BEST NEIGHBORHOOD CAFE - 2004
Downtown Minneapolis has been wiped clean, reimagined, and recarved by the forces of money and politics so often that, like a too-face-lifted face, it has been in constant jeopardy of losing any and all of its recognizable character. Which is why we're so grateful for Vincent, a restaurant that's done more than provide fantastic meals and value wines: it has provided an entire identity for a neighborhood that is as important to our regional identity as it is strangely vague. But our city's identity when at Vincent is not vague at all, it's playful, lively, everyday-friendly, internationally focused, and sophisticated. Playful? Look to the "strange but good" section of the menu, where Vincent Francoual, a brilliant chef and veteran cook from such important restaurants as Le Bernadin and Lespinasse, throws off his serious-cooking chains and flirts with the culinary back roads that food-heads swoon over: tripe stewed all day? Pig's trotters sliced as thin as rose petals? He said it would be strange. Lively? How about the women racing up to the balcony to take pictures of their tables from above? How about the plenty-under-$30 wine list, and the marvelous option of buying carafes of various wines, to pair flights with your meal, and spend less than you would on a couple of glass-pours at one of the big-ticket restaurants that are Vincent's rivals. Everyday-friendly? Heavens, have you tried one of the big-ambition, tiny-price prix fixe dinners the restaurant offers Monday through Thursday? Like what? Well, one week you might have begun with lovely cold smoked slices of salmon and thin slices of red beet that were rolled with fresh chèvre into little tubes, cut into bite-size lengths, stood on end, and topped with a tiny bundle of new sprouts and given a pappadum as a hat; each bite was an explosion of texture in the mouth, the sweet, gelatinous beet, the slippery, lilting salmon, the earthy, mellow cheese--amazing! An entirely new dish, as never before experienced on earth. And that was just the appetizer. The entrée of duck confit on a bed of wild rice tumbled together with lightly pickled sprigs of cauliflower gave new and different voice to these ideas of sweet, rich, and earthy--an intellectual and sensual exercise, executed by a top chef, for $28! This, this is the face we would like to show to the world, and to ourselves. And for that, Vincent, Minneapolis thanks you from the bottom of our hearts.