It was a good — but frustrating — sign when Josefina in Wayzata opened up for reservations and it was more than a week before we could snag one that wasn't really early or too late.
The Italian eatery is the latest from Daniel del Prado, his fifth metro-area restaurant, and it aims to create an "inclusive dining experience," from elegant to casual. Mission accomplished.
Location: In the former Bellecour, 739 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-208-9568, josefinawayzata.com. Open daily from 5 to 9 p.m.
The vibe: Light and bright during the day with big windows, a refreshed interior and lots of greenery, and cozy and elegant as the sun sets. Make reservations in the main dining room or at the pizza bar, which has a bird's-eye view of the hardworking pizza oven, a fixture in most of del Prado's restaurants. Be sure to take a spin through the restaurant — that massive open kitchen is magical. A patio is coming within a month or so, and will eventually have a retractable roof for three-season dining.
The food: Del Prado set out to create a menu inspired by the cuisine of Rome. And with so many appetizing options, we decided to share multiple courses to make the most of our visit.
We both went right to the cured salmon belly ($12), which sounded new and imaginative, and it arrived almost too pretty to eat. Almost. Avoid the temptation to leave it intact and give it a mix so the flavors of blood orange, kumquat and smoked roe can mingle before being scooped up on a crisp cracker. Delicious, and a highlight of our meal. We also caved on the prawns ($19), grilled to perfection and all dressed up with burrata and fennel. Del Prado definitely knows seafood.
The housemade pastas are the belle of the ball, with eight options available ($16-$28). We had eyes on the traditional Mafaldini cacio e pepe, but the intrigue of the Cocoa Pappardelle — cocoa in the pasta! — with braised oxtails and Parmesan won, and we were not disappointed. (Alas, it's going off the menu.) Ditto the side of crispy Brussels sprouts ($11), which were only made better by a drizzle of pine nut gremolata and a slightly sweet garlic agrodolce.
Could we really walk by that pizza oven and not order a pizza? Nope. Pizzas ($12-$19) are a meal themselves and perfect for sharing, making Josefina an affordable night out in the house of one of the Twin Cities' top chefs, even for the pickiest of eaters.
A crisp, light meringue topped with hibiscus-lime curd and blackberries ($10) was a sweet — but not too sweet — way to end our night.
Drinks: A very serviceable wine, beer and cocktail list to enhance your selection, from seafood to pizza.
Safety first: Seating was spaced safely for social distancing, whether in the main dining room or bar area. Masks are required when not seated.
Plan ahead: If you're lucky there might be an open spot for walk-ups, especially in the pizza bar, but reservations are recommended. Prime times fill up fast, especially on weekends. An abbreviated takeout menu is available; order online or walk up and place an order at the front window from 5 to 9 p.m. Look for those hours to expand as the weather warms.