Piccolo — A Birthday Treat

When asked to choose a restaurant for his birthday dinner this year, K didn’t hesitate in saying, “Piccolo.” We’ve been once before and had an evening full of perfect bites. For a perfect birthday celebration, you can’t go wrong with perfect bites and Piccolo didn’t disappoint.

With a frequently changing menu — their motto is, “Putting what is seasonal and creative ahead of what is safe and familiar” — each dish we had was fresh and innovative. On K’s birthday menu:
* Charcoal grilled cuttlefish with morcilla (blood pudding), fried almonds and white asparagus.
* Chicken liver and potato pave with brioche puree, cipollini onions and cedar gel.
* Hamachi collar with preserved lemon, Benton’s bacon, collard greens and ham hock dashi.
* Berkshire pork heart with eggplant aigre-doux (French for sweet and sour), potato gnocchi, guanciale (unsmoked pig jowl or cheek bacon) and black garlic.
* Veal flank steak with calves foot mortadella, prunes, pistachios and rosemary oil.

After the first bite of every dish, K closed his eyes, smiled and sighed happily, as if each were a delicious birthday gift made just for him. He said that, hands down, the best bite of the evening was the guanciale that came with the pork heart. It was pretty much pure fat, but it was salty, robust and buttery. Of the tastes I had, I really liked the cuttlefish, it was perfectly charred and not at all rubbery or chewy. The fried almonds that came with it were brilliant — it was more of an almond puree, formed into a ball and deep-fried. It was like a lovely nutty, smooth fried candy. I was not a fan of the pork heart. K liked it, but I thought it was grainy and metallic (which, I think, is more a product of the organ itself, not the preparation).

Wanting to save room for dessert, I enjoyed three dishes:
* Potato gnocchi with Star Thrower Farm sheep’s milk cottage cheese, apple mostarda and salsify.
* Hamachi collar with preserved lemon, Benton’s bacon, collard greens and ham hock dashi.
* Lamb ribs with Swiss chard and cardoon ragout, cipollini onions and molasses.

My favorite taste was the light-as-air gnocchi with the creamy/sour taste of that cottage cheese. Perfection, such pure flavor. The hamachi collar was beautiful fish — rich and made richer with bacon and mellow collard greens. The lamb ribs were extravagantly meaty and the deep flavors were complemented by the Swiss chard and molasses.

The lovely and attentive wait staff brought K some chestnut banana cake with vanilla ice cream and brown butter with a candle. This kind gesture went hilariously awry because of the brown butter. Reduced to its powdered form and sprinkled over the plate, when he blew out the candle and made his birthday wish (which I think was for more of the guanciale), the brown butter powder flew everywhere. But it was a damned delicious mess! The cake was like the most mellow and well-balanced banana bread we’d ever tasted. The ice cream was so rich and fresh and the brown butter powder was like the world’s best granulated frosting.

If you’ve never been to Piccolo in SW Minneapolis, go. If you’re worried about paying a lot for small plates, don’t — you will get so much value from those few bites and they will haunt your memory for years (I can’t get you out of my head mortadella angnolotti). Celebrate a best bite birthday like K or just enjoy a Thursday night, but go. You won’t regret experiencing the genius and hospitality of Chef Doug Flicker and his staff.

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