We went back to Tenant for dinner a week and a half ago. This was our fourth visit. Our previous meal there was just about 6 weeks prior to this one and the one before wasn’t too much longer before that one. Both those meals were very good indeed, catapulting Tenant to the top of our Twin Cities fine dining list. They also took place at the height and end of summer respectively. We were interested to see, going into this one, how the kitchen would deal with the relatively depleted produce options of Minnesota in the late fall/early winter. Well, our experience was a little mixed. This was probably the least of our meals there so far. But only some of this was likely down to the market offerings of the season (no more tomato water!). It’s more the case that going every six weeks or so, as we’ve been doing since mid-summer seems to have resulted in a bit of deja vu. While none of the courses were identical to those at our last meal there was some sameness. Now you might say that this is an odd criticism—most restaurants have far more static menus. But one of the things we enjoyed most about Tenant on our previous visits was surprise and there wasn’t much surprise at this meal. Which is not to say, of course, that it wasn’t a good dinner in its own right—for it was. And keep in mind that this is not a problem you would have on your first visit there or if your visits were spaced further apart.
We arrived a little late for the 6 pm counter seating on a Saturday—we encountered unexpected construction-related traffic along the way—and the meal started right away. I got a wine pairing to go with my dinner (the missus abstained) and the first course—a double decker—was on us almost as soon as it was poured. The courses moved at a steady clip. We didn’t feel rushed at any point but we were done by about 7.30 or so. If you’re looking to linger the second seating at the counter or a table at 7 pm may be the way to go.
But on to the food!
French onion soup
This was the double decker first course and I’m sorry to say that neither tier really did very much for us. Both had components that were perfectly executed but in both cases the whole seemed to be less than the sum of the parts. In the case of the soup the broth itself was very good but was overwhelmed by the comte crouton. The fermented turnips were a nice twist but the caesar salad sort of tasted like a caesar salad you could get anywhere.
Now this course we really enjoyed. The salmon was done perfectly as was the potato dumpling—somewhere between gnocchi and alu-tikki. The missus thought there was a bit too much of the preserved red pepper sauce but I thought it was just right.
This was where the deja vu began to set in. Their pasta courses are always excellent but this tasted like something we’d eaten a few times before even though we had not actually eaten this exact dish before. Though, of course, if you’ve not eaten there before (or recently) this would be a non-issue for you. More meaningful criticism: the pork sausage filling was a bit overdone. The sauce was very good but I did miss the foccacia from the last two meals which would have been very handy for mopping said sauce up.
The second pasta course was better but again rather reminiscent of the excellent rigatoni with braised pork, corn, mushrooms etc. at our previous dinner. And while this was very good in its own right it reminded me that I’d liked the previous even more.
No complaints at all about this one though. The chicken was cooked perfectly, the terrine with the cute fried quail egg on top was ace and the foie gras jus and grilled carrots (adding a bit of acidity) tied everything together with textural and flavour counterpoint.
Perhaps taking pity on people who had had their teeth shattered by the tart attack of the previous seaberry slushy and yuzu-grape sorbet, this was far less acidic. It was also very tasty.
Orange and vanilla custard
Whipped creme fraiche
Candied cocoa nibs
Now here is where I reveal myself to be completely inconsistent. This is the dish that has changed the least across our four meals here and I have no complaints about that. At the first dinner the custard was made with tonka bean; at the second and third it was made with lemon. On this occasion the fruit was orange but the dessert was otherwise identical to the previous iteration. And as far as I am concerned there is no need to make any fundamental changes to this dish. I would be happy to eat a slight variation on this to end all my meals there and would go so far as to say that this is my favourite dessert in the Twin Cities right now.
For a look at the food (and at bits of the space) please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for brief thoughts on the wine pairing and to see how much it all cost.
All three wines were very good in and of themselves and I particularly liked the third, the Beaujolais. I was not convinced, however, by the pairing of the second wine (the Chatenay Viré Clesse 2017) with the two pasta courses. Then again, what do I know about wine?
Service was as warm and pleasant as ever. It’s really a pleasure to eat at this counter. I will say though that our seats on this occasion were at the very far end of the counter and were my least favourite of all the seats we’ve been in there. This only because at the very end you have no sight of the kitchen and we always find it fun to watch the chefs at work—and that is, after all, part of the pleasure of this setup.
So, if you’ve been keeping score, there was only one course we were not crazy about. Three of the others we liked unreservedly and two we liked but just felt a little jaded about. This still adds up to a very good meal, and indeed it was quite a bit better than our dinners at Joan’s in the Park and In Bloom—and also better than a recent dinner at Hyacinth that I haven’t yet written up. What this means is that if you have not been there yet or not been very recently, you should disregard most of our quibbles about this meal and go as soon as you can get a seat (though good luck with that if you don’t ring in as soon as they become available). Our own next visit to Tenant won’t be till February till the earliest so I’d expect the sense of over-familiarity with some of the dishes will be gone by then.
Ah yes, price. $60/head for dinner plus $30 per wine pairing. Which meant that with tax our bill came to just above $162; and with tip our total came to just about $195. Still a very good value in the Twin Cities for the quality of the meal.
Okay, up next from the Twin Cities: either that recent dinner at Hyacinth or an upcoming dinner at Lat 14. That’ll be next week.