photo by tj turner
Il Foro burst onto the scene this summer as one of several crudo-heavy, upscale Italian joints to open in quick succession, bringing with it a notably long history to contend with. Formerly home to the Forum Cafeteria, downtown’s top midcentury lunch stop (and later Goodfellows, a fine-dining prince of the late ’90s, before becoming the short-lived Forum in 2010), the restaurant’s iconic space and storied past are bound to evoke sky-high expectations.
Luckily, the project attracted an all-star team well equipped to handle the pressure, led by Smack Shack’s Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald, Lorin Zinter (former co-owner of Heyday), and Jack Riebel (most recently of Butcher & the Boar). The restaurant’s original Art Deco–era mirrors, walls, and chandeliers give a well-deserved nod to the past, and blend nicely with executive chef Joe Rolle’s contemporary Italian sensibilities.
The crudo selection at Il Foro is smaller than that of the other recently opened Italian fine-dining joints, but the parings are thoughtful: Yellowtail is brightened with passion fruit, and tuna gets a double hit of acid from tomatillo and finger lime (an Australian variant on the more familiar citrus).
Pasta dishes receive similar attention to detail. The handmade agnolotti are heavenly: Parmesan-filled pillows topped with sweet corn and fava beans, dressed with the lightest touch of truffle. Rigatoni seasoned deftly with black pepper and cooked in red wine make the simplest of Italian dishes—cacio e pepe—sing. And rabbit cacciatore with creamy polenta, a recipe passed down from Rolle’s nonno, comes bathed in a chunky, spicy tomato-olive sauce ideal for dipping strips of ever-reappearing garlic bread.
Rolle is also becoming known for his Iron Range-influenced porchetta, served by the thick slice, and for good reason. It’s a rich, fatty dish ideal for sharing with the entire table, with a well-rendered, shatter-crisp exterior.
Two weak spots mar Il Foro’s overall dining experience. The restaurant’s dessert list is a short roster of fairly forgettable Italian sweets (panna cotta, olive oil cake, and the like). And in such grand environs with nearly flawless food, it feels especially incongruous when service slips. Here’s to hoping the misplaced orders, chorizo-pancetta confusion, and plates brought out on the sorts of tray stands endemic to high-volume chain restaurants will soon disappear—and improve Il Foro’s chances of becoming a classic.
40 S. Seventh St., Mpls.