Piccolo

Here, with only a day or two to spare, is your Twin Cities fine dining report for March. This time we dined at Piccolo and did not have to endure terrible road conditions on the way there or back. And it was a very good dinner, always interesting, sometimes great.

A few quick notes on the restaurant for those who haven’t been there. It opened a few years ago and is housed in a very small/intimate space. There are two small dining rooms–one larger and brighter (and warmer) as you enter, and a smaller one with just three tables on the other side of the kitchen, which you pass through on the way there. The space in a sense prepares you for the food: small rooms, small plates; close quarters, fussy attention to detail; unusual layout, highly creative cooking. The menu, which changes every eight weeks or so, comprises five courses with only three selections in each, and while you can order a la carte, the smart thing to do is to order all five courses for the set price of $55. As we are smart that is what we did. More on what we ate in just a bit.

Let me say first that this was the most interesting meal we’ve had in the Twin Cities so far and the one that most successfully married intellectual and elemental pleasures. The caveat, of course, is that we have not yet been to Travail and are not likely to visit any time soon, given their constraints (no reservations) and ours (small children, babysitters on the clock). Doug Flicker’s food at Piccolo, however, is not gonzo-theatrical or clever for its own sake as Travail’s often appears to me to be from what I read and hear (yes, yes, I know it’s completely unfair to opine on a restaurant I have not eaten at, and you should completely disregard this). You get the sense that you are in the hands of a chef who is not so much excitedly demonstrating what he can do with innovative technique or unusual combinations of ingredients as he is pursuing a clear vision. If I make it sound a little too cold and bloodless, well, that might be my criticism of a couple of things we ate but I want to stress again that, on the whole, this was an exciting and soulful meal.

On to what we ate (it was just the two of us, but given the concise menu we effectively ate two thirds of it)—please click on an image to launch a larger slideshow with detailed descriptions:

All this plus three glasses of wine, tax and tip came to $173.

Back roomAnd finally a view of part of the second, smaller dining room in the rear that we were in. It’s less cramped than the main room with only three tables but I’m not sure about the aesthetic. The desk is a little too cutesy and between it and the wine refrigerator that part of the room just felt too cluttered. Also, it was a little chilly in there. Still, on the whole, I think I preferred being in there to being seated at some of the tables in the main dining room which are really close to each other. It’s certainly a quirky space.

Well, what remains to be said? The service was very good–warm without being over familiar, professional without being mechanical. And my highly rational hatred of foams and the few missteps aside, this was an excellent meal. Unfortunately, you are not going to have very many opportunities to eat it as I’m told they will have a new menu starting on Monday. That’s really the big problem with this sort of approach: each menu doesn’t have enough on it to make you want to come back soon, but when you do you’re not likely to find anything at all that you liked the last time around. That said, we’ll be back sooner rather than later. I’m very interested to see what Chef Flicker can do when he’s not constrained by trying to cook seasonally during winter in Minnesota. And on the evidence of this meal it’s very surprising to see that he was not selected as a finalist for the region for this year’s James Beard awards. This place is working at a level of ambition and focus that we just haven’t seen around town.

4 thoughts on “Piccolo

    • Five courses filled us up decently enough. Did you have fewer? It may have helped that dessert on the night may have been the largest course.

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    • I never did understand people’s complaints about the portion size at Piccolo. I am a very big eater, weighing in at over 230 lbs and the 5 course tasting plus bread and coffee always make me feel satisfied. I have never felt the need to eat more after dinner. Perhaps my expectations of the meal (I go to Piccolo for delicious food not to be stuffed) contribute to that, but again I have never felt hungry afterwards.

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