We enjoyed our dinner at Piccolo in March so much that when it came time for figuring out where to go for our anniversary dinner last month it was the first place we both came up with. We were interested to see if it would be consistent with the level of creativity and execution of our first meal—I’m pleased to report that it was and that we enjoyed this meal even more.
This time we were seated in the main dining room, at one of the two-tops along the dividing wall that runs alongside the entrance to the restroom. The table itself is fine but that row of tables is too cramped. We were right alongside a party of four (there’s another two-top on the other side, I think) and it was as though their conversation was at our table (even though they weren’t particularly loud). This is the one negative comment I have. I expect that for a small restaurant like Piccolo every table counts, but I don’t know that every table has the same experience.
Anyway, on to the food! Once again we got all five courses. And once again we did not leave hungry (though, as you’ll see,we did get a bonus dish and ended with cheese). Please click on an image below to launch a slideshow with detailed descriptions.
First Course Chilled cucumber soup with horseradish, fennel and herring roe. As is the style these days the bowl is brought to the table with all the dainty bits in it…
…and then the soup is poured over it. This was the missus’s and she was only a little bit more enthused about it than I was. As it turned out it was the only thing all night that we were underwhelmed by.
Razor clams with cucumber, kohlrabi refrigerator pickles and scallions. Kohlrabi is not a word that causes one’s heart to skip a beat and so it’s a testament to Chef Flicker’s skill that it tied everything else on the plate together so well.
Second Course Ricotta and summer truffle agnolotti with fava beans and carrots. This was brought to us in place of one of the things we’d actually ordered and to make up for the error they gave it to us as a bonus. And it was bloody good. One of the best dishes on the night: a blend of separate soft textures and mellow flavours. I would have been pleased with a meal consisting entirely of a large bowl of this.
Scrambled brown eggs with pickled pig’s feet, truffle butter and parmigiano reggiano. This is what I ordered and sweet Jebus, this was great as well. I gather some version of pig’s feet is always on their menu–I have trouble imagining they’ve had too many iterations that could compare with this.
Rabbit liver tart with caramelized onions, compressed strawberries, olive oil and sorrel. This was the missus’s and while the agnolotti that had come in its place put it slightly in the shade it was excellent as well—the unctuousness of the liver balanced wonderfully with the tart-sweet strawberries and the caramelized onion gel. If I were to pick one nit I’d suggest the olive oil powder is unnecessary.
Third Course Seared Sea Scallops with pickled cauliflower, mustard seed and pistachio/brioche crumble. This was mine. There’s not a whole lot more to say about this other than that it was perfectly composed and balanced.
Alaskan halibut cheeks with artichoke, horseradish, fava beans and soft polenta. This one also had a little broth action.
Like so. Again, very good. The fish was perfectly cooked and everything else complemented it perfectly in terms of both flavour and texture.
Malt braised beef navel with grilled spring onions, white beans and asparagus. This was the missus’s and this was the stand-out dish of the night. This is the single best piece of meat either of us has had anywhere in more than a year*. Yes, the economy of fine dining is more and more presenting yesterday’s proletarian cuts in high-end venues with prices to match but when it tastes this good I find it hard to complain. (The navel is the traditional pastrami cut.) The beef, we were told, is braised and then pressed and finished on the grill—the texture and flavour were exquisite and everything else on the plate was perfectly complementary. *Alas, it’s already off the current menu (which, by the way, looks fantastic!).
Lamb neck boudin noir with sous vide yolk, nettle puree and king trumpet mushrooms. Yet another example of a cheaper cut of meat being elevated, but, thankfully, also another example of the result being excellent. The egg yolk was just perfect and broken over the lamb would have brought a rhapsodic expression to my face if a bite of the missus’s beef hadn’t already put an even bigger one there.
Fifth Course Brown butter cake with rhubarb and caramelized fennel. The missus got this and pronounced it very good. I only had a small bite and agreed.
Cheese plate. I’d originally ordered the chocolate cremeux but was not inspired by the look of it as it was brought to our neighbours (one advantage of tables being so close together, I guess). And so I swapped out for the cheese plate with a slight supplement to the prix fixe. Along with some nice house-made preserves and crackers came fairly large portions of: a gorgonzola dolce; Tomini, another Italian soft cow’s milk cheese, oil-packed with chilli and oregano; and Capriole, O’Banon, a goat cheese from Indiana wrapped in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves (the bourbon is Woodford Reserve as per the website). The cheeses were all very good but the consistency and even the tang of the Tomini and the O’Banon were very similar. The gorgonozola, and one of those two with something harder and nuttier would have been just the ticket.
So, an excellent meal, with more high points than in March and a couple of transcendental dishes. And it’s fun to see ingredients showing up in different guises in different places on the menu (cucumber, fava beans, sorrel, fennel). Service was again professional and polished (though one of the staff seemed like she might have been in a bad mood that night–not evinced in her interaction with us but in a permanent scowl while walking around the restaurant). With three glasses of wine, tax and tip the bill came to $191.
One challenge for serious wine drinkers (I’m not one) at Piccolo is pairing wines with all the courses. My lamb neck called for red but I’m not sure there’s anything on the previous two courses that would have been easy to cross-pair with. I was able to solve this by getting a glass of white to go with the first three courses and a red to go with the lamb and the cheese but if I hadn’t gotten the cheese I might have been looking at a large glass of wine with a small plate of lamb. Then again, one more wine-savvy than me might easily pick out choices that work. And one other smaller point: I know Minnesota is casual, and I’m not myself much of a stickler for formality for formality’s sake BUT I wonder if restaurants like Piccolo might consider a “no shorts” dress code.
We’re looking forward to returning again soon.