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

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

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

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

Piccolo VII

Piccolo: Black cod with sesame seed, crispy garlic, wasabi, and green juice
Five months after my last Piccolo review, here I am with a write-up of our second dinner there this year and our seventh overall. Not that we need any excuse to go back to Piccolo—we have to make a concerted effort to not just go there every time we plan a dinner out in the Twin Cities—but this visit was sparked by the intriguing news that Chef Flicker will be overseeing a new restaurant at the Walker Center that will be opening this winter. We look forward to eating there once it’s open and on its feet but the news was a good reminder that we’d planned to eat at Piccolo more often this year. Well, I am glad to say that the meal did not disappoint. Unfortunately, with the busy season at work about to start, and travel plans in October (to Montreal, if things hold) and December (to Delhi and Calcutta via Hong Kong again), I’m not sure we’ll be able to go back again this year but this meal will do nicely to tide us over to our next.  Continue reading

Piccolo VI & Some Complaining about the James Beard Awards

Piccolo: Arctic Char Mousse
At the risk of turning into Piccolo’s house blogger here is my sixth review of dinner at Piccolo. But before I get to it allow me to complain a little bit about the James Beard awards, specifically the category for Best Chef: Midwest, which Doug Flicker of Piccolo has not only never won, he’s also never been a finalist for. You’ll say I should know better than to complain about the James Beard awards which, like most industry awards, are mostly a matter of who knows whom, who worked with whom and who has the hardest working p.r team. But I’ve never let knowing better stop me from complaining before so why start now?   Continue reading

Piccolo V

Fig Tart
Last week my place of work hosted a rather famous art critic and his partner; he was the chief guest (as we say in India) at our end of year festivities (and a beautiful, moving speech he delivered too). In past years people in his role have been fed dismal dinners on campus the evening before the main event; but on this occasion the person in charge was one of my more gastronomically oriented colleagues who decided to take a smaller number of people up to a fine restaurant in the Cities instead. And she invited the missus and me to join. I asked where we were going and she said she had her eye on Bachelor Farmer, never having been there before. I asked if she’d been to Piccolo and when she said she hadn’t I said that in my opinion Piccolo was both the best and most striking Twin Cities meal we could showcase for our big city guests.

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Piccolo IV: Fifth Anniversary Dinner

Piccolo: Escargot
No, not our fifth anniversary, the restaurant’s. Piccolo turned five this month. We only ate there for the first time last March but it has quickly become our favourite fine dining restaurant in the Twin Cities. So when I saw a reference to a fifth anniversary dinner in a glowing piece on Chef Doug Flicker on Eater in December it took only a few minutes for me to find a phone and call the restaurant about reservations. As far as I can tell, they didn’t really advertise this dinner—I didn’t see anything on their website nor did I see any tweets from the restaurant touting it in the weeks preceding. From this I conclude that most of the tables were set aside for regulars and friends of the house*, and as we are neither (this would be “only” our fourth visit—see here, here and here for reviews of our prior meals) I felt we were very fortunate to get a table. And even more fortunate that due to a cancellation the evening prior we managed to get our reservation moved from 9.30 pm to 8.45 pm.

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Piccolo III

sucklingpigOkay, 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. Continue reading

Piccolo II: The Re-Piccoloning

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. Continue reading

Piccolo

Here, with only a day or two to spare, is your Twin Cities fine dining report for March. This time we dined at Piccolo and did not have to endure terrible road conditions on the way there or back. And it was a very good dinner, always interesting, sometimes great.

A few quick notes on the restaurant for those who haven’t been there. It opened a few years ago and is housed in a very small/intimate space. There are two small dining rooms–one larger and brighter (and warmer) as you enter, and a smaller one with just three tables on the other side of the kitchen, which you pass through on the way there. The space in a sense prepares you for the food: small rooms, small plates; close quarters, fussy attention to detail; unusual layout, highly creative cooking. The menu, which changes every eight weeks or so, comprises five courses with only three selections in each, and while you can order a la carte, the smart thing to do is to order all five courses for the set price of $55. As we are smart that is what we did. More on what we ate in just a bit. Continue reading