Precise and intentional, Monello brings true fine dining back to the Twin Cities

Nasturium panna cotta at Monello

Nasturium panna cotta at Monello

Since the recession, our local dining landscape has been all about a handful of things: what I like to call "value" restaurants where you get a lot for a little (Tilia, Nightingale, Hola Arepa, et al.), the upscale pub with progressive food but an atmo of jeans, flip flops, and the Replacements (Haute Dish, Borough, Heyday), burgers, and of course, food trucks.

We could scarcely even point to a fine-dining restaurant, except La Belle Vie, which holds a certain place in the stratosphere, far apart from everyone else. Seems like Monello has come along to try to change some of that.

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

Do you like having your linen napkins changed when you run to the restroom? What about a new set of silver for every course? Deferent servers dressed better than you who skirt around like clever phantoms, attending to your every need before you knew you had it?

The kitchen is under Mike DeCamp (known widely as YC -- he has been working for Tim McKee since he was young, and McKee gave him the nickname "Young Chef," or YC), who has spent the better part of his career as chef de cuisine at none other than La Belle Vie, so it should be no big surprise that the attention to detail here is similar. It seems he did not come here in order to loosen his tie, and in fact, based at least upon a first meal, the move could be considered almost lateral.

Take, for instance, the famed crudo that has been getting so much attention around these parts with restaurants adopting it like the new sliced bread. It's the sort of dish with only three elements -- the raw yellowtail, a sliver of tomato, a powder of chile. Or another, with a swipe of sea urchin over a panna cotta no bigger than a quarter, smoked bone marrow powder, and some julienned apple so perfect it was as if it grew on the tree that way.

Yellowtail with chile and tomato

Yellowtail with chile and tomato

Even a panzanella salad, that picnicker's delight of vinaigrette-soaked bread, ripe tomatoes, tons of herbs, and cheese, arrives here deconstructed and lined up like game pieces marching off to war. All of it is an exercise in restraint, even a bit austere.

The pastas, available in half or full orders, are made in house, tender and precise, with placements of herbs and shavings of Parm that seem almost diagrammed. The tortellini with fava bean were three filled pieces napped around two daubs of soft cheese with four smokey lardons and a half dozen favas. Delicious, decisive, and easily leaving you wanting more. A lot more.

Interestingly, our favorite course came at dessert, when a nasturtium panna cotta arrived like a girly Lincoln Log, mint green and pink, snapped together geometrically and playing soft against hard, floral against fruit, sand against foam, all scattered with flower petals. It also came in a portion that inspired a bit of camaraderie and sharing.

Don't arrive here thinking of eating kind of familial, robust, messy, sharable food we've become accustomed to. It may take a refresher course to remember what it's like to dine this way -- individually, carefully, intentionally. To leave our dusty jeans at home, to remember which fork to use and when, and to keep in mind that food is sometimes art and performance as much as sustenance.

Now open for lunch and dinner. Sister cocktail bar, Constantine, coming soon.

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