Piccolo

Anthony Bourdain proclaimed his meal at Chef Doug Flicker’s southwest Minneapolis restaurant Piccolo the best he’d eaten in the entire Midwest. Given this endorsement, how could we not choose Piccolo for our 17th monthaversary celebration?

The tiny space is bright, clean and spare — it’s a bit like someone turned the front of their small house into a restaurant. Because of this, you sit extremely close to neighboring tables. For the first few minutes, this was a bit awkward, but the departing couple next to us saw us perusing the menu and kindly let us know what their favorite dishes had been. After a bit, it was like any other restaurant where you fade into your own conversation, focus on your dining companion and don’t notice what’s happening at the tables around you.

Armed with the knowledge that we’d need to order several small plates each (because each plate offers about three to four bites of food), K started with an heirloom tomato salad with hibiscus flower gel and herbs and I had green grape gazpacho with compressed melon, lomo Iberico and summer flowers. I’m not a big fan of melon and the gazpacho was more melony than grapey, but when the little melon balls were paired with the lomo Iberico (dry cured pork loin) it was a beautifully salty, richly layered play on the traditional prosciutto and melon combo. As much as I don’t like melon I *hate* tomatoes so I didn’t try K’s salad, but he said it was great.

We also both ordered the tempura fried fig with sheep’s milk cheese and Spanish olive oil tortas. The figs were fresh, plump and juicy and their light sweetness was nicely set off by the hot fried crust. The sheep’s milk cheese was a creamy and slightly tart but meltingly good topping.

Next I got the mortadella angolotti with pistachios, lardo and dijon and K had the pork jowls with fennel, asparagus and radishes. My angolotti (like a ravioli) was like eating soft, velvety, lush butter — the pistachios a bit moist yet maintaining their salty crunch. This may actually be the most perfect thing I’ve ever eaten and I can still taste that amazing pasta. K’s pork jowls were like amped up pork belly and received pork-centric smiles all around.

My next dish was ocean trout with English shell peas, sea beans and king crab stuffed pasta. I don’t generally like skin on fish, but the trout skin was so shatteringly crisp and well seasoned and the fish so pink and perfectly cooked I barely even remember the crab stuffed pasta (other than it was really good and full of fresh crab flavor). The sea beans gave the dish a little  bit of salt, but the best kind — straight from the sea. K had a rabbit jambonette (sort of like a casserole) with pickled cherries, artichokes, celery ragout and Virginia ham. The rabbit was sooooo savory/earthy and I could have just eaten a big bowl of the soft but still slightly crunchy celery ragout infused with briny ham flavor.

For our final entrée course, I had chicken with sweet corn brioche, wild mushrooms, bacon and golden raisins. The chicken was moist and, yes, perfect and the bacon, raisins and mushrooms made an amazing accompanying melange. While I liked the sweet corn brioche, I did think it was a bit dry and wished there was a sauce or more of a jus to soak up with it. K greatly enjoyed his braised veal neck and cabbage roll with mushrooms, black olive puree and tuna sauce. The veal was fall apart fantastic, but the cabbage roll was really strong and overpowered the meat in my opinion.

For dessert, K couldn’t resist the coconut cake with white chocolate, bergamot mascarpone and buttered almond ice cream while I had the banana crostada with homemade ricotta and chocolate. I don’t like coconut cake (which K said was heavenly) but I tried the bergamot mascarpone and it tasted just like I thought it would … like Earl Grey tea. He said it paired divinely with the sweet cake and white chocolate. My crostada had a light and crispy puff crust and a perfect balance of banana with creamy, mild ricotta. But the best part of the plate was a single cube-shaped truffle. It was midnight dark, excellently bitter and dusted with magic absinthian cocoa.

Go to Piccolo. They honor every ingredient they put on each plate and you can taste the love and work they put into the food. Spend a good deal of time ooohing and aahing over many small plates and several well-chosen glasses of wine. Plan on spending a “special occasion” amount of money, but know that it is worth it.

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