BEST RESTAURANT--MINNEAPOLIS - 2005
Sadly, one of the truths about the restaurant business is that the amount of money on hand often directly correlates to the level of fun had by the customers. It's not that you can't have a good time under a stained and dripping ceiling, it just takes a little more strength of character. This tends to mean that the rich (restaurants) get richer, and the poor (restaurants) struggle to survive. How delightful, then, that this year Minneapolis revealed itself to be a town that rewards talent, hard work, and skill with the one gift that really says "I love you": significant capital investment. This year, new money partner Jim Andreas joined Auriga's chef-owners Doug Flicker and Melinda Goodin, and the next thing you know, out went the stained ceiling and the mere brilliantly chosen but ever-thrifty wine list, and in came all kinds of top-shelf liquors for the full bar, an interior rethink which resulted in sophisticated pale gold and rich maroon, and lots of other little actual-money touches, like curtains. The food? The food remained what it ever was: simply dazzling. Is there anywhere else on earth that can serve two shrimp as well as Auriga serves two shrimp? The course we are remembering was two grilled blue prawns drizzled with bright-green new Tuscan olive oil, the duo perching on a bed of lemony batter-fried slices of fresh ripe artichoke, and crowned with a few grains of caviar. Popping! Light! Playful! Wonderful. Hard to believe that Auriga is chugging toward its eighth anniversary: It feels practically brand-new.