Hyacinth: Quick Info
Cacio e Pepe
$16-$30 (gratuity automatically applied)
Small and cozy
790 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105
- Sun: 4 PM – 8 PM
- Mon – Thurs: 5 PM – 9 PM
- Fri – Sat: 4 PM – 10 PM
The menu at Hyacinth changes frequently, but here’s what was on tap during our visit:
Hyacinth: Our Full Review
When Hyacinth opened in August 2018, dare I say the neighborhood overlooked it.
For one, the small, understated, and shotgun-narrow building was squeezed into all the other happenings on Grand Avenue, and even if you were looking for it, it’d take some serious attention to detail not to miss it.
And second, St. Paul wasn’t exactly starved for delicious Italian food. With a rich italian history dating back to the early 1900s, St. Paul already rocked a heavyweight lineup of Italian bosses in the local food scene. Across the river, there’s Mucci’s, DeGiddio’s, Cossetta’s, and even Red Rabbit nearby on Grand Avenue, who’d already built a cult following from their wildly successful downtown Minneapolis location.
In other words, through no fault of its own, Hyacinth’s goal of standing out wasn’t becoming any easier…
And then, the favorable reviews started rolling in. Diners and critics had nothing but great things to say, and it all came to a head with Hyacinth’s James Beard award nomination for up and coming chef. (Twice!)
So, does Hyacinth live up to its well critiqued reputation?
As a lover of all things Italian (and by that… I mostly just mean I’m always a sucker for pasta…) I knew I had to find out for myself.
We walked in at 7:50 on a Saturday night, fully expecting one of the legendary wait-times we’d been told about. In case you missed the description in the intro, the restaurant is small. As in, get ready to shoulder up next to strangers at one of the few handful of tables, in a restaurant so narrow you may feel like you squeezed back into a New York City establishment.
To our surprise, seating for two was available right at the bar, and we plopped ourselves down in what might be the best seat in the house.
Sitting on corner of the bar, guests are greeted to a perfect view of the bartender in action, not to mention, a full shot of the chefs sauteing and plating some of the most delicious looking, carefully crafted pasta dishes anywhere.
Pastas here come in half or full sizes, and there’s a long list of appetizer options.
After a quick chat with the bartender, we decided on an appetizer and two half-size pastas, which he assured us should do the trick for two people, as long as we weren’t totally starving. (We weren’t, so this sounded like a plan!)
After much debate, and some careful eye’ing of the beautiful dishes getting sent out of the kitchen, we settled on an order of the Farinata appetizer and two of the restaurant’s four pasta options – Cacio e Pepe Bucatini and Pork Sausage Ragu Fusili.
Don’t worry, I had to google what this meant too. Apparently, Farinata is an Italian, crepe-like bread dish.
Hyacinth’s take was a thin bread, cut into pizza shapes and pan charred along with garlic, rosemary, and other herbs, complete with the thinnest layer of butter and/or cheese sandwiched in between.
The result was a thin, deliciously crispy, smokey, and just barely noticeably cheesy appetizer. While the bread was certainly chewy and delicious in all the right ways, I did find myself wishing it was a little less dry. (To be fair, I’d hyped it up in my mind as similar to Mucci’s legendary Garlic Montenara, which comes so cheesy and saucy that’s it’s basically an appetizer pizza.)
Bucatini (Cacio e Pepe)
This one was certainly a crowd favorite. From our privileged seats right next to the chef’s station, we saw more of this dish rolling off the pasta assembly line than any other.
And… it certainly did not disappoint!
In fact, this Bucatini arrived as a perfectly cooked, steaming hot bowl of pasta, just oozing with all that simple peppery flavor that you’ve come to expect from a proper Cacio e Pepe.
When a simple pasta dish is elevated so much higher than the sum of its parts, you know you’ve got a winner. I could definitely see myself randomly craving this one again and again…
Fusili (Pork Sausage Ragu Topped with Pecorino Romano)
From the moment I watched the chef start the slow simmer on that Pork Sausage Ragu, I knew I was in for a treat.
Just like the Bucatini, this dish arrived perfectly cooked and piping hot.
The first bite was a whirlwind of flavor – tender marinated pork flavor, perfectly al dente pasta soaking up all that saucy red tomato and butter sauce, and all topped with that oh-so-nutty and fresh pecorino romano cheese.
Just an unreal dish that proves why this place is so highly praised. Loved it.
Among the stiff competition of Italian food in the Twin Cities, Hyacinth stands out as a fresh take on some classics.
For one, there’s the unique and cozy space, which somehow gives off such a different vibe than anything else in the cities.
And of course, there’s those delicious pasta dishes. Cooked with perfect traditional technique, and then served with just enough love to give them a fresh and unique feel.
If you’re looking for a nicer sit down Italian option in the Twin Cities, you absolutely cannot go wrong with a delicious dinner at Hyacinth.