Often times restaurants owned or managed by the same family fall into one of two sibling categories. The first is the identical twin where the two restaurants are near carbon copies of each other (see any of the Edina/Longfellow Grill family). The other is the adopted sibling where the two restaurants couldn’t be any more different such as La Belle Vie and Smalley’s. Neither of these is a bad thing but it just seems to be typical of how owners and managers expand their culinary empires. There is of course a third option where you can see the relationship between the two restaurants but they each stand on their own and local chef Jon Hunt has done this with his new Uptown joint, Rinata.
Rinata has very big shoes to fill, thanks both to its family reputation and to its location. Hunt opened the South Minneapolis gem, Al Vento in 2005. The southern Italian restaurant fit the neighborhood like a glove and drew in folks from all around. It is one of my top 15 in town so I was very excited to hear about Rinata opening in Uptown. Sadly, the opportunity came as Uptown lost long time institution Giorgio’s. Clearly, Rinata was going to have to make people embrace something new while also living up to the high standards of Al Vento. Happily, I can say they succeed on both counts.
The old Giorgio’s space has been given a once over and the result is a cozy environment on one of the main arteries of Minneapolis. A thriving bar sits in the back of the main room while dark wooden tables are scattered about. The lighting is dim and I could certainly see this as an instant date night staple in Uptown. While the dinning room was doing a brisk Friday night business on my visit, nothing about it screamed cramped or crowded.
The menu varies greatly from Al Vento but thankfully the execution in the kitchen at Rinata lives up to the standard of its brethren. The more sophisticated menu focuses on more regions of Italian cooking and really emphasizes Hunt’s fresh pastas, which are the best in town. Our meal started with an appetizer of eggplant involtini. The thinly sliced eggplant was wrapped around goat cheese and topped with pine nuts and a tomato sauce that was rich and surprisingly non-acidic. My companion was quick to note that, thankfully, the kitchen is not afraid of garlic. It was a dish that showcased both skill and taste. The beet salad was notable for the parmesan vinaigrette dressing that topped the red beets and parsnips on the plate. The addition of whole pistachios to the plate was bothersome as it was difficult to corral the rolling nuts into bites with the other components. If there are short ribs on a menu then you best bet my companion will seek them out. In the case of the short rib agnolotti, she couldn’t have been more pleased. The mild gorgonzola cheese in the dish did not come close to overpowering the tender meat that blanketed the pasta pillows. The sauce made from the meat was rich in taste but not heavy. My fettuccini with pancetta, peas, and mushrooms was simply the best dish I’ve had in weeks. The fresh herbs in the cream based sauce lingered on my tongue after the initial salty taste of the incredible pancetta. Next time I must ask where the get their pancetta from. One other thing that should be noted is the serving sizes. Whether it was the app or the entrees, the kitchen does a marvelous job of keeping the size of the dishes just right. While we did not leave with a doggy bag, we certainly could have had dessert if not for a prior commitment.
One of the best things Rinata has taken from Al Vento is their commitment to stellar service. Our utensils were constantly changed out and our meal impeccably timed. I also appreciated the fact that our server was knowledgeable about the menu and clearly had sampled every dish we had questions on.
Rinata, 2451 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 612-374-8998