Cafe Maude's wine bar has everything but customers

Dinner and a no-show?

After spending the holidays awash in cocktail wieners and Christmas cookies, I decided the meat plate counted as "dinner" and moved on to desserts. A vanilla panna cotta drizzled with blood-orange gastrique tasted like a deconstructed Creamsicle; a chocolate mousse semifreddo arrived with a bit of homemade dark chocolate candy bar, cardamom poached pear, and a scatter of nutty streusel. Considering that the neighbors may already have their own wine cellars and stocks of fancy cheeses, these are the sorts of dishes I think Armatage needs to lure people out of their houses.

On my third visit, I experienced Sheehy's vision for the Armatage Room's future. The restaurant has started offering three- to five-course tasting menus (reservable at two seating times each evening), while leaving a few seats available for walk-in guests to order from the wine-bar menu. For Cafe Maude's chef, Aaron Slavicek, and his sous chefs, who all share Armatage Room duties, the setup offers a chance to flex their fine-dining chops (Slavicek's résumé includes stints at La Belle Vie, Solera, and Zander Cafe) and craft dishes with more care than time allows at the high-volume cafe. Slavicek, for one, says he's looking forward to pairing a slightly more upscale version of Maude-style food with Armatage's relaxed ambiance. "It's not something we can offer at Cafe Maude because we're always so slammed," he says of the new coursed menus, and he notes that his staff is eager for the challenge. "There's a huge amount of talent that hasn't been tapped."

With 2009's economic outlook uncertain, I think Armatage will give Sheehy the flexibility to adjust his business model between private parties and public dining room as best suits the neighborhood. Its small scale offers both room for experimenting (Sheehy hopes to offer soup-and-sandwich lunches soon, and Turkish feasts after he and chef Slavicek take a trip to Istanbul this spring), and reduced risk (with a set number of tasting menus, the kitchen staff can order more expensive ingredients without worrying whether they'll be able to sell them).

Small plates, big ambitions:  Pan-roasted duck breast
Alma Guzman
Small plates, big ambitions: Pan-roasted duck breast

Location Info

Map

The Armatage Room

5416 Penn Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

Details

THE ARMATAGE ROOM
5416 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.822.5416
thearmatageroom.comwine bar items, $4-$18; tasting menus, $30-$45

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The night of my third visit, the room felt as if it had finally become what it wanted to be. It was New Year's Eve, and the place was full, with twosomes and foursomes sharing communal tables, a setup Sheehy admits is "pushing it a little bit in south Minneapolis." With awkwardness abated by freely flowing bubbly, people seemed to appreciate the chance to meet their tablemates and expand the scope of their conversations.

The courses flew by—a tiny amuse of crabmeat atop a dab of corn chowder, a thicket of arugula with Roquefort cheese and pear, a choice of a delicately crisp salmon fillet with a seared puck of polenta and tempura-battered vegetables or beef tenderloin with truffled mashed potatoes. By the time we made it to dessert—either a chocolate pistachio torte or an ethereal, salty-sweet cheesecake glazed with lemon curd—I found myself happy to be sharing the Armatage neighborhood's hidden gem with a whole roomful of contented diners. 

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