First Course vs. 112 Eatery: Gnocchi knockout
Potential Past Making gnocchi
In Rome, Thursday is gnocchi day. And if you're serious about this delicious but labor-intensive dish -- which involves peeling, boiling, and ricing potatoes and mixing them at exactly the right moment with exactly the right amounts of flour and egg -- then trying it once a week is enough. Unfortunately, many restaurants in Italy (and everywhere else) ignore this sensible Praetor's edict. They cut corners with dehydrated potato flakes or semolina and, by doing so, they transform perfectly airy pasta pillows into deadly, mushy gut bombs. Fortunately, there are two Minnesota restaurants that make great gnocchi every day.
Cooking etc. Pesto gnocchi
Located in a Nokomis strip mall, First Course hides in plain sight. But the tattoo parlor next door and the neon Pabst Blue Ribbon sign glowing in its window belie this restaurant's casual sophistication. On one recent sub-zero evening we were delighted to find a pleasant fire, two talented teens playing guitar, and a well-rounded list of beers ready to warm us up. In contrast, 112 Eatery in downtown Minneapolis is tough to miss once you find it; it needs little introduction after years atop numerous Best-Of lists. It also offers a kind of ersatz Soho experience, complete with the upstairs annex, exposed brick walls, and huge abstract canvases, though its upstairs sound system could use an upgrade.
There is no other way to spin it: Going into this fight, First Course is definitely the underdog, as would be any place pitting their food against 112 Eatery. But it has plenty of south Minneapolis charm to complement its intriguing ancho-gorgonzola gnocchi dish. 112's atmosphere is good for a formal dinner, quick after-work bite, or late-night snack. Its gnocchi have been a menu staple as long as we have been eating there.
Round 1: The texture
First Course gnocchi are legit. On one side, they have the traditional "ribs" which come from taking a small bit of dough and rolling it down a fork. On the other side, they have a dimple for catching the sauce. Light and tender, they offer a pleasing contrast to the beef tips included in the sauce. 112's gnocchi, which look like small, smooth parallelograms, are lightly sautéed, giving them just a hint of resistance on the outside before giving way to the tender potato inside.