Everything But the Kitchen: Zinc

Brasserie Zinc
1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; (612) 904-1010
Hours: breakfast 7:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday; lunch 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner 5:30 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 5:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Sunday; limited menu available 11:00 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday; 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Sunday.

 

Aside from a sneaking suspicion that Nicollet Mall is turning into a little bit of Epcot Center in the snow, I have to say I like Brasserie Zinc very much. Zut alors! Sacre bleu! Maman, papa, cherchez la femme! Alouette, gentille alouette....

Craig Lassig

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Brasserie Zinc

1010 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Where was I? Oh yeah. Epcot Center. The part of Disney World featuring "World Showcase"--Chinaworld smack up against Moroccoworld, with appropriate seasoning packets available. Look at Nicollet Mall with too jaded an eye right now and you can see how one would careen down the street from Englandworld (Brit's), to Irelandworld (The Local), to Franceworld (Brasserie Zinc). Where's the city-of-the-future pavilion? Pottery Barn. Attendez, though, cast too jaded an eye on the world and you'll miss your fair share of mussels and Pernod, and that would be, as they said in Paris when I was a young girl, sadder than a hound dog with a head cold in a bacon factory.

Or maybe that wasn't Paris--maybe that was Epcot Center. I don't know. What I do know is that Brasserie Zinc is the casual French restaurant that opened in late September, founded by a group of investors that includes general manager and wine enthusiast Edmund Burke, as well as Kieran Folliard, the creator of Kieran's and the highly successful Local. Zinc does all the things right that the Local does right: A substantial, attractive, hand-carved bar forms the heart of the place and doles out irresistible beverages. The convivial atmosphere is completed by live (or at least well-chosen recorded) music. Rich, addictive dishes from the homeland make up the best part of the menu. Zinc does it all, with a wine list to be reckoned with and mussels you'd fillet a flipping fugu for.

Which are presented side by side with a number of dishes you'd eat your beret to avoid. Zinc's litany of shame includes chewy steak tartare ($10.95), an awful offering mysteriously drained of beef flavor; unbeefy and acrid onion soup ($4.95); bland, watery bouillabaisse ($16.95) made with overcooked fish; and even a clumsy tarte Tatin ($4) presented with none of the caramelized top that makes the upside-down apple tart distinct. The odd version here is more like poached, spiced apples in crust. Yuck, too, to the coulibiac ($15.95), a Friday-night special of salmon and rice cooked with herbs in brioche dough until exhausted and gummy. And off with the heads of "Les Frères" ($16.95), a bizarrely tasteless dish of sliced hanger steak and crisped short ribs presented with mashed potatoes and bitter, unpleasant onion ragout.

So why am I so fond of a place that misses its target so often? Mostly, it's the beverages, the bread, and the atmosphere--and the fact that the raw bar ain't bad. The oysters glisten freshly on their raised, glassed-in beds by the host's stand. (Sneeze-guarded and up and off the sidewalk, no less--a definite improvement over the true Parisian style. Mon dieu! Americans and our germs! Soon we will want our oysters' bellies hand-washed with watermelon-scented antibacterial soap!) Order a plateau for $25 or $49, and you get a bowl of ice topped with oysters, poached-in-the-shell shrimp, littleneck clams, and langoustines, which are a critter that looks like a tiny half-lobster, half-shrimp but tastes like a crab. When I ordered it, a small plateau yielded 20 former sea-dwellers--a good deal. (But skip the silly "oyster cocktail à la Zinc" ($9.95), a squishy, charmless composition of out-of-the-shell oysters tossed atop a martini glass of champagne granitée.)

The hot mollusks are even better than the cold--particularly the rave-worthy mussels swimming in butter, herbs, and wine. That mussel broth is so good, so rich, so bright and clear, it's tempting to consider raising the bowl to your lips to gulp it down. Unfortunately, if you did that then you couldn't sop it up with bread and frites--one of the most acute pleasures now available on Nicollet Mall. The frites ($3.95) on their own are nothing special, though they arrive very attractively in the traditional paper-lined metal cup. Once you start dunking them in the mussel-broth, though, they become fantastic. Then you can start dunking the bread in the broth, and that becomes fantastic.

Indeed, one of the smartest things Zinc has done is get their bread from the dough mavens of Turtle Bread. The bakery's baguette is particularly noteworthy now, as it was recently reengineered with help from the team that competes for the U.S. in the world championships of European baking, "La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie." This has meant that the baguettes are creamier, crisper, and lighter than they were. If Zinc continues to slice these fresh to order, they'll always have a place in my heart.

What else can you do with the bread? Why, you might spread it with the brandade ($4.95), a great, salty, garlicky version of the classic purée of salt cod, potatoes, olive oil, and garlic. You might use your bread to scoop up clumps of fondue ($5.95), here a dip made of hot goat cheese, good black olives, and tomatoes, combined and grilled till bubbly. At lunch--and this is something downtown has been waiting for for years--the baguette is available filled as a real French street-sandwich like salami and cheese ($5.95), or Attic ham with tomato and Brie ($7.95). The sandwiches come with potatoes on the side. If you could get them for $2 less wrapped in paper at the door, without potato, I'd lead the way for an all-city beret toss. Running low on ideas for bread? Here's an off-the-menu tip: A little dish of the house white-truffle béarnaise costs only $1.75--and it's as good as it sounds.

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