Restaurants are a lot like dating in middle-age, only better.
Some are like relationships where you didn’t feel that spark, but you’ve become friends—they’re pleasant enough to spend time with and you can count on them. In these spots the food is filling and tasty, the price is right, and you’ll have enough for leftovers. It will never be stellar, but if you keep your expectations modest, you’ll be satisfied every time.
There are restaurants where you had a memorable meal, but when you return, the food is lackluster. It was an illusion; if the illusion is broken, you know you’ll never be back.
Then there’s the one when you feel like maybe this could really be something. You’ve been out enough times to know they’re real. You can’t stop thinking about them. You’re preoccupied with how soon you can get to see them again. But you’re an adult now and know it can’t be every day—life’s obligations must be met. But you’ll keep seeing them, again and again. That one is Giulia.
Located in the Emery, previously the Hotel Minneapolis, in the space of the former Restaurant Max, Giulia is a hotel restaurant, but throw away any notions of dim corners with food that tastes like the management knows they have a captive audience. The décor is luxe mid-century modern, comfortable and airy.
Josh Hedquist heads the kitchen—he’s formerly of Minnetonka’s Spasso—and has competed on two Food Network shows, has over 20 years of experience in the world of food, and is dedicated to Northern Italian cuisine.
Giulia is possibly best-known for its tableside mozzarella. It sounds like it could be gimmicky, but it’s the real deal. Curds are mixed and transformed into silken mozzarella. There are a variety of accompaniments to choose from. My dining companion and I had the marinated peppers, which were the perfect foil to the milky flavor of the mozzarella.
We shared the black kale appetizer. I was uninterested in ordering it, but acquiesced to my companion and was happy I did. Made with a Calabrian honey vinaigrette, pecorino, cheese, cured egg yolk and breadcrumbs, it was just the right balance of savory and sweet.
We took our server’s recommendation and ordered the Napoli pizza. With a simple tomato, burrata cheese and basil, it may just be my favorite pizza in town. The dough is fermented, and that must be what makes it perfect. It’s a thin crust, and as Hedquist describes, it’s both crunchy and chewy.
Elegant minimalism was spot on once again with the cacio e pepe (pecorino and pepper spaghetti).
The pasta is handmade, and the pepper flavor was assertive but complex. I would prefer it slightly more al dente, but that’s a minor quibble.
Roasted eggplant is one of my favorites, so we ordered it even though I was somewhat intimidated by the addition of fresh mint. Together with the crème fraiche, it was just the right touch though, and added an unexpected note of brightness.
“Save room for dessert” is a tall order, but do try. We shared the black chocolate budino. Topped with caramel, coffee crumbs and hazelnuts, it was the perfect end to our feast, rich and sweet, but not cloying.
Giulia also offers breakfast and lunch, and a happy hour menu is available at the bar.
Q & A with Chef Josh Hedquist
Who is Giulia?
She’s the reason we gather! The idea is that she is a (fictional) matriarch that brings people together.
If you had to choose one thing on Giulia’s menu to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The agnolotti—venison sugo [pasta filled with venison], with sage butter and parmesan.
What’s your favorite thing to cook at home?
I love to make gnocchi with my kids—it gets messy and they love it. We serve it family style and it brings everyone together.
What are some of your pet peeves about restaurants?
I think restaurants struggle with staying authentic. For example, restaurants serve tomatoes on burgers during winter months because that’s what people have come to expect, when in reality it’s not the best time to serve tomatoes and they’re doing a disservice to the customer. Staying true to ingredients and the craft is important.
From where do you source your meat? Your dairy?
Everything is hyper-local from Minnesota—just like they do it in Northern Italy. I even work with the one guy in Minnesota, I think one of two total in the country, who raises Asiatic buffalo—water buffalo. We try to always source from local farmers and our beef, trout, dairy and even curd is local.
What do you look for when you’re hiring cooks?
Intangibles. Anyone can learn to cook with the right guidance. What I look for is work ethic—someone with a sense of urgency who’s a fast learner that has loyalty to the craft, customer, and team.
What’s one of the memorable meals that you’ve enjoyed at another restaurant?
When you’ve eaten as much as I have and at as many places as I have, it’s hard to name just one, but if I have to pick one, it would be the fish sandwich at Tilia [in Minneapolis].