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Hey! Go Celebrate Your Next Fun Thing at Dario

If you take just one thing away from this, let it be: Order the beef tartare.

Em Cassel

Yesterday was my birthday!

(Pause for applause, cheers, a shower of flowers.)

Thank you, thank you. Happy Aries season, everyone. 

I’m someone who can never quite decide how to celebrate their solar return—it never occurs to me to make a plan, and anyway March 21 is hard to account for in Minnesota, where some years it’s balmy enough for a group bike ride and others (ahem) there’s a frickin’ foot of snow in the forecast. 

So not until a few nights ago, with no big blowout to mark the passing year, did I decide to try and snag a table at Dario. The buzzy North Loop newbie was booked to the brim, of course, but they keep a few of their 16 bar seats and some tables open for walk-ins “to be a spontaneous destination for our neighbors and guests,” according to their website

In other words: Aries can be accommodated. 

Dario's King & I Thai-inspired beef tartare

We popped in a bit after 5 hoping for a pair of barstools and were delighted to learn that there were tables available. Sitting down by the wide front windows, we were delighted again to hear that we’d be ordering from a new menu with slightly different pastas than the one that debuted at the restaurant’s launch in late January. 

Maybe you’ve seen the photos already: Dario is cute as heck, with splashy pink walls and Pepto-hued stools, bold blue tiling and rich turquoise banquettes. Curving features and archways abound; it’s as if its creators, chef Joe Rolle and beverage director Stephen Rowe, hacked into every millennial’s “home decor” Pinterest board. 

On the drink side, there’s a bitters-focused list of mocktails ($14 each), inventive original cocktails full of ingredients I can’t pronounce ($16 each), and a handful of house cocktails and beers (one from Italy’s Birra Menabrea, the rest from locals Modist and Falling Knife). My partner opted for the spirit-free Sparkling Jade, which mixes Dry Wit’s NA Salinger botanical with Copenhagen sparkling tea and a dash of apple cider vinegar; I liked the spirit-full Gardener’s Break, a ginny guy bursting with floral flavors and a hint of citrus. 

The cucumbers ($16) arrive posed like little sentries, stationed atop a rich and tangy and creamy whipped feta tzatziki. The veggies themselves were wonderfully acidic, more pickle than cuke, and topped with pops of smoky trout roe. The whole thing is a little minty, a little dilly, a little fishy, and while my dining companion laughed later that they reminded him of Plankton from Spongebob, he added, “I would eat them again right now.”

Plankton? Is that you?Em Cassel

Dario’s beef tartare ($17) is one of the best bites I’ve had in recent memory, full stop. Inspired by shuttered Minneapolis favorite King & I Thai, it’s a textural delight of soft beef and crunchy puffed rice. And it’s a flavor bomb: salty, savory, fresh, magical, with minuscule spirals of pepper providing big hits of heat. I loved it. I loved it. I was ready to order another when we polished ours off, which we did, with haste, piling the beef onto tall lettuce leaves that tower alongside it like feather fans from a vintage burlesque act.

Where do you send people when they ask about good pasta in the Twin Cities? I have a shortlist, emphasis on short: Bar La Grassa, Italian Eatery, Mucci’s, Hyacinth. A few others. Dario, with its fresh pastas prepared by Rachel Cornelius McLeod of Cornelius Pasta Co., is the latest entrant on that list. 

The butternut squash scarpinocc ($24)—a pasta shape my post-meal Googling tells me is “unusual”—looked like a canoe to me, but it’s apparently named for "scarpa," the Italian word for shoe. The squash filling in these pockets of floury footwear is nutty, cheesy, and rich; I think I said something refined to the effect of “putting the butter in butternut squash, baybee.” It’s softly sweet, and the whole plate is drizzled in brown butter and a 12-year balsamic. 

We had to order the special, a $27, 10-layer lasagna with a beef and pork ragu and a rich béchamel, plus a pile of grated parm on top. It’s a lasagna that transports you to an old-school red sauce joint. What millennial pink? This is all red leather banquettes and white tablecloths. And per our server, it’ll be the kind of thing that sells nightly out by 7 p.m. when it comes to the menu full time.

Put it all in a funky space, and add a playlist with a surprising amount of hair metal (is that Motley Crue??) and I don’t think I could have done much better for a last-minute birthday plan. Bopping along to Vince Neil while stuffing beautiful pasta shapes into my mouth? That’s as good a way to ring in 33 as I’ve ever found.

Dario
Address: 323 N Washington Ave., Minneapolis
Hours: 5 p.m.-10pm Sunday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

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