LIOLÃ€, at the lively intersection of Lake and Lyndale in south Minneapolis, used to be the restaurant/lounge side of the La Bodega tapas bar. Not the mostly Spanish side with flamenco music and dancers, but the other side, the one that wasn’t as easy to define. It was sort of Mediterranean, a little more formal, and perhaps less inviting than the tapas bar.
So La Bodega’s Sicilian chef-owner Maurilio Purpura has renamed the restaurant after a favorite play by Pirandello, and redecorated with splashes of rich, vivid red. “I wanted to make it more comfortable, more Italian,” he says.
Now the space has a genuine, understated glamour. As evening turns to night, attractive people gather to sip attractive drinks while they sit on attractive, modern furniture. The place has a chatty, flirty vibe that’s hip, but not strenuously so.
Arriving for a seven o’clock dinner reservation at LiolÃ , however, feels like showing up at a nightclub hours before everyone else. The servers gossip and lean on the bar, watching Ghost on the widescreen TV. Techno music booms from speakers that easily could serve a much larger room.
The redesigned menu features poorly lighted photographs of several dishes—off-putting to those accustomed to Martha Stewart Living’s beauty shots. Happily, though, when the actual items arrive, we see that none of the photos do the dishes justice.
Photo by Eric Moore
We begin with the Antipasto Mediterraneo, a magnanimous platter of satiny mortadella (Bolognese smoked sausage), savory salami, hunks of good-quality Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, plenty of delectable olives, and a thick slice of grilled halloumi, the deliciously chewy Greek cheese. It proves more than enough of a starter for our party of four, even though our server gives us a leisurely, downright Mediterranean amount of time to chat over generous glasses of Barbera d’Asti and Walnut Crest Pinot Grigio before bringing our entrÃ©es.
Those entrÃ©es make a mixed impression. The homemade ravioli are stuffed with succulent bits of chicken and lavished with a voluptuous, sage-scented butter sauce. The grilled squid is perfectly, tenderly cooked and nicely complemented by caramelized onions, mild goat cheese, and a touch of sweet balsamic vinegar. The veal scaloppine with lemon is piquant but stubbornly tough, and the green peppercorn steak arrives dry as an old boot, desperately in need of its rich, brandied cream sauce.
Desserts range from decent to decadent. The coconut cake is a big, showy slice of white wedding cake, redeemed by deep drifts of shredded coconut. A strapping wedge of apple pie seems out of place on the Mediterranean menu but measures up nicely to the all-American standard. The classic tiramisu is light and lovely, but the best of the bunch is the flan, a tiny jewel of silky custard, delicate and barely sweet.
According to Purpura, LiolÃ ’s menu is a work in progress. He’s discovering that some strictly Sicilian dishes, like the dried salt cod with tomato sauce, don’t play well on Minnesota palates. But with a few more rehearsals, LiolÃ may find a following to rival that of its Spanish sibling next door.
3005 Lyndale Ave. S.
Lunch and dinner daily.
Appetizers $9—$16, entrÃ©es $15—$26