We have been trying to get to Tenant for a while now. They opened in the Spring of 2017, while we were in London for three months. When we got back we cut back on our eating out for a while on account of the reckless eating we’d engaged in for an extended period abroad. And because of their limited seating and their constrained reservation system we couldn’t find a date that worked later in 2017. We finally made reservations this April but just a few days before the weather took a turn for the worse, a blizzard was predicted and we had to cancel (the blizzard did come to pass).
I then made a reservation for mid-May, or so I thought. A friend from Bombay was in town and Tenant seemed like just the kind of place she’d like. We arrived there on time…and discovered that we were in fact a month early. Like an idiot I’d made a reservation for June! And I couldn’t keep that reservation either as we were going to be back in the UK again. Accordingly, I cancelled and made another reservation for early August. Lo and behold, right after I made the reservation we learned that we had another obligation that very night. And so, feeling like Sisyphus, I switched the reservation to early September. And against all odds we actually managed to keep it and get to it without being hindered by tornadoes or plagues of frogs.
I start with this fascinating memoir because I had begun to become secretly afraid that after all this drama the meal would prove to be disappointing, and that it would make us mourn all the more the passing of Piccolo, in whose space Tenant resides, and in whose kitchens the principals had previously toiled. I am very happy to say that this did not prove to be true. Our dinner was one of our best in the Twin Cities in a while. And while the imprint of the Doug Flicker apprenticeship and DNA is clear, Tenant is very much its own restaurant now, confident and assured in execution.
Like at Piccolo, dinner at Tenant involves multiple courses. But whereas at Piccolo you could choose to do fewer than the optimal six course tasting, at Tenant all you have is a set six course tasting menu. And whereas at Piccolo you could typically choose between three options for each course, at Tenant the menu is fixed. This, presumably, is how they can make the business work with as few seats as they have (8 at the bar and another 14 maybe in the small dining room; they’ve done away with Piccolo’s back room). The menu is fixed, they know exactly how many people are coming every night (reservations are held with a credit card, though you are free to cancel without a charge up to 24 hours before a meal). Thus, no wastage and efficient preparation of a few polished dishes.
And there’s no way to know before you get there what the menu is going to be—there is no menu posted on their website. And nor really do you know what you’re going to get before you get it. There is no printed menu at the restaurant either—instead your server (who is also a chef) will tell you what each course is as they set it down. The anticipation is part of the experience and I have to say that while I like looking at menus, not knowing every single thing on the plate (or bowl) sort of helped me concentrate on the food itself (you are told what’s in each course but good luck trying to remember it). However, they were kind enough to email me a more detailed menu the day after the meal. There’s a limited beverage menu as well but the thing to do is to get the paired wine tasting for $25—as the missus doesn’t drink much and I was driving, they were kind enough to split one pairing between us.
Before I get to my take on each course, a bit on the general culinary style. Tenant, like Piccolo before it, follows the tenets of what I call the Global Cosmopolitan school of restaurant cooking. There is no anchor in any particular national/cultural cuisine. At our meal there were New Nordic touches, Japanese accents, a nod to Filipino comfort food and quite a bit of pasta. If this seems like a lot of cheffy eclecticism, well, that’s fair enough but it all came together quite well at our dinner. While we didn’t love every course, the meal as a whole had a clear progression and nothing seemed random.
Here is what we ate:
Seaberry / fermented kumquat vinaigrette
The first two courses were served simultaneously in a double-decker arrangement (see the pictures below). This scallop crudo was very good indeed (the missus liked it even more than I did). The sweetness of the scallop was set off nicely by the sour and fermented flavours elsewhere in the bowl.
Turnips – lightly fermented and grilled
We didn’t like this one quite as much, which is not to say that it was not good. Other than the heads, the prawns didn’t make as much of an impression as we would have liked. The chilli mayo was excellent, however, and I really liked the turnips as well.
Both dishes went very well with the cava they poured.
Charred summer squash/zucchini
White currant cherry tomatoes
Beans – green/yellow/pole
Pickled white beech mushrooms
This was one of two standout courses for me. It sounds like a busy bowl, and it was, but the warm tomato water poured over it all tied everything together—much like the Dude’s rug, but thankfully no micturition was involved. Very much the taste of a fading summer.
This was also very good. Seated at the bar, we saw the bigoli being prepared fresh before service and it was just perfectly done. All the other elements were well-chosen too. What held it back from excellence? We both thought that there was a just a bit too much of two salty cheeses, rendering the whole saltier than we would have liked.
The wine pairing for the third and fourth course was also well-chosen, a Slovenian white.
Raviolino – carrot/kale/beet dough
Chicken sausage / quail yolk fill
This was another course, like the second, where the seeming main event—the bit of roast chicken breast—didn’t do it for me but everything else was very good. There was nothing wrong with the chicken: it just wasn’t very interesting. The raviolino, on the other hand, made with carrot, kale and beet infused dough and stuffed with chicken sausage and quail egg yolk, was dynamite. I would much rather have eaten a course centered on that element. The riff on a Filipino adobo was intense and salty (like the original).
Vanilla / Tonka bean custard
Fermented sour plum / white currant sherbert
Candied Marcona almonds
This was the other standout course in my opinion. I could have eaten a whole vat of it. The tonka bean may sound like something Willy Wonka came up with it but it also tastes like something Willy Wonka came up with, which is a good thing. The whole thing was just a wonderful blend of textures and flavours (sweet and tart).
The last two courses were paired with a Spanish red.
Pictures of the meal and the restaurant are in the slideshow below (as are details on the wines). Take a look and scroll down for thoughts on service, the overall experience, price and value.
So, the experience. We were seated at the bar—there are 8 seats there. While the kitchen is visible from the bar, the bar is still separate from it and the diners and chefs are not in each others’ way. The chefs come out in turn to serve each course and occasionally in between to pour wine and water and it’s all very smoothly done. The lack of servers makes no difference given the small scale of the operation and the efficiencies built into it. I’ve no idea if it’s always been this way but one and a half years after opening they’ve certainly got it down. The vibe, as a whole, is casual and welcoming. There is music playing—an old-school turntable is the first thing you’ll see when you walk in—and while some might find it a little louder than they might like, it did not make conversation difficult. Oh, the seats at the bar are very comfortable.
I should say that other elements of the service are as eclectic as the food and the music: while we were not crazy about the hand-towel napkins, we loved the dishes in which the courses were served; in particular, the lipped bowl that the third course came in. We were told that they’re made for them by a local ceramics artist.
The meal is at a fixed $50/head. The wine pairing runs $25/head which seems like very good value for what amounts to three glasses of wine. And if you look at the beverage menu in the slideshow you’ll see it’s all very fairly priced. Their emphasis they said is on good wines that work with their food and which diners can find locally for not very much more than is charged at the restaurant. Our total for the night (two dinners, one wine pairing, tax and tip) was $162. Not cheap but very good value relative to the competition. Indeed, that fateful night in May my friend and I went off to Tilia for a dinner that cost $175 and which I liked about half as much. I doubt we’ll be back at Tilia anytime soon, but we’ll certainly be going back to Tenant.
Indeed, we’re already plotting a return—we were told they change about a dish each week, which means 6 weeks for a complete overhaul (you can sometimes get a glimpse of what’s coming on their Instagram feed). We might try to go back in November, in fact. I encourage you to go as well.