After spending the summer eating like a king at Sandcastle (especially fun after training runs), we finally made it over to Doug Flicker’s other place, Piccolo (4300 Bryant Avenue South, 612-827-8111, OpenTable).
The hype has been almost overwhelming:
- Star Tribune Restaurant of the Year – 2010
- Anthony Bourdain’s favorite place between the coasts
- Eater.com Top 25 Most Underrated Restaurants in the U.S.
- Fool Magazine Most Underrated Chefs in the World
- Listed in the Wall Street Journal’s Ultimate Weekend in Minneapolis
Add in the glowing online reviews and I feel ashamed we’ve never made it over there between February 2010 and now. When Sandcastle was getting ready to open, we stopped in for some preview lemonade, met Doug and his wife Amy, talked about our mutual friends Thomas and Kat at Left Handed Cook and promised Doug we would eventually head over to 43rd and Bryant.
Sunday was the day.
I had to laugh when I saw the menu and tweeted:
Dinner @piccolo_mpls tonight – as a (former) picky eater, feel a little like I’m in a Survivor challenge. Trust the chef, trust the chef…
To which Chef Doug replied almost immediately:
As Rick Nelson wrote, “…diners take the risk of stepping out of their comfort zone, and the chef rewards them…” and as the Piccolo web site says, “pairing risk with reward.” Dining here reminds me of the scene in Ratatouille when Remy has all of the images floating around his head – “Each flavor was totally unique. But, combine one flavor with another, and something new was created!”
The building (and neighborhood) is very unassuming, with the Hair Hotel across the street and the Golf Club Hospital a few doors down. The front dining room only has 26 spots (there are another 10 in the back) and it seemed even smaller than my favorite St. Paul spot, Ristorante Luci. We had an early seating, so there were only a few others there in the beginning (but was full by the time we left).
The menu changes often and has basically two choices: Ã la carte and a five-course tasting option for $52 per person. We elected to do the latter, with both of us picking from the three options in each course. Unlike the wife, I’m not a big wine person. The two carafes of Riesling were right up my alley, though, and a good complement to the meal. The total bill was in line with other top restaurants in town and critics of the portion sizes are missing the point. We both found the entire experience a good value and think that most people who understand what they are getting here will agree.
Robb “Tallest Server” Sandberg was our waiter for the evening and he did a great job dealing with Colleen’s egg and corn allergies. The hostess also helped out from time and time and I was impressed with the protocol that you always seem to find at the great restaurants (re-folding napkins when you leave the table, bringing out new silverware and placing it just so, keeping the water glasses topped off without being asked, describing each dish as it is presented to the table).
We both started off the first course with the same item, which is missing from the online menu. He’s what Colleen can remember: mozzarella di bufala, nectarines (or peaches?), peppers, lemon, basil seed, lettuce and a small
For the second course, Colleen had Alaska king crab with shaved asparagus, house made cocktail sauce and smoke, while I had what’s been called “God’s Breakfast” (and has been a staple on the menu since they opened) – scrambled brown eggs with pickled pig’s feet, truffle butter and Parmigiano. Andrew Zimmern says he always orders two servings and Rick Nelson says he can’t imagine visiting the restaurant and not ordering it. Sublime.
Our other pre-dessert items included speck wrapped capon with Burrata, artichokes and melon; Lake Superior herring with chanterelles, black garlic, razor clams and hearts of palm; moulard duck with haricot vert, cherries, smoked onions and pimenton; and rabbit with crispy sweetbreads, yuba, king trumpet mushrooms and preserved eggplant. Every one was food art. Every one superb.
For the final course, Colleen had charcoal grilled apricots with candied olives, caramelized almonds and lemon ice cream, while I ordered the chocolate buckwheat cake with pickled cherries and sesame seeds. A very nice end to a great night out.
Piccolo isn’t a restaurant that I’d eat at every week, but I don’t think that’s the intent (I’ve got Sandcastle for that – at least in the summer). Similar to Meritage in St. Paul, Piccolo is a place to go when you want something special, created and delivered by very talented people.
Chef Doug has clearly progressed throughout his culinary career in the Twin Cities (D’Amico Cucina, Loring CafÃ©, Mission American Kitchen, Porter & Frye, Auriga) to the very top of the foodie universe. It makes me happy to know, though, that he’s still down to Earth enough to tweet with guests and don the “Dog Flicker” costume every now and then…
That, I can trust.