New Chef Rising

Love Relocates a Great Chef to Minnesota and the Mall's Napa Valley Grille

Remember the1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate, and the way Angela Lansbury had a kid specifically so she could brainwash him and work evil plots 20 years down the road? Like everybody, I enjoy the idea of secret schemes that take decades to execute, and sometimes I even prefer to think that upper-Midwestern parents have all agreed to combat the famous Midwestern brain drain like this: They raise beautiful daughters—well, beautiful sons, too, but, you know, beautiful daughters. They send these well-educated, independent, alluring daughters out into the world, to places like Portland, Oregon, and Paris, France, where they marry. Then suddenly, when baby booties arrive in the home, a powerful homing device switches on and they and their captured spouses are seamlessly, willingly relocated to the homeland for the purpose of enriching local culture.

Tell me you haven't considered this.

Well, we got us another one! And he's cooking at the Napa Valley Grille. I happened to be at the Mall of America a few weeks ago and, entirely by accident, walked by the restaurant and read the latest posted menu. It was irresistibly ambitious, full of things you never see, like local Chèvre dusted with zahtar (a Middle Eastern spice blend based on sumac), house-made chorizo, and—be still my beating heart—a ragout of Wisconsin rabbit.

Mall dining: Hot dog on a stick or NVG's king salmon with basil risotto cake?
Kathy Easthagen
Mall dining: Hot dog on a stick or NVG's king salmon with basil risotto cake?

Location Info

Map

Napa Valley Grille

220 W. Market
Bloomington, MN 55425

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Bloomington

I raced in for dinner and was utterly dazzled. Roasted clams and mussels with that house-made chorizo in a charred-tomato broth ($8.75) were deeply spicy, rustically bold, yet perfectly in balance in terms of the sweet, spicy, and salty within the dish. A fillet of Canadian king salmon ($24) was silky, plush, ethereal, and expertly seared. It was served on a basil risotto cake that was rich, fragrant, and firm, and placed in its bowl of roasted-garlic broth in such a way that the rice didn't fall apart but was actually enhanced by contact with the salty, fragrant broth. The artichoke antipasto that accompanied the salmon and rice added another sort of lemony, herbal note that somehow brought the plate into even more harmony. That's cooking.

And the ragout of rabbit! For this ($26), rabbit was turned into a sort of halfway point between pulled pork and the most tender pot roast you can imagine. The meat was sweet and light, the gravy potent, rich, and almost beefy. The remarkable ragout was piled into a warm bowl and topped with three house-made ravioli, as big as the palm of your hand, served delightfully al dente and filled with mascarpone cheese and carrots cut into the tiniest possible dice. The whole bowl was topped with fresh arugula, and the cumulative effect was just riveting: the savory rabbit, the sweet ravioli, the peppery greens; but also the meltingly tender rabbit, the chewy ravioli, the crisp greens. The dish seemed almost Italian in its abundant use of fresh, local ingredients, its casual intensity, its easy confidence.

Yes, I'm talking about the food at the Napa Valley Grille. I know, I know—a lot of you don't want to hear it because it's in that mall, that mall that every out-state tourist thinks is Minnesota's claim to fame when we just wish it was any other thing. And yes, I know it's a chain. But I have to call them as I see them, and there really is some marvelous cooking going on betwixt log flume and parking area P-3 West.

Of course, it was love that done it. The NVG got a new chef about seven months ago, a chef who built his career in kitchens up and down the West Coast and moved here with his Iowa-raised wife and their bouncing newborn boy. As of this writing, the family was closing on a house in Lakeville, making the situation appealingly permanent. Welcome, chef Matthew Fogarty, we're glad you're here!

What I like most about Fogarty's cooking is that he builds dishes that leave an easy, approachable, almost comfort-food impression on the palate but are in fact complexly built using classic techniques. His roasted-pumpkin bisque, for instance, is made not with canned pumpkin but by combining a trio of orange vegetables: roasted kabocha, the delicate Japanese pumpkin; roasted sweet potatoes; and sautéed carrots. The combination results in a single taste that's sweet, light, nutty, earthy, and strangely expansive. Once an island of cinnamon crème fraîche is floated in the center, it's as if the whole holiday season had been lassoed and poured into a single cup ($4.50) or bowl ($6).

Similarly, Fogarty's wild mushroom and Gorgonzola tagliatelle ($24) shows the gorgeous results that can be teased from simple ingredients through lots of work. First, he combines dried porcini mushrooms with all sorts of fresh mushrooms, including oyster, yellow-foot chanterelle, crimini, portabella, button, and, when he can get them, lobster mushrooms, and cooks them down with lots of marjoram, rosemary, and red wine. Once the mushrooms become thick, meaty, and concentrated, he lets them cool. When someone orders the tagliatelle, he takes a generous panful and freshens them up with shallots, garlic, Marsala wine, cream, and more fresh marjoram, serving it on fresh, al dente noodles accented with nubs of good blue Gorgonzola and a few thick papers of Parmesan cheese.

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