First Look: Il Foro

A restaurant space that has housed many different incarnations now has a new name, but its art-deco origins and clear Minneapolis roots have been well-preserved. Il Foro, occupying a downtown Minneapolis space previously held by Goodfellows and the Forum, is now a modern Italian eatery putting a contemporary spin on traditional dishes. This blend of old and new is not only visible in the menu, but in the restaurant’s décor as well.

“Everything below your feet is new, but the walls, we couldn’t touch,” says Lorin Zinter, head of hospitality for the restaurant. His instincts—loved at new phenomenon Heyday and fine-dining stalwart La Belle Vie—prove flawless. Il Foro’s sleek black-and-white floor plan is in stark contrast with the green, red, and silver walls, which also feature ornate decorations heavy with nautical elements and geometric formations.

The main focus, however, is the towering bar at the center of the floor. Traditional Italian cocktails will be among the drinks served from an expansive menu, though a TV screen that raises out of the bar to air local sporting events keeps the space very much grounded in Minnesota culture. The space is dark and intimate, with natural light only spilling in through a row of windows at the front of the restaurant—which the bar manages to keep well-covered.

Executive chef Joe Rolle kept his menu modern in both presentation and content at the restaurant’s media preview last weekend. Crispy potato wedges topped with fresh herbs were paired with a chili aioli to add some heat. Two crostini appetizers—one topped with salami paste and a nut-based pesto, and the other with ricotta cheese and an eggplant gremolata—expanded upon the traditionally tomato-heavy Italian dish. The latter was a highlight, with a hint of anise adding some depth of flavor. Gnocchi smothered in ricotta was just underseasoned, but the featured dessert made up for it: the Zeppola, a rhubarb-filled fried ball of dough with a crisp, sugar-coated outer layer, was buttery and bursting with flavor.

With so many Italian joints slated to join the Twin Cities dining scene this summer (Monello, Parella, and Scena, to name a few), this kind of memorable dish is what Il Foro needs to stand apart from the crows. The eclectic menu and high-profile team, which includes Jack Riebel, formerly of Butcher & the Boar, alongside Rolle and Zinter, could make this restaurant a promising addition to the Minneapolis dining scene, so long as Rolle’s creativity stays on point.

36 South Seventh Street, Mpls., 612-238-2300,