Best dishes countdown #75: Puttanesca at Foreign Legion

Puttanesca: red sauce that got tarted up in some patent leather thigh-highs.

Puttanesca: red sauce that got tarted up in some patent leather thigh-highs.

They're the best of the new Italian restaurants you haven't heard of yet. Foreign Legion quietly rebranded itself from a wine, cheese, and charcuterie bar to a wine, cheese, and charcuterie bar that also serves on-point and accessible Italian favorites that come out of the same kitchen where Russell Klein spins his fine dining takes on Eastern European fare (adjacent Brasserie Zentral).

The place is now more open, less esoteric, more accessible, and generally a spot you should check out if you're looking for good Italian downtown that won't cost you too dearly, especially when red sauce beckons.

The cooking strikes a nimble balance — comfort with a finely-tuned edge. Handmade pastas, excellent Neopolitan-style pizza dough, a little sous vide here, a little confit there. But then, they're fucking around too — "The Big Night" is their more classically-Italian spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, but because people around here tend to like spaghetti Italian American style, they're serving it with three meatballs and red sauce on the side. Gougeres are described on the menu as "adult Cheese-Its".

It's tough to say whether these compromises are based on desire or necessity; Russell and Desta Klien are world-class food people who pretty much know it all. Have they just realized that their audience wants things simpler than world class? Either way, in the hospitality business, you gotta be in the "yes" business. Good on them for saying yes. 

We say yes to the puttanesca, an embodiment of this slick compromise. It's something one doesn't find just anywhere — red sauce that got tarted up in some patent leather thigh-hi's and fishnets via chile, anchovy and brine. And yet, it's easygoing enough to land roundly in the comfort column. 

Foreign Legion, for highbrows and lowbrows alike. 

105 S. Fifth St., Minneapolis


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