Restaurant Alma, Fall 2017

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

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

Tongue in Cheek (St. Paul)

Tongue in Cheek
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

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

Saffron (Minneapolis)

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 (St. Paul)

Heirloom: Meat Pie
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

Meritage (St. Paul)

Meritage, Saddle of Lamb
I always tend to think of Meritage as a Twin Cities institution from way back but in fact it only opened around the same time we got here: in 2007. The head chef, Russell Klein, has been around on the scene longer. Though he is not originally from Minnesota (from New York, I believe), he was the executive chef at W.A. Frost, a St. Paul institution that has incubated a lot of Twin Cities kitchen talent. His wife Desta Maree Klein is the other force behind the restaurant—she runs the operations. They’ve won a number of local awards and Chef Klein has been long-listed a couple of times for the Midwest James Beard. It’s a place we’ve always meant to go to but somehow never have. Well, the omission has been fixed now.  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

112 Eatery…and Some Thoughts on La Belle Vie (Minneapolis)

112 Eatery: chocolate torte w/ malted chocolate ice cream
When we first got to Minnesota in 2007 the two restaurants that came up most often when we asked for recommendations for places to eat were La Belle Vie and 112 Eatery. 112 Eatery was still relatively new (they opened in January 2005), La Belle Vie was already an institution. Eight years later, 112 Eatery is seemingly still going strong but La Belle Vie will be closing at the end of the month. I do not bring this up to suggest that 112 Eatery is the better restaurant per se; but there may be some evidence here of the survival of the fittest in the original Darwinian sense.  Continue reading

Spoon and Stable (Minneapolis)

Spoon and Stable
After three reviews in a row of Twin Cities meals that ranged from the farcical to the mediocre to the acceptable, I am very pleased to say that this is a report on a meal that I thought was, on the whole, very good indeed: at Spoon and Stable. As those who follow the food scene—in the Twin Cities and beyond—know, Spoon and Stable is a very hot restaurant. It opened in late 2014 with a great deal of local fanfare and was almost immediately nominated for a James Beard award (though it did not win). Later in 2015 Bon Appetit named them one of the best new restaurants in the country.  Continue reading

Travail (Robbinsdale, MN)

Towards the end of my recent dinner at Travail, while waiting for the next course in what had long before begun to feel like an interminable meal, I began to idly try to come up with versions of book titles to describe the meal so far. Here are the best I could manage: A Series of Unfortunate Courses and A Supposedly Fun Meal I’ll Never Eat Again. No, I really did not enjoy my meal. Yes, I actively disliked it. Before I get into the details of the meal and the very basic reasons for my lack of enjoyment of it, a little bit of background on and description of the restaurant for those who don’t follow these things. Continue reading