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Hog Heaven

Il Gatto brings the Twin Cities its first world-class porchetta

Hog Heaven
Photo by Todd Buchanan

New York City has been swept up in porchetta madness the last few years, as one chef after another has tried to best their rivals with their version of the boneless, well-seasoned, Italian pork roast that originated in Rome and is said to have been eaten there since the days of Emperor Nero. I’ve watched this one-upsmanship with distant envy—and one lovely tasting trip—as the only good porchettas I’ve ever found in Minnesota are the ones you cook yourself. (Try Buon Giorno in Lilydale or Ready Meats in northeast Minneapolis for good uncooked versions.)

But that was then. The day Il Gatto opened, Minnesota entered a new and glorious era: We now have a porchetta to rival New York’s finest—and one that any pork-lover in the state must taste immediately! It’s the work of Matt Kempf, Il Gatto’s new chef and a veteran of local fine-dining kitchens, including À Rebours, Goodfellow’s, and Red. He tells me that Il Gatto’s porchetta is just a simple pork shoulder, coated with sage, garlic, rosemary, and a lot of other herbs, then wrapped with a skin-on pork belly, painstakingly roasted at both high and low heat, and basted until it is served to you as a glistening layer cake of porky perfection.

The exterior, the cracklings, is shatteringly crisp and so good it may as well be candy. Beneath that is a quivering layer of scrumptious fat. Beneath that is meat as tender as cake. This dish is served with lovely roast potatoes with caramelized edges and fresh bitter greens. Set that astonishing plate next to a good, inexpensive red wine and the utterly craveable French fries (the same as the ones served at Il Gatto’s sister restaurant, Salut Bar Américain, here dusted with Parmesan and fresh parsley) and you have the restaurant that Figlio, whose former Calhoun Square space Il Gatto occupies, should have been turned into five years ago.

Better late than never. The steak pizzaiola, cooked over a wood fire, is the best I’ve ever had in Minnesota and perfectly done. The bucatini carbonara, made with America’s best prosciutto, La Quercia, is savory and creamy in just the right way. The Il Gatto burger is excellent: An abundantly seasoned, well charred beef patty that actually is able to match and enhance strong flavors like Stickney Hill goat cheese and arugula. The pastries, by local legend (and Aquavit and La Belle Vie alum) Adrienne Odom, are worth a trip on their own. I was particularly awed by the budino, a traditional Italian steamed pudding made from chocolate cake crumbs, a technique that produces a final cake that is both subtle and intense at the same time. This budino is served with a deeply concentrated chocolate sauce which works with the cake like a bass pedal on an organ, amplifying the dish in waves.

Il Gatto does have one problem: The restaurant bills itself as a seafood place when its strengths are elsewhere. I was in Philadelphia recently and got to try one of that city’s signature sandwiches, Dinic’s sliced roast-pork sandwich with lush meat mounded into a roll with broccoli raab and sharp provolone. If Il Gatto served their porchetta that way, I think we’d have a sandwich out-of-state-visitors would make pilgrimages to. I’m just saying. But however you serve it, Il Gatto is ready to put Minnesota on the national porchetta map.

Il Gatto
3001 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.
612-822-1688, ilgattominneapolis.com
Open 4:30 p.m.–1 a.m. Monday–Thursday; 4:30 p.m.–2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30-4 p.m. lunch Saturday and Sunday.


Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Feb 1, 2010 12:54 pm
 Posted by  cleonw

Porchetta (porketta) from the range is much better than anything you can get in the cities. Try Fred's from Fred's IGA in Nashwauk or Fraboni's or Superone in Hibbing. They've been eating it up there for years, since their ancestor brought it over from the "old country". I'll have to try it at il Gatto and see if it lives up to the "range" standards.

Feb 9, 2010 12:41 am
 Posted by  SW

I was very surprised and very impressed to see it on the menu.., so naturally I ordered it.

While I enjoyed the rocket/arugula on the dish, the pork and potatoes were woefully undersalted. While it's easy to sprinkle some table salt on it, it really doesn't penetrate the meat the way it would had it been incorporated in the cooking process.

I bring this up because, while their pizzas are excellent, this wasn't the first time I've had undersalted meat at Gatto and also Figlio. Is there a dictum from above saying that undersalting is a good way to attract the ladies from the Kenwood neighborhood.

Also, I realize it's cool and all that, but I did not enjoy drinking my wine out of a pathetic tumbler. You'd think a a place that spend ton of real-estate on wall of wine racks could provide a simple wine glass.

Agreed on your point about the seafood. They say they emphasize it (to the point of showing a big dead fish on ice as you walk past the bar), but the menu option could be thought out a little more in seafood.

Feb 14, 2010 10:51 am
 Posted by  coldbear

Porchetta is nothing new on the Iron Range of northern Mn.A staple since I was a child.There is a heavy Italian influence up here.Try the Sammy's Pizza in Hibbing,or Choppy's Pizza in Chisholm!

Feb 15, 2010 02:20 pm
 Posted by  MichaelS

I have to say that I'm actually surprised by your review. Normally your reviews are much more balanced covering the not so good along with the good. Basically you have given a slightly above mediocre restaurant a rave review based on essentially three dishes. Your review does help me know what I have to order when and if I choose to go there again.

My experience was the complete opposite. We ordered two dishes, the waitress's suggestion of the pork dish (basically a deconstructed cassoulet) and the spaghetti and meatballs. While I love any attempt at a cassoulet, this was overpowered by a copious amount of bread crumbs and a tasteless and horribly overcooked pork loin. It couldn't have been worse. Same goes for the meatballs (which it's hard to completely mess up). There were hard chunks in them, and the noodles were mush. It was like eating bad spaghettios, which is saying something. Maybe we ordered the completely incorrect things, but I did go with the house recommendation of the night. Maybe they were just trying to get rid of it. Nonetheless, I'm still surprised by your glowing review.

You didn't even mention the lemoncello tiramisu that scared you in your pre-opening posting about the restaurant. That must've exceeded your expectations as well.

May 6, 2010 02:46 pm
 Posted by  James

Based on my experience at Il Gatto, I can't imagine how anyone could suggest it rises barely above mediocrity. I have never eaten food like the kind I've eaten at Il Gatto. It is on another level - it isn't even in the same ballpark as any other restaurant I've dined in.

I enjoyed the Il Gatto burger and the shrimp appetizer. Both were so richly flavorful, that I actually had to chuckle in amusement - I never knew food could be prepared so well. It was an awakening for me in dining.

My companion enjoyed the scallops and goat cheese appetizer. She too laughed, as her eyes were opened to a whole new paradigm in flavor.

Astonishing.

I have never eaten anything that approaches the quality of Il Gatto, and we can't wait to return.

The only criticism I have is trite, but I do agree - the focus they place on seafood does an unjust disservice to the rest of the menu, which captures the magical essence of culinary art, in my opinion.

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