Sea Change is the restaurant at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It opened a few years ago to rave reviews and continues to be rather popular and well-received. I had one middling to poor dinner there with friends a couple of years ago and was not terribly motivated to go back. However, this year there was some noise around an omakase dinner program they had in January, and I believe there’s a different chef now than when I ate there last; and so as we tried to figure out where to go after our excellent meal at Piccolo last month it seemed like a decent bet. And as we were dining with a bunch of friends it seemed like a good opportunity to get a lot of what’s on the current menu and see if my prior experience might have been due only to bad luck in ordering.
Well, some of the things we ate were very good, but, on the whole, this was not any better, and in my particular case, it may have been worse than my previous meal. It certainly is the worst high-end meal I’ve had in the Twin Cities in a while. I know this is not the most enticing invitation but read on to see how we fared.
There were five of us, and we decided to get three savoury courses and skip dessert. We did have an overlapping dish or two but otherwise covered a good chunk of the menu (and I got to taste enough of everyone else’s stuff to get a good sense of it).
(As always, click on a thumbnail to open a larger slideshow.)
Langoustines, hot olive oil, chile, rosemary This was the pick of the first round, I thought, and, alas, not mine. Wonderfully balanced and designed to let the langoustines shine, which they did.
Smoked Salmon, ional garniture I have no idea what ional garniture is but the person who got it said the salmon was too thickly sliced and I agreed.
Uni On Toast, citrus kosho, fennel butter This was the missus’ and it was very disappointing. The uni was tired–no sweetness, no brininess–and the toast was soft and almost soggy. Someone should have been shot in the kitchen for this.
Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke, masago, miso, nori This was mine. I generally prefer poke without mayo but this was really rather good, as was the seaweed salad the poke rested on.
Oyster I also got one Wellfleet oyster. Very nice.
And another member of the party got these two to start (one Peter’s Point and one Puffer’s, or some such). He said they were excellent as well.
Cutesy presentation of sauces for the oysters. The kimchi must seem like an exciting idea to people who don’t usually eat kimchi; the cucumber/serrano one was okay; the horseradish was very good.
Mixed Field Greens, smoked apple vinaigrette, fallen cheddar souffle This was ordered by a member of the party who’d just returned from Scotland, where he claimed opportunities to eat greens had been few and far between. As he’d carried some whisky back for me from Cadenhead’s in Edinburgh I didn’t give him too hard a time.
Grilled Octopus, salsa verde, spanish peppers, pimenton This is one of their signature dishes. It disappointed me on my previous visit and the large bites I got from the missus disappointed me again. It also disappointed her and the other person who got it. The octopus was nicely tenderized but needed a little more crisping; but the real problem was the sauce: in addition to all the stuff listed there was some sort of sesame/miso glaze, and this was too sweet, too cloying and there was far too much of it. What could have been very good was rendered blah.
Oysters Rockefeller, spinach, walnuts, tabasco, tarragon I got a bite and I thought “meh”. I suspect the person who ate most of it agreed as her enthusiasm seemed to wane with every bite.
Bacon Chawan Mushi, scallop, lobster, yuzu How could something with this description possibly be bad? But it was. The custard was clumpy, the bacon too strong, and the lobster and scallops were invisible on the palate despite being visible in the dish. Cute presentation though.
Bouillabaisse I only tasted a couple of smears of this and thought it was quite good. The person who ordered it agreed.
Crisp Skinned Salmon, white bean, artichoke giardiniera On the menu it is supposed to be Arctic Char, but this was a substitution (whether on the night or longer term, I don’t recall). I got a nice swipe at it and agreed that the fish was very nicely cooked and that the beans and artichoke giardiniera was lovely. This, on the whole, is what I wish I’d eaten.
rilled & Pickled Trout, toasted grain, asparagus, sauce gribiche One piece of grilled trout and hiding under the asparagus etc. is another piece of pickled/marinated trout. The pickled iteration was better but this was fine. So, that’s three for three so far on the entrees.
Porcini Crusted Ahi Tuna, salsify, chevre, miatake This was the missus’s. She liked it fine. I thought the mushrooms were very nice, the salsify chips boring, the chevre (puffed in some way) unnecessary, and the fish also boring (though it was seared perfectly). On the whole, it was about as interesting as it looks.
King Salmon, langoustine, popcorn, lime, roe And this, my entree, was about as bad as it looks. The fish, by the way, was cooked perfectly (poached, I suspect). But that ugly plate epitomizes everything that is wrong with contemporary American cuisine. The plate is a fucking mess. Not only is it horribly composed but it’s also a horrid grab bag of tired culinary trends/cliches: Foam? check! Powder? check! Soup to be poured over for no reason? check! Popcorn? check! Grits? check! And none of it went well together. The popcorn and foam were pointless, the bisque (not pictured except for a little smear on the fish) was metallic and actively nasty, the grits were a sludge. That fish, simply paired with the trout roe and some properly considered greens would have been great. But no.
We were given some pear sorbet on the house. I’ve no idea if this is standard operating procedure or if they were being extra nice to us because our waitress heard me complaining about my fish, but it was very nice.
Other than this gesture, service was not very good either. Three of us arrived before the other two and while we did tell our waitress that we would wait till our friends arrived to order anything she disappeared on us completely. We had to track another waiter down 15 minutes later (when our friends still hadn’t arrived) to ask for bread and to order some wine. And she kept disappearing for long stretches between courses as well. And at one point she asked us if she should wait till we’d all finished one course before bringing the next. She was very personable but perhaps new on the job.
All of this and two bottles of a decent Riesling came to $438 for five people inclusive of tax and tip. Which is way too much for the quality of our meal. Only 50% of the 14 odd dishes we ate were good and most of the rest we thought were either blah or actively bad. The actual raw stuff in the first course–the langoustines, the poke and the oysters–was excellent, and the fish in the later courses was always cooked well. There just seems to be some loss of control when it comes to more elaborate cooked dishes. Take a hint from your raw offerings, Chef Malone: less is more. Then again, Food & Wine named you one of the Best New Chefs of 2013 so perhaps I’m not the one you, or anyone else, should pay attention to.
So, after three very good outings in a row (Alma, Borough, and especially Piccolo) this was a bit of a stumble. I think we may have to return to the arms of 112 Eatery next month.