Whole roasted prawns served on a bed of sweet corn salsa, with a heat and sweetness that pairs well with a tightly curated list of Italian white wines. Whole glazed hens, flavored with a spice blend that took months to concoct. A twist on a classic Bellini, made with prosecco, muddled nectarine, and peach liqueur.
And all of it served in a dining room that exudes laid-back sophistication, its sleek bar framed by hand-painted Italian tiles.
After a stint as executive chef at Franny’s in Brooklyn, Minnesota native Rikki Giambruno is returning to his roots with Hyacinth, a restaurant inspired by his Italian-American family and named for his childhood street.
Located in the Grand Avenue space formerly occupied by speciality food shop Golden Fig, one of the most striking things about Hyacinth is its small footprint—a mere 40 seats. “You feel hugged by the restaurant,” says general manager Beth Johnson. “We’re a small neighborhood Italian eatery, the sort of place where you can come in for a three-course dinner or sit at the bar for an hour with a book. We want to be a destination as well as a neighborhood place.”
The menu—which will rotate constantly, ensuring that there’s always something different for diners—focuses on southern Italian fare and the Mediterranean cuisines of Greece, Spain, and North Africa. “The throughline is simplicity and what’s available in season,” says Giambruno, who is Hyacinth’s owner and executive chef. “Our philosophy is ingredients first.”
Giambruno is dedicated to sourcing the best-quality products from local purveyors, and a major advantage of the restaurant’s intimate size is that they can work with small-scale producers. But while this local focus seems like an obvious approach in the temperate Mediterranean, how is Hyacinth planning to handle the upcoming Minnesota winter?
“We have a robust preserving program headed by chef de cuisine [and Minneapolis native] Paul Baker,” Giambruno explains. For example, fresh peppers will be grilled, pickled in vinegar, and packed in olive oil. Several months later, sweet potatoes cooked on coals can be served with a salad of those preserved peppers, fresh herbs, and lemon juice. “It will feel Mediterranean, but with Minnesota ingredients.”
After several nights of soft openings, Giambruno is excited to open to the public for dinner service on August 14: “St. Paul has such a storied tradition of great restaurants.... We’re super thrilled to be part of that community.”
790 Grand Ave., Saint Paul