Martina opened just under a year ago in the tony Linden Hills neighbourhood of Minneapolis. The restaurant occupies the (redone) space of the erstwhile Upton 43. We were never particularly moved to visit Upton 43 and so I cannot speak to how the interior has changed, but what is there now is a pretty standard issue contemporary “fine dining” space. That is to say, open ceilings, open kitchens, no tablecloths and a lot of sound. Unlike at a place like Spoon and Stable, the cocktail bar is right in the middle of the restaurant and seems to serve as its focal point. More than any expensive restaurant we’ve been to in the Twin Cities in a while, Martina seems like a spot for the young and well-heeled of the Twin Cities; it was still hopping when we left close to midnight on the Saturday of our visit—with the bar as crowded as when we’d got there at 9—and that’s not always the norm here. And the food? It was pretty good too. Continue reading
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).
Ngon Bistro is a St. Paul institution at this point and I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to get around to reviewing it for the blog. It’s a bit of an anomaly in the Twin Cities in that it is a high-end Asian restaurant. The much newer Hai Hai is more casual, and the same was true of the recently shuttered Rabbit Hole too. I am not suggesting that Ngon Bistro is stuffy or formal; but in terms of menu format and prices, they are much closer to places like Spoon and Stable and Meritage. In other ways, Ngon Bistro is similar to the erstwhile Rabbit Hole in that they too seek to translate an Asian cuisine—in this case Vietnamese—into the menu formats and culinary idioms of mainstream American dining. Comparing our meals at the two places it’s easy to say that Ngon Bistro does it much better. Continue reading
Our last meal at Tilia was enjoyable in some ways, not so enjoyable in others. And while I ended that review by saying I could see us returning at some point, it took four and a half years for that to actually happen—and that on account of a mistake. I had planned to take a friend who was visiting from India to dinner at Tenant—the successor restaurant to the late, lamented Piccolo—but when we arrived there, we discovered, to my chagrin, that I had somehow in fact made a reservation for the middle of June! And they had no room for us. Casting about for a place in the relative vicinity, I called Tilia and they said they had enough space. And so off we went. Alas, being able to get a table at short notice was one of the few highlights of the meal. Continue reading
After a long run of reviews of more affordable places in the Twin Cities metro area, here is a review of a recent dinner at one of the top contenders to be the Twin Cities’ best fine dining restaurant: Spoon and Stable. We enjoyed our first dinner there in late 2015, less than a year after they opened, and had always meant to go back soon for another meal. However, more than three years past their opening they remain a difficult reservation and so it took almost 2.5 years for us to finally get back (I don’t mean to suggest that we were trying to get a table every month after that first meal). I guess it’s a positive development that we were able to get in on a Friday this time—but even booking a month ahead, the best we could do was 9.15. Anyway, this dinner was as good as the first in some ways, lesser and better in others. Continue reading
I’ve reviewed two previous dinners at Alma (one from 2014 and one from 2015). As I’ve said previously, before Piccolo became our favourite high-end restaurant in the Twin Cities, and a place we returned to again and again, Alma used to be the place we ate at most often. Now, of course, Piccolo is gone. And so, when the missus’ birthday rolled around earlier this month, we decided to go back again to Alma, for our first expensive meal in the Cities since Piccolo closed and we left for London. This was also our first meal there since Alma closed and reopened late last year after an extensive remodel. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
Tongue in Cheek opened in 2014 in a part of St. Paul that apparently has a checkered past. It has received decent reviews from the professionals (see this enthusiastic writeup from Rick Nelson in the Star Tribune) and was also recommended to me in the comments on my review of Grand Cafe, where I asked for recommendations for more places doing interesting things under the radar. I put it on my list then and in mid-August we met two friends for dinner there on a weeknight. And I’m sorry to say that I had mixed feelings about it (and they were shared by the rest of the table, I think). It’s not that it was a bad meal (though some things were not good); it’s more that too many things suffered from excess of one kind or the other: too many elements in some plates, too much superfluous technique for its own sake, too many on-trend things on one menu, too much of an effort to be inventive for its own sake. There’s talent in the kitchen but it’s trying too hard, I thought. On the evidence of the better dishes at our meal this would be a better restaurant if it just calmed down and kept things a little simpler. Continue reading
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
Saffron, which is located across the street from 112 Eatery in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis, opened in 2006. Some five years later, as far as I can tell from older reviews, it underwent some sort of an image makeover. I gather it had been a more formal restaurant in its original incarnation, with a more traditional menu structure. As of 2011/12 it apparently got rid of some of the formal trappings and the menu was redone to emphasize a large number of small plates for sharing and fewer larger main courses. I’m not able to say what the original version of the restaurant was like but I can say we quite enjoyed the food at our recent dinner at the current incarnation. The restaurant itself as a space left us a little cold (but more on that later). Continue reading
Heirloom opened in St. Paul late last year and while it wouldn’t be accurate to say that it has set the cities on fire it has already acquired a strong reputation. The chef, Wyatt Evans is another W.A. Frost graduate (like Russell Klein of Meritage). His new restaurant offers what it calls “modern farmhouse cuisine”. I’m not entirely sure about the farmhouse part but the restaurant’s general approach—lots of pickled veg, foams, crumbles and powders on top of things, an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, bread you pay for, a beer list etc.—certainly is in line with contemporary trends, as is its aesthetic and general air of informality. It’s a large, bright restaurant, with lots of wood and glass, an active bar area with its own menu, and lots of room between tables: a very nice space and not too loud—at least not in the back where we were seated. It’s true that it’s located right off a street with the name Cretin Avenue, but you can’t have everything. Continue reading