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It’s big. It’s boisterous. It’s a little bit of Manhattan’s Mulberry Street brought to the Midwest. Welcome to Nancy St. Pierre and Isaac Becker’s Bar La Grassa.

“Bar La Grassa is the Italian version of 112 Eatery, but they have the same foundation and philosophy,” Becker explains. “We focus on execution doing something simple with three to four ingredients. But you have to execute it right, or those three to four ingredients are really boring.”

His chef de cuisine, Erik Sather, couldn’t agree more. When we ask, “what’s the secret to preparing pasta?” we anxiously wait for the tablets to come down from the mountain. But instead, we get this.

After graduating from high school in Lakeville, Sather went to Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis, and then took jobs at Bobino, Nicollet Island Inn, Clancey’s Meats Fish, and Corner Table where he met his wife. When La Belle Vie moved to 510 Groveland in 2005, he joined Tim McKee for several years (also working at Solera) before eventually signing on with Becker.

It’s been a natural fit for a variety of reasons. For starters, Becker was intrigued by Sather’s charcuterie expertise, a craft he honed while working at Clancey’s. “Isaac was really open to the house made meats I did, so he wanted to bring them into the restaurant,” Sather tells us. And his handiwork now shows up on the menu in the form of sausages, terrines, and the like.

Bar La Grassa’s lively and convivial vibe also suits Sather. As we snap his photo, one of the guys calls out from the kitchen, “Is it senior picture day?” He cracks a smile: “We have a good amount of fun. We work together and everyone’s very professional, but we also enjoy being here.” And so do their guests. The atmosphere is electric and Bar La Grassa is still one of most sought after tables in the metro.

But Sather hopes that doesn’t scare potential diners away: “People always ask me, how do you get in?” he says. But it’s easier than you think. Although you need a reservation in the dining room, it’s first come, first serve in both the taproom at the front of the house and the pasta counter in the back.

Plus, if you belly up to the pasta bar, you’ll have a front row seat for the theatrics in the open kitchen. Being on display certainly adds extra pressure for Sather and his crew, but it’s a challenge he welcomes. “I’d rather be out in the open and be part of the action, compared to just hiding in the back,” he says. And selfishly, we love it because it means we can watch him assemble our favorite eats.

Instead, we’ll do some serious carbo loading. Bar La Grassa features 20 pastas, most of which come in satisfying half portions under $12. First up: Cavatelli with Braised Rabbit.

“Cavatelli is thicker and has some tooth to it,” Sather says. For a visual, think oblong bowl with the sides curled in, and ridges underneath for style points. Sather pairs it with a braised rabbit rag (made with porcinis, pancetta, and tomatoes) as well as butter and parsley. It’s hearty as all get out, and top notch comfort food. Just what we need now that winter’s here for real.

Ravioli is made by laying out a flat piece of dough, topping it with a mixture of meat or cheese or whatever your heart desires, and covering it with another layer of pasta. Then it’s sealed and cut into individual pieces.

Agnolotti is very similar, except it’s one sheet that’s been folded over. And while we usually see ravioli in squares, agnolotti can come in half moons or rectangular shapes too. Bar La Grassa’s adaptation is long and narrow which we like, because it means more room for the wild ‘shroom and cheesy mousse filling.

Once the agnolotti is ready, its preparation is relatively straightforward. Sather sautes it with shallots and another handful of mushrooms. Then it’s sprinkled with chili flakes, and shuttled to your table. The taleggio and toadstools make for a deep, woodsy combination, and the chili flakes give it just the right amount of heat. Mushroom magnifico.

‘Nduja Egg Raviolo: One of Bar La Grassa’s plethora of pastas

Every day Sather plucks potatoes from obscurity to fulfill a much higher purpose. They’re made into charmingly misshapen spheres and then browned with butter and cauliflower. It’s all deglazed with freshly squeezed OJ, given a dose of heavy cream, seasoned (with salt!), and finally garnished with orange zest and chives.

It’s not wildly complicated. But every element hits its mark. The gnocchi, soft and pillowy, has small traces of color on its otherwise vanilla exterior. The cauliflower, sliced thinly, is more delicate than the usual chunky florets. And the orange, bright and citrusy, adds an unexpected yet clever tangy twist.

It’s a dish that’s not overwrought, overthought, or over anythinged. It simply is what it is, beautifully done. Impeccable execution an excellent meal makes. Buon appetite!

Top 12 dishes under $12 112 Eatery: Tagliatelle with Foie Gras Meatballs Bar La Grassa: Gnocchi with Cauliflower and Orange Haute Dish: Biscuits and Gravy Heartland: Cheese Course La Belle Vie: Pappardelle with Rabbit Bolognese Lucia’s: Farmers’ Salad Meritage: Crispy Roasted Chicken Thighs Piccolo: Scrambled Brown Eggs with Pickled Pig’s Feet Restaurant Alma: Chard Souffl Saffron: Fried Cauliflower and Slow Cooked Green Beans Sea Change: Arctic Char Tilia: Potted Meat
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