In June 2009, Phil Roberts, the creative force behind Parasole Restaurant Holdings, announced that the company was going to rethink its 25-year-old Figlio.
"It's time for the place to get re-potted," is how Roberts put it at the time. "We're not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. It's still a wonderful business, but the place is tired."
Four months later, Calhoun Square's anchor restaurant had a new look, a stronger emphasis on Italian fare (further refined when Parasole later hired chef Tim McKee to overhaul the menu and installed La Belle Vie vet Jim Christiansen to run the kitchen) and a new name, Il Gatto (Italian for "the cat").
Two years later, and the venture is a rare Parasole failure. The company, which runs powerhouses like Manny's Steakhouse, Pittsburgh Blue and the Good Earth, yanked the plug on Saturday.
Roberts isn't pulling any punches. "I was wrong," he said. "I didn't realize the value of the brand equity of Figlio being there for 25 years. I thought people wanted something that would spike, culinarily. Turns out they didn't want guanciale."
The Il Gatto space has been returned to the landlord and is up for lease. Roberts added that Parasole, which still runs two other major properties at Hennepin and Lake -- Chino Latino and Uptown Cafeteria -- remains bullish on the neighborhood.
"I can't blame the area," said Roberts. "Chino Latino is having their best year ever, it's the most viable restaurant in Uptown."
Roberts said that the restaurant's employees have been offered severance packages, and he hoped to find jobs for some of them in other Parasole operations. As for Christiansen, "he's a genius, and we're keeping him in the company, because he's too much of a talent to lose," said Roberts.
Ever the optimist, Roberts is bright-siding the Il Gatto situation. "The good news is that we still own the Figlio name, and it could go on to live somewhere else," he said. "Having said that, we also still own Girarrosto Toscano," he said with a laugh, referring to his Italian steakhouse bellyflop in Eden Prairie in the early 2000s.
"It's more fun to open them than close them, that's for sure," he added. "But it's like I told our employees: 'It was a ride, it was fun, and it's time to move on.' We have 14 other venues, and we couldn't have Il Gatto dragging us down. We're a healthier company today than we were on Saturday."
Other Uptown changes
Down the street at Barbette (1600 W. Lake St., Mpls., www.barbette.com), there's a new chef in the kitchen. He's Chris Hinrichs, and his résumé includes stints at La Belle Vie, Solera, Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, Barrio, Pizzeria Lola and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif. Hinrichs, who has replaced Kevin Kathman, is continuing the restaurant's excellent practice of offering a four- to five-course dinner every Monday evening for $32.
Duplex has closed, after a six-year run.
Dec. 25th dining
- Barbette owner Kim Bartmann's Bryant-Lake Bowl (810 W. Lake St., Mpls., www.bryantlakebowl.com) opens at 5 p.m. on Christmas, and the kitchen keeps cooking until 12:30 a.m.
- Two Tea House locations are open for Christmas lunch and dinner: 88 Nathan Lane, Plymouth, and 1676 Suburban Av., St. Paul, www.ourteahouse.com.