Disclosure: I was invited out to do this review and my meal was provided by the restaurant.
Cuisine: Southern Italian
Restaurant Features: Bar, Catering, Patio, On-Site Parking, Sunday Brunch
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Address: 5001 34th Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55417 612 724-3009
Hours: Sun-Th 4:30p-10p Fri-Sat 4:30p-11p Sunday Brunch: 10a-2p
Links: Al Vento Website * Al Vento Facebook Page * Google Map
Atmosphere: Al Vento is conveniently located on the corner of East 50th St and 34th Ave S in South Minneapolis, not far from the Lightrail line. The restaurant is in a brick building, with one open room serving as the dining room and bar area, and the kitchen tucked away in the back. The mood was romantic, with soft lighting from both the hanging pendant lights and the soft glow of the table-top candles. The space efficiently accommodates enough tables to intimately seat maybe 40-50 guests. Our server, Alexandro, just added to the ambiance with his authentic Italian accent. The name “Al Vento” means “with the wind” in Italian.
Menu: Appetizers include a variety of Bruschetta including Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and White Bean, Artichoke/Mozzarella/Basil and Roasted Peppers, Eggplant Caponata, and Olive Tapenade with Goat Cheese. Other starters include Mushroom and Pork with Apple Chutney, Stuffed Mushrooms, Mussels in White Wine & Garlic, Tomato Bread Soup, Smoked Salmon Crostini with Mascarpone and Berry Compote, Cavatelli with Swiss Chard Truffle Pecorino and Brown Butter.
Salads offered at Al Vento are the Caesar, Red Beet with Candied Walnuts, and the Mista with Fennel , Blood Orange and Herb Goat Cheese.
You can also order a variety of pizzas including the Neopolitan, or one with Salami/Artichoke/Tomato, the Red Potato/Spinach/Gorgonzola/ Red Onion is a unique combo and last but not least, the Fennel Sausage/ Roma Tomato/ Herb Goat Cheese.
There are a handful of delicious Pastas on the menu at Al Vento, with the menu rotating items on a regular (if not daily) basis. Menu items on the night of my visit were Spaghetti and Meatballs (which is a true winner even if you rarely order spaghetti at restaurants), Risotto with Roasted Cauliflower and Pecorino, Bucatini alla Amatriciana with Pancetta Tomato and Chili flake, Maltagliati with Braised Pork Olives and Chestnuts, and Fussili with Tiger Shrimp and Pancetta in a Tomato Sauce.
The Entree items also change on a regular basis, depending on the season and what ingredients can be obtained locally. Current menu includes Braised Pork Shank with Saffron Risotto and Gremolata, Sea Bass with Root Vegetables and Red Pepper Sauce, Parmesan Chicken Breast with Roasted Vegetable Gratín, Grilled Steak alla Pizzaiola with Gorgonzola Sauce and Potato.
Desserts are all homemade and include Vanilla Gelato, Semi-Fredo Hazelnut Custard, Chocolate Oblivion (pastry crust with chocolate ganache and strawberries), Tiramisu, Olive Oil Cake (with fresh berry puree and hazelnuts), and the Creme Brulee Trio (chocolate, vanilla, pistachio).
In addition to a full bar, Al Vento offers a variety of coffee drinks and Italian sodas.
Sunday Brunch: European-style buffet featuring fresh fruit, salads, pastries, meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, waffles, house made sausage, eggs benedict, breakfast potatoes, a chocolate fondue fountain with strawberries and more that rotates from week to week,. $14 for adults, $7 for kids. Adult brunch includes a bottomless mimosa. Every Sunday from 10 to 2. Reservations accepted.
Price guide: Bruschetta $4-5 Antipasti $7-9 Salads $7 Pizza $9-11 Pasta $13-15 Entrees $17-20
Happy Hour: Happy Hour every day from 4:30 to 6. 1/2 price all bottles of wine, $5 select martinis.
Weekly Specials: Sundays and Mondays- Half Price Wine all night
Tuesday Night Date Night- 3 Courses for $20 a person.
What we ordered: We started with the complimentary freshly baked Italian bread with a side of olive oil. Like everything at Al Vento, the bread was made from scratch. It was lovely, thick and dense, seasoned with Italian herbs and very flavorful.
Al Vento has many selections of Bruschetta so I ordered the one that caught my eye. It had chopped artichoke, tomato, roasted red pepper and fresh homemade mozzarella. I don’t hesitate to say this is one of the best bruschetta I have tried. Every ingredient was so fresh and brought a great mix of flavors. Artichoke and roasted red peppers were a genius addition to the traditional tomato and basil.
We also tried the Sicilian Stuffed Mushrooms, an excellent choice. The order came with four mushroom caps that were stuffed with a blend of walnuts and herbs, topped with bread crumbs and cheese, then baked. The mushrooms were placed atop a pretty arrangement of colorful dipping sauces. Great combo of textures and flavors.
There were many entrees on the menu that sounded wonderful but I have really been craving seafood lately so I chose the Fussili Shrimp Pasta. The dish was a generous portion of homemade fussili pasta loaded with at least 7-8 giant tiger shrimp. The pasta was tossed with homemade tomato sauce, small chunks of pancetta (cured Italian bacon), fresh garlic, red chili spices and other herbs. The pasta was cooked perfectly, the tomato sauce was fresh with subtle kick from the red chili, and the little bites of pancetta provided even more texture and taste than the shrimp alone. I was very pleased with this dish!
My companion ordered the Braised Pork Shank. The pork was extremely tender and juicy after being braised; it was first seared to give it a brown color then roasted in seasoned broth. Fabulous! The pork was topped with a gremolata consisting of chopped garlic, parsley and lemon zest then surrounded with a saffron risotto. The citrusy mix of herbs was a pleasing compliment to the rich taste of the saffron risotto. My companion and I both loved this dish, it is hearty and warming on a cold winter night.
We also ordered dessert at the suggestion of our server. The homemade Vanilla Gelato at Al Vento is better than any I have had locally. Gelato is usually made with less fat and more sugar than traditional ice cream; this version is the perfect blend of both creamy and sweet, with the rich taste of real vanilla bean. Heavenly!
We also tried the Semi Fredo, which was a very unique dessert made of semi-frozen hazelnut custard. The flavor of the hazelnut reminded me slightly of peanut butter, but much more rich and less sweet. The strawberry and chocolate sauces that were drizzled on top were a perfect match to the hazelnut. As for the texture of this dessert, I have a hard time wording its uniqueness; it was very cold yet not frozen or creamy smooth like gelato, ice cream or other frozen custards. Word cannot do it justice, you must just try it to see what I mean! You’ll love it.
Service: We were lucky enough to find a space in the parking lot and get a table on a busy Tuesday night. Our service was excellent! Our server, Alexandro, was great at explaining items on the menu (with his authentic Italian accent) and had some suggestions that were real winners. Drinks were refilled quickly and food was timed so that we were able to enjoy our appetizers without rushing to finish before our entrees came. The manager was also very inviting and helpful and seemed to genuinely care about every customer dining at Al Vento.
Overall Impression: This was my first visit to Al Vento and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The food is wonderful, authentic Southern Italian, everything is made from scratch, and many ingredients are locally produced….. all for prices less than I expected for such a nice restaurant. The Tuesday Date Night special (3 course meal for $20/person) is a phenomenal way to try a variety and the Sunday Brunch sounds excellent as well.