see, Rolle equates being "badass" to being "humble," kinda the opposite of typical chef badassery. But, he says he's been receiving some advice from people he looks up to -- people like Erik Anderson (upcoming Brut) and Steven Brown (Tilia) -- big names in the game who have essentially told him: "You don't want to be the best badass chef that nobody knows."
Maybe you didn't know that his cooking, along with that of chefs Nick O'Leary and Tyler Shipton, was the backbone of critical darling Borough, where he worked for over a year. When I glance at the still-in-process Ill Foro menu, I see stark similarities. Like Borough, the items are written thusly, with a minimalist's restraint:
Tortellini: bolognese, Parmesan brodo, extra virgin olive oil
That's a dish he created special one night for Brown at Borough, who demanded to know why it wasn't on the menu. "This should be on your menu from now until the end of time," Rolle reports the chef admonished him. So it will be, at Il Foro.
Rolle grew up in a small Italian family in northern Minnesota, and hence maintains a steadfast Italian pride. His menu will be reflective of that, and while it will undoubtedly reflect sophisticated refinement, he is unapologetically infusing some Italian American influence. "Because I grew up with it. There will be red sauce on this menu." There will also be lots of seafood, crudo, fresh pastas, and possibly a milk-fed suckling porchetta.
"I cook highly energetic and wild, because I was fucking born with it! I'm Italian, and I'm very proud, and I want to crush this!" So it seems perhaps he's willing to come out of his shell just a little. In addition to Borough, Rolle also spent a year as charcuterie master for Haute Dish, and prior to that was sous chef at the Dakota and chef de cuisine at Vincent.
The space will of course maintain its 1930s Art Deco grandeur, and because it is on the historic register, the only changes they're allowed to do were along the floor, so the space will sport new, period-appropriate tile, as well as a few banquettes and a new bar. The space will be split 50/50 between bar and restaurant as they hope, despite its haughty appearance, it will be a come-as-you-are place. The music will be louder in the front, but the back will still be available for those who wish to dine in posh elegance. The bar comes with a hydraulic television for airing very important sports games. "But only if the Twins make the world series or the Wild is in the playoffs," says Rolle. Otherwise, down it goes into the bowels of the bar, and nobody will be the wiser that it is even there.
And who would be looking at a TV screen when the light fixtures alone are as fine as all the sky's constellations?
The space is also home to several private dining areas, including a private balcony bar and dining room that offers a bird's-eye view of the entire restaurant, with room for up to 75. If you're in the market for a groom's dinner or small wedding spot, there will be no nicer place in either city.
As far as what can be described as a mini explosion of local Italian restaurants, with upcoming Monello in the Ivy Hotel as well as Parella in the old Figlio space, in addition to Il Foro, Rolle says he thinks it's a good thing. "We need it, and the other chefs that are doing it are good."
He has no concerns that his kitchen will in any way be redundant, and he wants to emphasize how inclusive he really believes it will be. "I've subconsciously put something on this menu for everyone, which doesn't mean its going to be TGIMcFuckingFriday's."
Despite a sweetly affable proclaimed affinity for sex, inebriants, and rock 'n' roll, Rolle was the captain of both his baseball and football team and he's married to his high school sweetheart. They have a newborn daughter whose middle name, Sienna, is after the Tuscan City of Italy.
See? A punk-rock jock cooking in a Deco grande dame, both willing to cater to baseball fans in jeans as well as those in bow ties. No artwork is complete without contrast, and this one could well become a masterpiece.
It opens in June.
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