What's Good for the Goose

Tasting menus near and far, or what I did on my Winter vacation

[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]

1934 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612.871.0777

55 West 44th St., New York City; 212.391.2400

Taster's choice: Auriga chef Doug Flicker has been known to create stunning tasting menus
Tony Nelson
Taster's choice: Auriga chef Doug Flicker has been known to create stunning tasting menus

1 Central Park West, New York City; 212.299.3900


Dear Dara;

Do you ever cook for yourself? And if so, what do you do that the great chefs of the Twin Cities area can't?

--Arlin Carlson

I'm glad you asked, Arlin, because I really just cannot even begin to tell you how frustrated I get with the great chefs of the Twin Cities. Why, if I get to thinking about it, I could just stamp about the number of times I have gone into my kitchen and been forced to make my own tea. Is Tim McKee from La Belle Vie making my tea? No. Is Alex Roberts from Alma feeding my cat? Hardly. And there, what's that noise, is that Doug Flicker from Auriga, Lisa Carlson from Café Barbette, Vincent Francoual from Vincent, Patrick Atanalian from the Loring Café, and Lucia Watson from Lucia's fighting over who will refill my sugar bowl? Again, my disappointment is bottomless--no, no, a thousand times no.

Actually, I think that noise is the washing machine in the basement, breaking. And if I know anything about anything, the replacement parts will need to be ordered from Turkmenistan, and furthermore they will be made of only the finest rubies. And the great chefs of the Twin Cities--where will they be in the moments of my despair? Don't think I don't know: At Jeremy Iggers's house, making tea. Don't tell me they're not.

It's right about now that a girl gets to calling up Doug Flicker at Auriga and demanding: Why don't you make your tasting menu available to the general public, and quit making it this ridiculous insiders' thing that nobody knows about? That one time I had a tasting menu at Auriga it was perhaps the best meal I've had in Minnesota: cumin-smoked hen-of-the-woods mushrooms; oysters topped with celeriac granitée (like sorbet, but not sweet)--unbelievable stuff. Other Great Chefs of the Twin Cities offer tasting menus: lots of tiny courses that allow a chef to show off technique and interests, instead of the standard run of appetizer-entrée-dessert. There's a tasting menu offered at Alma nearly every night, for around $42 per person. It's great. There's one at Aquavit nightly, too, for a lot more. But the one I had at Auriga was inspired, playful, like a tune on a flute, each note pure. So memorable. But I never write about it, because what's the point if you all can't go?

"Fwah fwah fwah fwah," responds Flicker, to my demand of publicly available tasting menus. Or something very much like that. "If I do that, then it won't be special, it won't be spontaneous. I only want to do it for people I care about."

"But," I whine, "if you only did it Tuesdays through Thursdays, for oh, $40 or $50 a person, you'd boost those slow nights, and you'd eliminate the very real risk you're currently running of becoming the chef's chef. And there aren't enough great chefs of the Twin Cities to come eat your food to pay the rent, now, are there?"

"Fwah fwah fwah," says Flicker, "$50 is too much, and I like having slow nights."

"But wasn't it a great Delta bluesman who said, 'If you can do something that makes people happy, and you don't do it, that's just plain mean?'"

At which point Flicker tried to distract me with the news that he had just received a vat of olives the size of crabapples. "I don't care if you've got olives the size of Garrison Keillor's manure spreader!" I screeched, and exploded into a thousand pieces, each of which hit the floor as a tiny, egg-sized, squealing restaurant critic who ran about the room plotting to get news of Auriga's super-secret tasting menu out to the general public.

When I came to, I was delighted to find myself on vacation in New York, at the side of my new friend Jonathan Gold, an editor and critic at Gourmet and City Pages' sister paper, LA Weekly, and probably one of the earth's most generous people, as he, for no good reason, took me on a whirlwind tour of the high points of New York dining, which, it goes without saying, are the high points of world dining, which, it goes without saying, knocked my socks off, peeled the scales from my eyes, and left me confused and ecstatic.

The day that stands out most was the one where we went to db, the midtown bistro of star chef Daniel Boulud, where chef de cuisine Jean François Bruel cooked us a tasting menu that was amazing: Highlights included a seared piece of cod in a bowl of the brightest-green blanched-parsley sauce you can imagine, a darling little shot glass of beef aspic with tiny, tiny little perfect cubes of carrot and terrine and turnip suspended in their gelée like an up-thrown spray of confetti, the top of the glass finished with horseradish cream, which slid down into whatever track your spoon made, giving a little fiery edge to everything it touched.

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