Okay, so we like Piccolo a lot. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we can only manage one restaurant dinner in the cities each month (living an hour south, with small kids, and a limited fine dining budget) we’ve now eaten at Piccolo three times this year, passing up the opportunity to eat at other local luminaries that we have not yet visited (Corner Table, Meritage), visited in a while (Heartland, 112 Eatery), or which we used to revisit regularly in the past (Alma). What can I say, Doug Flicker’s modernist soul food (though the restaurant might not describe it this way) is in our sweet spot. We haven’t always loved everything we’ve eaten at every meal there but it’s always a stimulating experience.
So it was on this occasion as well (a belated celebration of the missus’ birthday). This was the first meal where we really didn’t care for one of the dishes (and it was the one we’d expected to love) and a couple of other things we appreciated more than we liked; but everything else ranged from very good to transcendentally good. We each got all five courses. Click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow of what we ate with detailed descriptions.
Monkfish liver mousse with celery root “tartare”, cured Arctic char and crisp salmon skin. This was the big disappointment. We both love monkfish liver but this mousse was too metallic and bitter and none of the other elements cut through those notes. This was the missus’ first course, and as it was her birthday I swapped my soup for it.
And here is the soup, or at least the bowl into which the soup is about to be poured. As is the unfortunate style these days, soups at Piccolo seem to always be served with an unattractive smear on the side of a bowl into which the soup is poured, leaving the diner to figure out how best to incorporate the other flavours.
Roasted sunchoke soup with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, marcona almond butter and fried sage. This was very, very good. The sunchoke soup by itself was excellent, and while mixing in the other bits didn’t harm it I would have been just as happy just eating the soup with the mushrooms floating boringly on top.
Rabbit tortellini with nasturtium butter, hazelnuts and bleu d’Auvergne cheese. This was the missus’ second course. She noted, and I agreed, that the tortellini skin was a little too tough but that the filling and all the other elements were rather nice (except that the cheese seemed to overwhelm everything else if you didn’t get the proportions just right).
Grilled bartlett pear with brioche, lardo, kale and condensed milk. This was my second course and I got it just to see what the hell it was going to be like. Well, it was interesting but, on the whole, I wish I’d gotten the current iteration of the scrambled eggs with pickled pigs feet. I see that the menu on the website lists black mission figs in place of the pear—I can see how that would work much better; as it is the pear is too light to anchor the dish.
Black cod with baby octopus, eggplant, carrots and sorrel. This is the point past which everything was excellent. This was just extraordinary: the cod was cooked perfectly as was the octopus, and the squid ink tied everything together. (The white veg. subbed for the carrot, which they were out of; I didn’t take a bite of it and for the life of me can’t remember what it was.)
Chicken crepinette with chicken liver and macaroni pie, artichokes, horseradish and garlic scapes. This was my third course and was also just excellent–well, the crepinette was (and the veg. were very good too)—the chicken liver pie I could have taken or left, which is not something I ever expect to say about chicken liver pie.
Hanger steak with black walnuts, lacinato kale, epoisses cheese and rye malt. This was excellent as well–a perfectly cooked piece of beef with accompaniments that might sound a little unlikely on their own but worked together wonderfully.
Suckling pig with pears, chanterelle mushrooms, white bean puree and honey. This was my last savoury course and man, it was just excellent: the meat cooked just to the line between toothsome and melting with skin crisped to perfection. And there wasn’t a superfluous thing on the plate. By the way, this seems to be another dish that originally featured figs (that’s what’s listed on their website) but it’s hard for me to imagine that iteration being better—the pear complements the pork and doesn’t compete with it.
Rye and chevre tart with pears, honey and pickled grapes. This was my dessert. Yet another dish featuring pear in the role originally conceived for figs (as per the menu on their site) but this was quite good as is (though a bit too much of the chévre, I thought).
Rum cake with braised pineapple, hibiscus and black pepper mascarpone ice cream. Black pepper mascarpone ice cream seems like it would be Dr. Moreau’s favourite dessert but it was great and stole the show from the quite good cake.
The black cod and the suckling pig were just sensational—dishes like these (and the malt braised beef navel and lamb neck boudin noir from our last visit) make us wish that we could just get regular main-sized portions of them to luxuriate in (especially as they’re not going to be on the menu when we next visit) but you can’t have everything.
There are always through-lines of ingredients at any meal at Piccolo, and on this occasion they seemed to involve pear (in place of the figs featured on the website menu—I would link but it’s going to change soon) and a fair bit of pungent cheese. This last was deployed to variable effect we thought. The époisses worked well with the hanger steak but the bleu d’auvergne and the chévre threatened to throw the dishes they were in off balance. And I remain ambivalent at best about this whole smeared bowl with soup poured into it thing: from a flavour perspective I’d rather the chef figure out the best mix of the ingredients and not leave it to me to muck it up, and I don’t find it visually that appealing either. Still, it’s less unappealing than the gob of spit, I mean foam phenomenon that refuses to die, and thankfully there was none of that in evidence tonight.
All of this plus three glasses of wine, tax and tip came to a little north of $172. Service was excellent—friendly but professional and not over-familiar. And as always, we did not leave hungry.
Where next? Well, there will be no Twin Cities fine dining reports for November or December. In November we’ll be spending our discretionary budget on a trip to Chicago (and our boys will be with us, so no fine dining); and in December we’ll be saving our money for some more sushi goodness in LA over the Christmas holidays. In January we might finally hit up Corner Table. It’s very likely, however, that in February we’ll be back to Piccolo for my birthday.