Golden Boy

Even a Food Scene in Full Flower Can Use a Little Gilding

VINCENT
1100 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
(612) 630-1189

 

Hey, rush to the window! Lookit there! It's the golden age of Twin Cities dining!

Dine and shine: Suddenly, a restaurant for grownups on Nicollet Mall
Diana Watters
Dine and shine: Suddenly, a restaurant for grownups on Nicollet Mall

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Vincent - A Restaurant

1100 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

I am not even kidding. I think it's pretty much inarguable, because right this very minute I can think of ten--ten!--restaurants around town where you are just about guaranteed to have a totally pleasant dining experience made up of delicately prepared dishes made of the finest ingredients, complemented by fine and unusual wines, and completed with desserts as graceful as sculpture, but requiring considerably less dusting.

I guess everything could get conceivably even more gilded, and then we'll have to retroactively downgrade the present moment to silver, or bronze, or maybe, if we're really lucky, even iron or clay or something. But probably not. I say if you can afford it and don't go out for a nice dinner some time this winter, you're going to be kicking yourself in the future. It's going to be as if you had just sat there stubbornly staring at the TV all through that million-foot Halloween snowstorm.

Here's something as startling as a roof-high snowdrift in October: There's suddenly a restaurant for grownups in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, of all places. Nicollet Mall even. And not only does it lack any Giraffes Conquer Mars and Serve Tuscan Steak!-style theme, there isn't even the barest stitch of calamari on the menu. I know, it defies imagination, but work with me here. Instead, there are soaring ceilings; a chef who cooked at New York foodie temples Le Bernardin and Lespinasse and walks around the dining room getting to know his customers; entrées that start at $12; and a 90-bottle, mostly French wine list with prices from $16. (Yes, $16.) And there's often scary stuff like sweetbreads on the menu. Minneapolitans are so delighted with it all that it's busy at lunch, and it's nigh impossible to get a reservation between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. this Friday night.

This fount of miracles? Vincent, A Restaurant, which is brought to us by Vincent Francoual, A Chef, who hails from Puy L'Évêque, in southwest France near Toulouse. Francoual moved to Minneapolis four years ago, and cooked briefly at café un deux trois. He does, as far as I can tell, most everything right. He managed to transform the dead-ugly old Caribou/Bruegger's space on the corner of 11th Street and Nicollet (kitty-corner from WCCO) into an airy, elegant sort of modern vault in the most mercilessly redeveloped heart of a mercenarily write-and-erase downtown. (Am I the only one who now thinks of the entire world north of 13th Street as God and the DFL's Etch-a-Sketch?) And the things he does with grits? Oh, the things Vincent, the restaurant, does with grits: I would have thought they were illegal.

I mean, they're just grits, but made with scads of butter so they get as creamy as high-falutin' polenta, then covered in a wild- mushroom ragout made with port, and the whole thing is glazed with truffle oil. Holy moly--with its rich, creamy, potent layers of earthiness and a cuddle-up texture, this stuff is good. It's a $7.95 appetizer, but big enough for a lunch entrée, especially with Vincent's excellent bread and butter. More ambitious appetizers are also charming. Like a potato cannelloni of duck confit with roasted garlic flan, which turns out to be a cylinder of buttery pastry wrapped around rich duck meat and cubes of potato served in a bowl of broth graced by torn herbs, with a large thimble of nutty, subtly spicy flan quivering to one side. There are so many textures on the plate it's nearly an essay in mouth-feel. Each of the flavors is appealing on its own, and then together, and then whoops! It's gone.

In the bar only there are utterly perfect escargot: Five, big, buttery snails served plump as can be in little puddles of fiercely garlicky butter. Add a glass of the inky, dusky malbec wine from chef Francoual's hometown, a plate of fries to dunk in the garlic butter and voilà! That's really something to take the winter chill off. (Wine by the glass runs from $4 to $11, most around $7.)

Sometimes the menu will feature a stew or something else big and earthy. Do not pass up the chance to get one of these entrées. One night I had a Normandy tripe stew that was so meltingly tender, so intensely beefy, it was one of those dishes you get to missing halfway through the bowl. Francoual's other strong suit is fish. In the early weeks of the restaurant he served a piece of halibut with a seared crust so crisp and caramelized you practically expected to hear it crack when you put a fork in it. For the restaurant's Beaujolais nouveau party (complete with wandering accordion player), there was an utterly astonishing roast fillet of trout on a bed of leeks, cabbage, chanterelle mushrooms, and bacon: The crisp, the salt, the savory and meaty, and sweet gamy fish--it was just unforgettable.

Those were the highlights, and the worst I could find to say about anything on the menu was that it was merely pretty good. Like a plain piece of salmon on a dusky tamarind lentil ragout, or the "two way" spring lamb, which was lamb chops and a bland stew-like thing ($20). But pretty good here is still loads better than the best efforts of most kitchens. The restaurant doesn't have a bona fide pastry chef right now, but does well enough with Francoual-supervised efforts such as a pretty white pyramid of frozen nougatine in a bowl of pleasantly acid grapefruit sauce. The marshmallow aspect of the nougatine and the edge in the sauce play well against each other. My favorite was the simplest of all the desserts, now off the menu: a roasted nectarine in a velvety sabayon. I thought the chocolate melted cake with espresso sauce tasted like a dome of icing, but apparently it's the most popular dessert on the menu.

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