What a great time to be dining in the Twin Cities these days, and let me say right off the bat that any last vestiges of our parochial, youthful, and provincial food culture are fast meting away. Now is the summer of our sublime contentment, as Bill Shakespeare would put it. Food trucks roam our streets vending some of the tastiest and best food you will find, mobile or otherwise.
I just ate lunch at a few of them today (Gastrotruck, Magic Bus, Chef Shack, 128 Mobile Cafe) and was just blown away. On the brick and mortar side of the equation I can’t say enough about the modern food forward meat-topian cluster of chef driven neighborhood restaurants that grace our fair Cities these days. I think its safe to say that in the last year we finally pushed through the glass ceiling and reached a large enough number of superb eateries who’s food quality, ambience, and style make us a stronger candidate for GREAT FOOD CITY status than at any time in the 20 years I have lived here in Minnesota.
Downtown and Uptown restaurants such as Haute Dish, Heartland, BLG/112, Hiedi’s, and Meritage are attracting legions of fans, but think about the unique number of neighborhood joints that are redefining our food scene. Alma and Corner Table have been joined by Piccolo, and then by Victory 44, Travail, Tilia, and others to create a stunning backdrop for real change to our community. I think we reached a tipping point this spring, and as I drove by Travail a few weeks ago and saw a line out the door on a Wednesday I knew the worm turned.
I finally got to eat at Travail and Victory 44 and thought the food was superb, the irreverent take both have on the gastro-pub genre and their willingness to experiment are admirable, but their continued success speaks volumes about the growth of the patience and tastes of local dining populace.
That’s probably the biggest news of this summer: Our collective tastes have expanded. It’s a great time to be eating in the Twin Cities.
I loved the food at Travail, don’t get me wrong. I can’t wait to get back and you should be eating there regularly if you aren’t already, but my vote for “local guy who kicked it into gear and is cooking at a whole new level” is Erick Harcey at Victory 44.
When I bumped into him years ago at Nicollet Island Inn, I thought he was cooking in a vacuum. Boring. This guy has worked his ass off the last 5 years, and I don’t think I have eaten a dud of a dish yet at V44. And several of his plates are some of the best food I have eaten, not only in our city, but anywhere this year. And let me tell you I have eaten some pretty insane food recently.
Harcey’s fried chicken, bacon fries, and Korean-style pork all impressed, but his coconut sorbet concoction with tapioca pearls may be the best dessert in this town, taking the crown away from the 10 years and running champ (Vincent’s 3 Creams). I am so thrilled for this kid, and he deserves some national notice for some of the food he puts out.
At Travail, I ate the burger to end all burgers. I know, I am bored with burgers too, which is why this one was so killer. The meat was mixed with cooked beef fat, then griddled so that every bite tasted like the fatty scorched nubbin at the end of a strip steak. Amazing.
THIS IS A DISASTER . . . earlier this year I shot and aired a Bizarre Foods episode in San Francisco in which I spent some time with the Freegans and the Food Not Bombs folks. I got a lot of flack about that for reasons I can’t understand, even today. These folks, and many others like them, want to end hunger in America and the rest of the world. No more or less. I got an email from some of my SF buddies this weekend drawing my attention to this United Nations post about the global food crisis. The biggest culprit is not our inability to feed, or produce, or manage our food systems—turns out the largest contributor to the food/hunger crisis is our own wasteful ignorance. What a mess.
El Bulli The Movie is coming out later this month, and you can see a clip here. Say what you will about the insane amount of Bulli-crap you read on every webpage in the world, and at last count there are hundreds of ‘last dinner at EB’ articles out there, but my meals there rank at the top of my list. I have had the humbling honor of eating in dining rooms and kitchens all over this planet, but the day I spent eating and cooking with Adria is indelibly etched on my palate. After six hours of cooking and talking, and tasting dozens of dishes, Adria turned to me and asked if I wanted to sit with him and have a pre-shift dinner before service. I said yes and he walked me over to a corner of his kitchen and cooked the two of us a pair of rabbit legs escabeche, some sautéed greens, and roast potatoes, and we sat and wolfed it down together. The legs had been cooked sous vide with a gentle vinegar and herb bath inside the bags, and then cooled. He crisped them in the pan with the potatoes and, I gotta tell you, I remember every bite of that dish. Say what you want but 100 years from now people will be talking about him and you can’t say that about many folks in this crazy business.
Finally if you haven’t seen it, grab the Star off the shelf at the gas station. It’s the annual Best-Worst Summer Beach Bodies issues, featuring the Hunks and Chunks page . . . guess where I ended up? Its hysterical if only to see how much Steven Tyler looks like a naked teenage Brazilian model.