You really want to like certain places, but they can’t seem to like you back. They’re stunted in the reciprocity department.
Amore Victoria on Lake Street was one of those places. The indie Italian-American restaurant with the huge rooftop deck and killer real estate was the sort of place you’d find yourself landing, in spite of yourself.
The cooking was decidedly cheesy and marinara-laden and the booze was cheap. But more often than not the experience would end in some kind of service or culinary dissatisfaction, like eggshells in the omelet.
The place is now under new ownership. It shines under vigorous cleaning, the new staff is attentive and charming, and the menu has been overhauled for more modern dining tastes.
Owner Doug McNicoll says he scrubbed every tile individually. The cleansing alone has done wonders for the place, as has an almost complete staff turnover. Hosts, servers, and bartenders are as attentive and pro as they get in this industry, and their verve tells the tale of a satisfying work environment.
The refreshed menu retains the strong Italian-American identity. Down from dozens of offerings, classic favorites remain, in tandem with some inventive takes on the genre.
An “Amore Roll” is a doubled-up egg roll wrapper that surrounds a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, and pesto, served with a little pot of marinara on the side. It’s a crowd-pleaser to toss on the table with the first glass of wine.
Fans of Figlio’s perfect fried calamari can get up and do a little dance. Amore’s version, served with marinara and lemon aioli, is the closest iteration I’ve ever seen.
Mushroom Passion pasta is an umami bomb of porcini, portabella, and shiitake mushrooms in a light cream sauce over angel hair. The signature Pasta Bella is a classic, garlicky fettuccine in cream sauce tossed with prosciutto and some veg, and very good.
A slab of lasagne is meaty, cheesy, and unfussy as it should be. Scratch panna cotta is lightly sweet and smooth as silk.
Big loaves of sourdough bread land on the table with olive oil, balsamic, and shaved Parm — a nice, gratis gesture. Amore Uptown is taking a lot of pride in its bread, with fresh loaves daily. It’s white, chewy, doughy, unchallenging Italian bread. Just what you look for in a place like this.
Prices may hamper their efforts a bit. What the old Amore had going for it was its cheap abundance. Regulars of the place may have a tough time digesting $18 pastas and $10 simple salads, though entrees remain mostly in the under-$20 sweet spot.
However, there’s nothing in the appetizer list under $10. They’re competing with every eatery in Uptown, where the under-$10 snack is imperative for the youthful audience. There’s also a smart list of pizzas and burgers, but at $15 for a burger, they may be a tough sell.
Brunch and lunchtime selections are priced more pleasingly, with many things falling under $12. Wine and cocktails are also mid-priced and competitive for the area.
For all of the effort, we’d like to see Amore nail that reciprocity that was so elusive before. The simple approachability of Italian-American food is all about comfort. The new Amore has managed to provide that delicious contentment that’s an amenity to any neighborhood. Now they just gotta give it enough economy to sell it to the multitudes.
McNicoll says he’s got “big plans” for the rooftop deck come spring, including live entertainment. There’s also a charming little low-ceilinged 50-seat banquet room in the basement.
1601 W. Lake St., Minneapolis