On a recent visit to Minneapolis we visited Piccolo with Judy's sister, Angie, and Angie's husband, Pete. I looked on Trip Advisor and some other sources for restaurants and Piccolo caught my attention, even though it was rated only #60 out of 1,493 restaurants in Minneapolis. I wrote it down as one of six or seven restaurants to consider. Then I stumbled across a post by Andrew Zimmern, a Twin Cities resident, who recommended Piccolo as one of his ten favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities. This is what Zimmern had to say about it, "Doug Flicker is one of the most underrated chefs in the country, and I wish I could dine at Piccolo weekly. Doug operates with a 'less is more' mentality. That means a small dining space (I think it has fewer than 30 seats) and a menu boasting only 3-to 5-bite servings. It sounds as though it wouldn't be enough, but the small portions keep things exciting and void of any unnecessary filler. I've never left hungry, and I'm a big guy. Order a bunch of things and create your own pseudo-tasting menu. I routinely order 2 servings of his pickled pig feet with truffles and scrambled egg. It's that good." Zimmern's recommendation sealed it for me, I wanted to go there.
Since getting home I've watched Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" television show on Amazon Prime. In 2010, season 6, episode 10, he visited Piccolo in his "Heartland" episode. It was the last restaurant featured and he said the following about Piccolo, "Far and away the best and most inspired and inspiring meal in my trip across America." On this clip, Anthony Bourdain calls Doug Flicker the best chef in the Midwest. Finally, here is a short clip about Piccolo on traveloutsidelines featuring an interview with Doug Flicker.
We had reservations for 5:30 p.m., when Piccolo opened. The dining room is quite small and we were seated at a table for four. We decided to do their tasting menu, which allows you to choose one item from each of five courses. It was a slow meal, with quite a bit of spacing in between courses. That gave us plenty of time to talk and much of the talk was about the meal itself.
We were initially given a basket with various types of bread, my favorite being a sourdough with olives in it. The bread was accompanied by two large round slabs of butter and a white fuzzy substance which we were told was dried olive oil. It appears that the dried olive oil is made using tapioca maltodextrin which absorbs more than its weight in liquid and transforms the olive oil into a powdery substance that melts on the tongue. It is supposed to provide "an extremely rich feel in the mouth", but my palate was not discerning enough to really notice it. But dried olive oil or not, the sourdough with olives was excellent.
For the first course, I got smoked eel torchon with cauliflower, horseradish and maitake mushrooms. Torchon is a cooking technique where food is wrapped in a cloth and secured tightly with a string. The food is then marinated, or poached, or both. For this particular item, it appears that cauliflower was bundled together with smoked eel and then simmered in water for a few hours. The two round "wheels" on the plate are the smoked eel/cauliflower combination. It had a distinctive smoked eel flavor, but not as strong as smoked eel, which I just had about a week previous at home. The maitake mushrooms were marinated and quite salty and the dabs of white liquid were a horseradish sauce.
Judy's first course was roasted onion with Epoisses cheese, prune puree, chicken liver crumble and nasturtiums. Epoisses cheese is a pungent cows milk cheese made in France. It is usually served with a spoon because it has an extremely soft texture. In this case, the cheese filled the inside of the roasted onion. The dabs of brownish/purple are the prune puree and the crumbled brown crunchies were chicken liver. Biting into the onion and getting a mouthful of liquidy cheese was very nice. The chicken liver crumble was very crunchy and did not have a livery taste. I would love to know how it was made. Nasturtium is a plant similar to watercress and mustard with a peppery, pungent flavor. Both of these first course dishes were nice, very different, but the onions probably won the first round.
Most of us were influenced by Andrew Zimmern's comment above and ordered the scrambled brown eggs with pickled pig's feet, truffle butter and parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the second course. Our waiter told us that this particular dish is always on the menu. The dominating texture was the very moist and mushy egg, the pig's feet was in small chunks and also very moist, so merged texture wise with the egg, and the salty cheese completely changed the flavor profile in those bites that contained it. This was a very pleasing texture, taste dish.
Angie bucked the crowd and ordered roasted cauliflower agnolotti with king crab, n'djua, jalapeno and mint. Agnolotti is a pasta typical of the Piedmont region of Italy and is flattened dough folded over a filling, in this case of cauliflower. N'djua is Calabrian (southern Italy) variation of salami, a spicy spreadable sausage made with pig parts such as the shoulder, belly and jowl, as well as a mixture of spices. I did not get a taste of this dish, but anything with king crab can't be bad.
The third course had three offerings. Pete and I both chose Guinea hen with swiss chard and egg yolk ravioli, sunchokes and delicate squash jus. I've had Guinea fowl on two occasions previously, once at Au Cinquieme Peche in Montreal and one that I cooked on my own at home. It is very similar in taste and texture to chicken. Sunchoke is another name for the Jerusalem artichoke, which we've cooked at home. Its tuber is very nice, but eaten in large doses gives massive gas (fortunately there was not enough there to cause this particular malady). There was nothing particularly different about the Guinea fowl, other than that it is an uncommon restaurant dish, but the sunchoke with delicate squash gravy on the ravioli had a very pleasing texture and nice taste.
|Pickled pig's feet sounds weird, but there was nothing weird about this dish.|
|Agnolotti with king crab|
|Guinea fowl. The roundish ravioli is in the center topped by sunchoke.|
Angie and Judy both chose sturgeon with crab apples, fennel, ham hock glaze and Yukon gold potatoes. I was initially thinking of getting the sturgeon, a fish I've never had before, other than caviar which is sturgeon eggs, but was discouraged from doing so by the waiter who said that the sturgeon was kind of bland. The sturgeon was actually quite salty and overrode any blandness that might otherwise have existed.
For the fourth course, Judy ordered 48 hour Peterson Farms beef short rib with smoked black walnuts, crispy morcilla and prune. Morcilla is another name for blood sausage and I assume the dark crispy pieces are the morcilla and the yellowish/brownish crispy pieces the black walnuts. The short rib was cooked sous vide for 48 hours and this is the only dish I thought was a little subpar. The short rib was rather tasteless and hard.
I got the rabbit loin and crispy leg with chestnut polenta, cipollini onions and chestnut honey. For the most part, the rabbit loin was extremely succulent, juicy and flavorful, although I did have a little section that was a little spongy. The waiter told us that the rabbit loin was laid out, rolled up and cooked sous vide at 60 degrees for about 50 minutes.
For me, the sixth course, the dessert, was the star of the evening. I had foie gras torchon with cashew butter, Concord grapes and yeast ice cream. Foie gras is duck or goose liver that has been specially fattened. According to Serious eats, foie gras torchon is the "king of all hors d'oeuvres" and takes three days to make. Apparently, there are only two farms in the U.S. that make foie gras, both in the Hudson Valley in New York, made from ducks. The liver is cured in a mixture of salt, sugar, pepper, and perhaps a splash of liquor such as brandy or Sauternes, before being rolled up tightly into a cylinder with a kitchen towel (torchon in French). After it hangs for several days it is gently poached, chilled and then served sliced. The foie gras was cold, creamy and rich, and had a few crunchy pieces in it, I have no idea what they were. The round wheel of gelatinous purple is Concord grape and it was a flavor wallop of grapeness that was incredible. So, so good. The only thing better were the crispy purple nuggets underneath the ice cream which were crunchy Concord grape kernals. I have no idea how they are made, but those grape nuggets are magical, just loaded with crispy sweet flavor that is unsurpassed by anything else I think I've ever eaten. Cashew butter held the foie gras wheel in place and a couple of whole cashews were on the plate. Finally, the yeast ice cream had a very different yeasty, but good taste. This plate was just loaded with different textures and tastes and was an adventure in every bite. I Looooooved it. Pete also had this dish and agreed that it was the best of the evening.
Judy and Angie got parsnip panna cotta with butterscotch, yuba, crab apples and crisp parsnip. Yuba is the thin veil that forms on the surface as cream rises in heated soymilk, also called "bean curd sheet." Panna cotta is an Italian dessert of sweetened cream thickened with gelatine and moulded. This was also good, weird to think of parsnip as a dessert, but it worked.
Our meal was long, about 2 and 1/2 hours. But it was one of my favorite kinds of meals, creative combinations, unusual ingredients and processes and styles I have to look up to understand. In other words, real chef magic, food as art. Very fun to enjoy it with Angie and Pete, one of the highlights of the trip for me.
|One side of the rabbit.|
|Another view of the rabbit with the polenta and onions visible. I'm not sure where they crispy leg was, except perhaps rolled in with the loin and providing the different texture I noticed.|
|Parsnip panna cotta|