BEST NEW RESTAURANT - 2006
When 112 Eatery opened, it brought not just another new restaurant to the Twin Cities —it brought a new type of restaurant altogether. While we have had chef-driven restaurants of high cooking talent open on shoestrings before (Auriga); while we have had D'Amico Cucina alumni bringing their highfalutin foods to the masses before (Solera); while we have had fancy restaurants serve late at night before (Azia, Barbette); and while we have had restaurants priced for everyday dining that still serve excellent wines before (The Modern); we never had anything like 112 Eatery. Why? Eatery 112 is not just a chef's restaurant, but it's a restaurant by and for restaurant professionals. It was opened by longtime D'Amico chef Isaac Becker and his wife, Nancy St. Pierre, a longtime D'Amico Cucina front-of-the-house maestro, and the restaurant brims with the attitude of people who have done and seen it all, food-wise, and kept only the best bits of restaurant life. You'll see the no-BS approach in their wine list: It's all, and only, good, and has barely any bottles of the big-name, make-the-masses-comfortable variety—and all the bottles are presented on the list with their vintage year, unlike so many other irritating wine lists in town, because wine pros know that the difference between various '99s and '03s can be devastating. You see this no-BS, all-pro aesthetic in the food, where everything ended up on the menu because it's delicious, and for no other reason. Browned, sweetly caramelized cauliflower fritters served with lemon wedges and blanketed with a micro-planed snowfall of good parmesan ($7) are the kind of gee-whiz good that a chef works up and shows off to his line cooks: You'll never believe how good this is. Experiments like roast squares of buttercup squash made with lots of real maple syrup and jewels of pale gorgonzola are the kind of thing you'd never see at another, more conventional restaurant. At $10, this side dish costs more than many of the restaurants' entrees, but if you see them on the menu you know the price reflects the ingredient costs, and will be well worth it. In this case, the dark-roasted squash was the most delicious any of the people at our table had ever tasted. The no-BS attitude is alive in the entrees as well: The addictively fantastic bacon, egg, and harissa sandwich ($7) isn't there to show off the chef's skill or amp up the check averages—it's just there to be delicious. Of course, more complicated dishes are there for those who want them, like a Berkshire pork involtini ($18) or monkfish with chorizo and beans ($19). But the impression you get upon leaving the small, dark, and cozy spot in the Warehouse District is of having just dined at the chef's table, as the chef would himself later that night. And isn't that what all true food nuts really wish to do?