Mission (Mostly) Accomplished

Acclaimed local chef Doug Flicker has finally rolled out his own menus at Mission American Kitchen

The king crab soufflé trembled like something alive undersea as it descended to the table. It was a pale, truncated dome served in a pale, high-sided bowl, and the dark, seaweed-looking confit of young Swiss chard leaves and the blood-dark shavings of prosciutto that perched upon it made it look less like food than like something precious snatched from a coral reef. And the taste! Like the smell of seawater on skin: sweet, subtle, pale, oceanic. The chard added a vegetal strength and accented the sweetness; the prosciutto threw a spotlight on the creamy texture. It was the kind of dish you can taste in your mind for the rest of your life, it was so unique, so pure, so lovely.

This once-in-a-lifetime flan was the first course in one of the $65, five-course tasting menus that Mission American Kitchen now offers on Friday and Saturday nights, and when it appeared, in October, it quickly ascended to the pantheon of the best dishes I've ever had in the Twin Cities.

More courses followed. Fresh spaghetti sauced with a ragout of celery root and pigeon was like a forest-tinged Bolognese—mild, earthy, rich. The foie gras was served simply but elegantly, an all-but-unadorned and utterly fresh slice from local Au Bon Canard, expertly seared till it was just cooked enough to offer foie gras's elemental thrum of sweet-iron-and-butter; the tempura-battered fried chestnuts that decorated the plate were the best possible frivolous toss-offs, lighthearted and light on the palate, yet combining somehow to accent the bloody power of the foie. And the squab! Pan-roasted, with a mahogany skin and dark crimson flesh, it was meaty, lush, as deeply flavored as ripe berries, and wild-tasting; another one for the lifetime scrapbook.

A Flicker of greatness: Though service may be flawed, the chef's new dishes are often stunning
Craig Lassig
A Flicker of greatness: Though service may be flawed, the chef's new dishes are often stunning

Location Info

Map

Mission American Kitchen & Bar

77 S. 7th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

It was one of those meals that was almost difficult to eat, because if you eat it, it will be gone, and brief, intense joy will vaporize in the night. Overwrought? Sure, but you'd be overwrought, too, if you'd been there. It was some flan.

I'd been putting off going to Mission American Kitchen for a while, waiting for chef Doug Flicker, formerly of dear, departed Auriga, to debut his own menus. You see, when he first took over Mission's kitchen late last winter, he was cooking the place's signature menu of every crowd-pleaser known to mankind, but when the former Mission staff departed late this summer to open sister restaurant Via in Edina, Flicker was finally able to bring in key parts of his former line at Auriga—namely, sous chef Erik Anderson and key sideman Adam "Ace" Ruhplinger—and roll out menus of his own. The food on offer since September at Mission is often nothing short of stunning.

A lunch visit yielded a white bean soup ($4) garnished with a chiffonade of sage. It tasted like a little song expressing the most graceful parts of autumn. A special of confit pork shoulder steak served with creamed artichokes, roasted artichokes, soft polenta, and spinach ($18) was as rich and satisfying as the best cassoulet, but in the way it combined its layers of thistly artichoke and deeply tender pork, it had the rare trait of seeming entirely new.

The sauce on a fresh spaghetti dish could only be described as the pale and trembling hybrid of Alfredo and carbonara. It was so wondrously creamy that my lunch date and I spent half an hour poking at it: I don't believe it! Do you believe it? Even when it was gone we kept saying we didn't believe it had been there. This must be how lottery winners live.

Dinner inspired more awe: A vast portion of quickly fried rock shrimp ($14) were so tender, so fresh, so not-overcooked (I'm looking at you, nearly everyone else in Minnesota) that the minutes spent with them were like a beach vacation.

Salmon carpaccio ($12) had pristinely fresh salmon rendered even more buttery and silky with a bit of brown butter and finely chopped hard-boiled eggs cut with olive oil. It glistened and slithered in the most appealing way.

Potted duck ($13) featured an espresso cup of sweet, simple, spoon-lickable duck pâté, the cup filled with duck confit and the plate filled out with house-baked olive oil torta crackers, blood orange marmalade, and ricotta-stuffed figs. It was classically French in the most elemental, satisfying way.

Yet, even with all of those awesome heights of cooking skill, I don't feel comfortable wholeheartedly recommending Mission. There's much that's awkward about the place, and after a number of visits I began to feel that it was like a family station wagon upgraded with a Ferrari engine. I suppose that would be fine if you just want your station wagon to work, but it's less satisfying if you keep thinking: You know, we could have a Ferrari here if only some things would change.

What should change? I saw three main problems at Mission. First, the wine list is awkward. Few bottles under $40 are drinkable, and the list as a whole leans toward heavily oaked American or Australian cocktail wines, or European wines with a similarly aggressive flavor profile and similar good scores in wine magazines. In short, these are not good food wines; they're good bar wines.

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