New Restaurant Review: Dario Is A Stunner

Pastas made daily in a room at the restaurant are the star of the show

With a tropical color palette straight out of Miami, a pounding soundtrack from the 1990s punk metal era, and pasta artistry the likes we’ve rarely seen in this town, there’s a good reason Dario is the most buzzed about new restaurant in the Twin Cities right now. It’s a vibe. It’s an aesthetic. And it’s largely a triumph.

Chef Joe Rolle has cooked in some of the best restaurants in town over the past few decades, really elevating his skills under the late-Jack Riebel at Dakota Jazz Club. He worked at Borough where he helped create the legend that is the Parlour Burger (more on that back story in our upcoming May/June issue) and dove into pasta while he ran Il Foro, the space that is now Fhima’s Minneapolis. Rolle’s personality is huge and you taste that in every dish at Dario.

Pasta is the star of the show here and if you came to only order one of the dishes from that menu section, I wouldn’t blame you. Although I’d urge you to explore the vegetable section as well. 

First, that pasta. A dozen varieties made fresh daily in a dedicated pasta room by Rachel Cornelius McLeod. The pasta room gets cleaned off in the afternoon and becomes a communal dining area at night. McLeod sells her pasta direct through Cornelius Pasta Co., and what a win getting her at Dario, as her shapes are perfect pieces of edible art.

The filled pastas are getting the most love: the doppio (double) ravioli has earthy sunchoke on one side, creamy ricotta on the other, topped with the crunch of hazelnuts and the sweetness of a honey sauce. The ricotta dumpling is a cloud-like pillow: again with the perfect counterpoint on top—a punchy pecorino and deep maitake mushroom. Rarely do you see a scarpinocc pasta on a menu, but this shoe-like shape is the vessel for a butternut squash filling topped with brown butter and 12-year balsamic vinegar. Each filled-pasta more beautiful than the next, each flavor combination more inventive and delicious.

The extruded pastas are my favorites, though. There’s something about the texture that’s just toothsome enough, just tender enough, perfectly salty, perfectly absorbent for Rolle’s decadent sauces. The ribbon-like mafaldini is a revelation in a scampi-style frutti di mare celebration of seafood. Sauces can be assertive. The spice of the Calabrian chili bordered on too intense in an otherwise lovely blue crab and Meyer lemon spaghetti, the vodka rigatoni with fennel sausage had a similar heat.

That reliance on spice is a bit of an Achilles heel for Rolle’s team, you’ll feel it in a King & I Thai-inspired raw beef salad, turnips with chili crisp and the Hiramasa crudo as well. Servers could help in this regard—they urge you to order everything you want so the kitchen can course it out, but when you get two or three very spicy dishes at once, it can be off-putting.

And yet at times, Rolle’s love for strong flavor and spice creates a unique, truly magical dish. The Oysters Dario are raw oysters topped with a tablespoon of spicy beef tartare and then a frozen ball of acidic lime. It’s not my wife’s favorite, the lime is a tad overpowering for her,  but I find it an intoxicating bite. A combination of flavors that excites the palate and prepared me for the meal.

Now to the vegetables: There are zero misses here. The simplicity of grilled cabbage on a bed of horseradish potatoes, the flowering cauliflower with a brown butter bagna cauda dipping sauce, the fennel with a smokey Castelvetrano olive and winter citrus are all divine. Cucumbers look like tiny little pieces of sushi roll, arranged on a round plate on whipped feta tzatziki and topped with smoked trout roe. The raw vegetable salad (yes, there’s jalapeno in there, too) is one of my absolute favorites. 

The fish and meats may provide your best value on the menu. For $30, you can get a whole sauteed trout, dressed with a bright salsa verde and topped with a saffron and mussel emulsion. Who else is making decadent, rich, fatty pork belly with the funkiness of a fermented black bean clam sauce? And it’s just $26.

I bring up value because Dario is expensive. At $24, the Doppio ravioli is just about $4 a piece. Rigatoni is $25. Considering the artistry, the talent, the level of execution, I have no problem with the cost. And if you treat Dario like a neighborhood restaurant instead of a special occasion spot, you don’t have to order five things and spend $200. Although with this menu it is hard for me to limit myself.

Cocktails by co-owner Stephen Rowe are fun and cheeky and at about $16 each, a North Loop value. He uses a lot of vermouth, creating a more low-proof, less spirit-forward delicate touch at the bar. The Gardener’s Break uses a combination of gins to bring a unique spin on a gimlet, the Kelly Kapowski is a rose vermouth paired with a pineapple rum, and the Bad Apple is a less intense brandy-based negroni. The wine list is heavily Italian, and I’d like to see more whites and a rose on the by-the-glass list.

The team is still working toward hitting its stride when it comes to service. There is lots of kindness and raw talent here, but it’s not the level of polish to come close to meeting the food. The location is a challenge as well, despite being in the red-hot North Loop, Dario is down a long drive-way street between Deja Vu and Guacaya Bistreaux. The valet is in a strange spot around the back of the T3 Office building, and you need a code to access the bathroom in the communal workspace area. Are these big deals? No, but they are little hiccups that detract from the overall experience.

But don’t let those keep you from experiencing the incredible talent at Dario. Rolle works the room beaming like a chef who’s spent his life working for others, now achieving his dream of running his own. He should be beaming. Dario is earning it.

Dario, 323 N. Washington Ave., Minneapolis, 612-614-2560,

Open 5-10 p.m. daily and 5-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays