Piccolo XI (One Last Time with Feeling)


Piccolo serves their last dinner tomorrow. Here now is my writeup of our last dinner at Piccolo.

Ever since we found out about the impending closing back in December we’ve gone back with a number of friends who enjoy the restaurant as much as we do, and we did so again last Friday. We are going to miss this jewel of a restaurant dearly. Yes, there are some other excellent fine dining restaurants in the Twin Cities—and yes, we’ll go back more often to some of them now (Alma and Spoon and Stable especially)—but what Chef Flicker and his team have accomplished at Piccolo is something quite unique. Yes, his mark is on Esker Grove at the Walker and will doubtless be on Tenant, the new restaurant from two members of his Piccolo team which will take over the Piccolo space, but of all the major closings in recent years this is, in my view, the most irreplaceable. Chef Flicker himself will be moving on to something altogether more informal and while I’m sure it will be excellent it is not going to be Piccolo. God knows he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants but this is a big loss for our dining scene.  Continue reading

El Triunfo, Three Years On (Northfield, MN)


It was almost three years ago that I first wrote up El Triunfo, a small family-run Mexican eatery and market in Northfield, MN. We’ve been eating there at a regular clip since and the time seems right to post a quick update on the blog. It’s not that there have been major changes to the menu. In fact, not only are there are no new things on the menu since I last reviewed them but a few things have dropped off the menu. Tragically, they no longer have goat barbacoa on the weekends (I was told a while ago that not enough people were ordering it) and some of the things on the regular menu have also dropped off. Business on the whole, however, I am happy to say, seems to be going really well. Continue reading

Tawakal (Burnsville, MN)

Tawakal: Mush Mush
Back to Somali food, back to Burnsville. Tawakal is located a little further south from the Twin Cities than Nawal: going north or south on Highway 35, you take the Burnsville Parkway east, turn left on Nicollet and it’s almost immediately on the right in a strip mall anchored, as is the law in Minnesota, by a Caribou Coffee. It’s much more established than Nawal is: it’s been around a while, has been written up in various Twin Cities publications (the pieces are pasted to a wall) and abuts a grocery store and boutique of the same name. But what is the food like? Read on.  Continue reading

Piccolo X

Piccolo: Beef Tartare with Mushroom Puree
Will this be an account of our last meal at Piccolo? I hope not but they seem to be entirely booked up from now through their closing on March 11. I’m hoping we can get in one more time but if not, at least our last meal there will have been excellent. After eating there in mid-December and again over the New Year’s weekend, we went back again in late-January with another set of friends who are also big fans and we were all well pleased.

This review and, if we can indeed get in one more time, that of our next meal there will be the exceptions to my recent shift of emphasis to smaller immigrant-run restaurants. Piccolo was our favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities and I wanted to say farewell. Next week we’ll be back to Somali food.  Continue reading

Spice (Savage, MN)

Spice Thai: Satay
Spice is located in Savage, one of Minneapolis’ southern suburbs. And if the prosaic town of Savage can’t quite live up to its name, Spice also fails to deliver on its promise of “[T]he…only authentic Thai Cuisine South of the River”. (I’m not sure, by the way, if the restaurant’s name is just Spice or Spice Thai.) Once upon a time I would not have bothered to eat at a Thai restaurant in the suburbs, but having been pleasantly surprised by Thai Curry House we were optimistic. Well, if recent history has taught us anything it is that optimism leads naturally to dull disappointment. So it was for us at Spice. Our lunch here a few weeks ago was very disappointing. I know I said I’d be changing the focus of my restaurant reviews with a view towards supporting immigrant-run places but I can’t bring myself to say that a place like Spice is better than it is.  Continue reading

Moroccan Flavors (Minneapolis)

Moroccan Flavors
As I said last week, the focus of my restaurant reviews is going to shift for the foreseeable future to smaller, immigrant-run restaurants. I also said that I would be making more of an effort to get to restaurants serving the cuisines of countries and regions and peoples that have been targeted by the rhetoric and policies of the new administration in the United States, and in particular to Somali, North African and Middle Eastern restaurants. I had a review of a Somali restaurant last week (Nawal in Burnsville) and this week I have a review of Moroccan Flavors in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities do not have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to North African cuisines (and the well-regarded Saffron shut down last year) but I am happy to say that in Moroccan Flavors the region has a worthy representative.  Continue reading

Nawal (Burnsville, MN)

nawal

[This post originally had a very long introduction in which I laid out a short/medium-term shift in the focus of my blog: fewer whisky and fine dining reviews and a greater emphasis on smaller, immigrant-run restaurants and on books and films from the non-Western world. So as to let this review of Nawal stand on its own, I’ve split that stuff into its own post here.]

Nawal is a Somali restaurant in Burnsville, one of the southern suburbs of Minneapolis. Burnsville appears to have a large Somali population (Minnesota, as you may know, has the largest Somali population in the United States). I’ve not looked up census data for Burnsville but there’s a mosque/Islamic Center very close to Nawal, as well as a number of Halal markets and other Somali restaurants in the vicinity. It is a casual and relaxed restaurant; it is a gathering place for local Somalis but it’s also a good place to get an introduction to Somali comfort food. We’d already eaten there a few times in the last month or so (after noticing it en route to the nearby Thai Curry House) and I’d been planning to eventually write it up after we’d tried a big chunk of the menu. But after the events of Saturday we got a large group of friends together to go eat lunch there as a (very) small statement of solidarity and no time seemed better than the present for a review. Continue reading

Piccolo IX

Piccolo: Sunchoke Consommé
I don’t have a whole lot left to say about Piccolo except that this is my ninth review of a meal there in the last few years and that I still am depressed about the fact that they will be open for less than two more months. We last ate there in the second week of December and when we found out at that meal that they were going to have a special New Year’s weekend menu, and that Doug Flicker would be in the kitchen cooking it, it took about 3 seconds for us to decide that we’d be back soon to eat it. This is a brief account of that meal. We were joined by friends we’ve eaten there with before, and who are also big fans. It turned out to be one of the best meals any of us had eaten there—which is saying something, as the last meal we ate there together was pretty amazing too.  Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2016

Grand Szechuan: Szechuan Cool Noodle
Grand Szechuan is the restaurant we eat at most in the Twin Cities area. I stopped posting regularly about our meals there a couple of years ago, as otherwise things would get pretty monotonous. As I did last year, I instead have for you an end of the year round-up drawn from a number of meals eaten this year. It highlights mostly dishes that have not been featured before, as well as a few old favourites. A few new things entered our rotation this year and we also got around to eating for the first time a few things that have always been on the menu. Whether it’s to eat old or new things, we’re always glad to walk in their door. Continue reading

Thai Curry House (Burnsville, MN)

Thai Curry House: Guay Tiew
Living an hour south of the Twin Cities is no fun if you enjoy eating out. We live in a town with two colleges that somehow does not have a single Thai or Vietnamese restaurant—though given the state of our Chinese restaurants and the lone Indian restaurant that’s probably not a bad thing. The only decent food in town, really, is very casual Mexican at El Triunfo and there’s only so many times we can eat there in a month. Things don’t improve very much as you go further north. Not, in fact, until you cross the river into Bloomington: there Grand Szechuan heaves into view. But if you were looking for Thai food it used to be that you’d have to go much further to get anything that even went past passable status.

Continue reading

Piccolo VIII

Piccolo: Black cod with kohlrabi dashi, nori, and charred cippolini onions
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone: the best restaurant in the Twin Cities, and one of the best in the country, is closing. Yes, Piccolo will serve its last meal on March 11. Read Chef Doug Flicker’s announcement here. Why they’re closing is not entirely clear. My best guess would be some combination of the (not-so) slow death of the market for serious food for adults, a desire to go out on his own terms, and a desire to do something else after seven years of Piccolo. The good news is we are not losing Doug Flicker: his stamp will be on the new Esker Grove at the Walker Art Center; Sandcastle will still be around at Lake Nokomis for people who want lakeside food that raises the bar for the genre; and he will doubtless surface soon elsewhere (though if it’s at the helm of a burger and ramen shop I will not be happy). The bad news, again, is that Piccolo is closing.  Continue reading

The Rabbit Hole (Minneapolis)

exterior
The Rabbit Hole’s first incarnation, about four years ago, was as the Left-Handed Cook, a counter among many other counters at Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market. Run by two young, ex-Angeleno Korean-Americans, Thomas and Kat Kim (and named for her nickname for him), the Left-Handed Cook was quite popular when it opened. We never got around to eating there, though we’d always talked about doing it (we just haven’t been eating much at the Midtown Market in recent years). Then in late 2013 they closed it down and re-opened a little later within the Midtown Market as a proper sit-down restaurant, the Rabbit Hole. We talked about eating there as well for a good while and now we’ve actually gotten around to doing it. I wish I could say we liked it as much as we were hoping we would.  Continue reading

Pho Hoa (Minneapolis)

Pho Hoa: Pho
A few weeks ago I started what I described as a slow-motion survey of noodle soup-centered meals in the Twin Cities metro area. My first report was of lunch at Pho 79 on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. I’m not going very far from it for the second. Pho Hoa is almost across the street from it. Unlike Pho 79, Pho Hoa is part of a larger chain—it’s the local franchise of an operation that extends not just to California, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Washington and Utah, but beyond the U.S. to Canada, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Also unlike Pho 79, it is in a large strip mall’ish complex and as such has ample parking in front—which makes it far less of a pain to get to than Pho 79. That in itself would not be a reason to eat there if the food was not good but I’m happy to report that our one lunch there was quite good. Continue reading

Pho 79 (Minneapolis)

Bun Bo Hue
November in southern Minnesota this year has been relatively warm and mild. Until a couple of days ago, that is. It got cold last Friday and then today winter more or less arrived with freezing rain and snow. Ah, the first day of driving on slick roads! A more positive way of thinking about winter is to think of it as noodle soup season, and I have always believed in accentuating the positive. And so throughout the winter I am going to post brief reports of noodle soup-centered meals around the Twin Cities.

This will also mean a sharp uptick in my Vietnamese coverage. In case you’re wondering, Minnesota has a decent-sized Vietnamese population (26,000 at the last census) and most of them live in the Twin Cities. My guess, based on Vietnamese store-fronts, is that St. Paul is really the Vietnamese hub of the Twin Cities, but my “tour” will begin in Minneapolis, on the stretch of Nicollet Ave. known as Eat Street. First up: Pho 79. Continue reading