Growing Up Fast

Just as the sweetbreads were good, so were all the sweets. I don't quite know what to call the sliced ovals of chocolate-truffle-like-filling-and-nuts that were served one night, but they were marvelous. House-made ice creams ($5) were always remarkable: the lemon-basil ice cream struck the right balance between bright lemon and licorice-y basil; the fig ice cream tasted like it had just been made.

The most disappointing thing was the uninteresting and expensive wine list, which, co-owner and manager Duty allows, is a temporary work in progress. I usually see Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo Big House Red priced between $9 and $12 in local liquor stores; here it's $8.25 a glass. Estancia's pinot noir, which is--at most--$15 a bottle, is sold at Oddfellows for $40. (What's more, restaurants don't pay retail for their wines like we do. So the percent markup is rather dizzying.) Here's my two cents: I think a cheaper wine list does wonders to entice diners to try a new restaurant and chef. So wait until you're a big destination restaurant before really turning the thumbscrews on the wine.

Will Oddfellows become a big destination restaurant? I wouldn't be at all surprised. Chef Kogan appears to have the talent and ambition to pull it off, and the appealing space--golden wood walls, double-height tin ceilings, big windows onto the street--makes it feel like something straight out of New York's flatiron district. Then again, who knows? All I can really tell you is that with Jenna in the White House, it will be morning in America again.

Geoffrey P. Kroll

TABLEHOPPING

RESTAURANT QUARTERBACK:Ever notice that the Minneapolis business district doesn't have a single chef-driven restaurant? No Lucia's, no Café Brenda, no Zander. Frankly, I hadn't until chef Vincent Francoual pointed it out to me. And what do you know? He's opening a chef-driven restaurant! Called Vincent! Why, nature really does abhor a vacuum....But not as much as my wife! The dust is so thick in my house...

Okay, enough of that. Joking aside, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this new place, slated to open August 27 on the corner of 11th Street and Nicollet Mall (in the space formerly occupied by Bruegger's Bagels). Don't be excited just because Francoual is a veteran of such New York hot spots as Le Bernardin and Lespinasse, and was the chef at Minneapolis's café un deux trois until about a year and a half ago. Don't be excited just because Francoual, a native of Cahors, in southwest France, cares deeply about wine and will have a 20-by-the-glass, 100-bottle list that promises to be one of the best in town. No. Don't even give it up for coming attractions like an appetizer of red beets with goat cheese and frisée; an entrée of wild-boar ravioli with fava beans and savoy cabbage; or even a main dish of grilled Cornish hens, the skins lined with herbs, served with spiced braised rutabaga, a cumin sauce, and (gasp!) tripe.

All right. Sure. Be excited for all those reasons. But most of all, be excited because it looks like Nicollet Mall is getting its first-ever restaurant for grown-up natives. No Disneyland theming, no conventioneer-directed lowest-common-denominator everything, no frat-kid party-weekend sound system. I mean, a restaurant! For us! The people who live here! On Nicollet Mall! Someone get the smelling salts--I think I feel faint.

"It's going to be pretty simple inside," says Francoual, in defiance of downtown's conventional wisdom. "The food will be the focus. The dream was to do something like Lucia's downtown--good food, but you don't have to dress up. The restaurant is going to have an open kitchen, because I wanted to be able to see who comes into the restaurant, to recognize the customers. I want to be able to get to know people, to say, 'Oh, you like this chardonnay, maybe you'll like this Loire Valley white.' Find out what fish they like, everything."

And guess what else? I'm not the only one excited about this new place; Francoual is pretty damn revved up too: "Me, I'm a very emotional kind of guy," he confesses. "Most of this restaurant is chef-oriented. Everything comes from what I like, what I think people will like. It comes from the heart. I haven't had a restaurant for more than a year. It's driving me crazy. I've felt a little like a quarterback without a team. I've got all these ideas, now I just want to jump in and try them all."

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