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Monello, First of Four New Italian/Crudo Restaurants: A Sneak Peek

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The Italian invasion has begun. Monello, in the Hotel Ivy, is the first of four upcoming new, hotly anticipated Italian/Crudo restaurants scheduled to open in Minneapolis this year.

A sneak peek of the space, the food, and even the drinks, though Constantine, the downstairs bar, is not yet open:

See also: Emmett's Public House: An Irish Minnesotan's Paradise

In keeping with what appears to be current design trend, Monello has been transformed into something open and airy with plenty of natural light and a soft, blue and silvery color palette. Like Apothocary, formerly Bradstreet in the Lowes Hotel, the darker, more speakeasy feel is gone, and an appropriate place to spend summer is reborn. The space will also eventually boast a patio on the northwest side of the building.

Executive chef Mike DeCamp (known around town as YC) has spent the majority of his career working for Tim McKee, most recently as chef de cuisine of fine-dining powerhouse La Belle Vie. At Monello, he'll be focusing on Italian with an emphasis on seafood, with menu items influenced by the Campania region of Italy, known for bounties of the sea.

Menu sneak peeks included classic flavor combinations in pared-down, simple preparations, like snapping together pieces to create a unifying whole: roasted beets with fresh mozzarella and fresh and dehydrated strawberries, foie gras terrine paired with classic bedfellows fig and Marcona almond. The torchio pasta (which pretty convincingly resembles a wee, uncircumcised member) with braised rabbit, creme fraiche, and artichokes was a dazzling little bite impossible to contemplate achieving in a home kitchen. Rabbit also appears on the menu as a $75 whole preparation for four, with faro verde and roasted cauliflower.

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Other menu highlights include seven preparations of crudo (the trend of the season), panzanella salad, multiple fresh and stuffed pastas -- bucatini all'Amatricana and angoloti with roasted beets, goat cheese, and sweet sausage among them -- and a meat and fish section with grilled chops, a dry aged steak, halibut with pancetta, and lobster with risotto.

The area formerly occupied by Porter & Frye, the lower level, will soon become Constantine, led by longtime local barman Jesse Held. Not a speakeasy, the space will reportedly offer "a blend of modern techniques, fresh ideas, and traditional recipes."

We were delighted by a white wine spritzer that was much like combining wine with a negroni -- aperol and lots of bitter orange, as well as house-made Limoncello on tap (a deliciously dangerous proposition).

Long term, it will be interesting to see how Monello fits into the historical context of ambitious restaurants with ambitious chefs having a difficult time surviving in local hotels. But at least in the short term, Monello seems like a refreshing place to take in some real cuisine and thoughtful cocktails in this underserved stretch of downtown.

The restaurant is currently open for dinner, and will eventually open for breakfast and lunch. Constantine is set to open in a couple of weeks.

201 S. 11th St., Minneapolis monellompls.com