Piccolo, On Key?

Recently, three friends and I met at Piccolo, Doug Flicker’s new baby.  Or rather ,I suppose, his toddler in restaurant years, as it has now been open for several months at 43rd and Bryant, Minneapolis.  I’d heard mixed reviews, including one example where someone had an $8 meatball as part of their recent dinner.  Really, could that be true, I asked myself?

Then I started doing the math, dividing the cost of other multi-course meals I’ve enjoyed and an $8 meatball could be on par.  However, it better be an out-of-this-world sphere of ground beef!  From Flicker’s days at Auriga, I knew he and his team put out some fantastic food there, so I was eager to check it out his new place for myself and at the same time reminisce with my dining companions about our recent trip to France.

Kevin arrived first and, unbeknownst to me, was the only one that had been to Piccolo prior to our evening together.  He conveyed to us at the table that while he was waiting for us to arrive, he was chatting with the waitperson.  He asked if it would be possible to add one extra bite to the portions as four would be dining this evening.  He had enjoyed dinner before with 2 other friends and the portions were perfect for three.  We weren’t expecting something for nothing, he said.  However “out of the question” was the response given to him.  “Portions are not meant to be shared.”  Well, okay then!

Reflecting on it further, I would have never dreamed of asking any of the restaurants in France to accommodate such a request, so why would we expect it here?  The difference is that in France, it is drilled into your head that there are no substitutions and no changes to the menu. Here in States, we get what we want, when we want it, right?  I’m not inferring that this is a good philosophy and kudos for Flicker for sticking to his guns.  As so often is the case in a conversation, the delivery is paramount.  It wasn’t what the waiter said, it was how he said it.

As we were escorted to our table, it wasn’t until we marched through the kitchen that I realized there was a back dining room. That wasn’t an issue for me because: 1) you get to see how clean the kitchen is and 2) you might actually have the opportunity to say hello to the chef as you pass through on the way to your table.

Once seated, we began perusing the menu and the two wine lists.  I’m still not sure why there were two lists ,though from what I could tell, one had exorbitant and the other affordable prices.  In the end, we chose a Burgundian red from the affordable list.  Of the 17 choices on the menu we decided on 12, though we knew the upcoming portion sizes.  Reluctantly we decided to share each, as there were so many that looked tantalizingly delicious.

The first four plates to arrive included Spanish mojama with fried artichokes, radishes, black olive puree and arugula $10

Avocado with asparagus, cucumbers, hen of the wood mushrooms and pickled sunchokes $9

Roasted beets with strawberries, tomato washed pecorino and olive oil jelly $9

Bone marrow gnocchi with veal heart, Italian parsley puree and bread crumbs $11

Next were Ocean trout with English shell peas, sea beans and king crab stuffed pasta $12

Seared tuna with salt packed anchovies, Swiss chard, black olive puree and onion “tart tartin” $14

Berkshire pork jowls with plum confit, asparagus, green top radishes and whole grain mustard $12

Rabbit loin with pistachios, artichokes, smoked eggplant and bacon aigre doux $13

Callister Farms chicken with golden raisins, smoked bacon, wild mushrooms and purslane $13

Stone Bridge Farms veal with fava beans, potato and miso pave and white shoyu $14

Banana crostada with housemade ricotta and chocolate $7

Coconut cake with white chocolate, bergamot mascarpone and butter almond ice cream $7

We enjoyed a lively conversation about who’s taking French classes where, what was happening in each of our lives this summer, and favorite new restaurants we had tried recently.

What struck us as unnerving though was the attitude of the gentleman serving us at the table.  It was somewhere between arrogance and nonchalance.  Finally after the second round of plates, he decided to change our silverware and offered us new tasting plates.  My sense was that doing that seemed odd to him.  However, had I’d ordered four courses myself; it would have been natural to have new silverware for each course.  I’m not sure if that was an unfounded expectation on our part or not.

As an aside, I had a conversation with another friend who dined there recently and the experience she and her husband had with their wait staff was totally pleasant.  Maybe the poor guy was having a bad day — who knows?  Did it ruin the evening?  No.  The whole experience just made us all a little uncomfortable.  Maybe it was the sharing of each dish that threw him off.

As much as I wanted to taste all of the dishes, if there is a return visit, I’d opt out of sharing .  One bite is not enough to enjoy all the complex flavors on the plate.  I hope that Piccolo succeeds in the neighborhood and that folks will appreciate the craft that it takes to produce wonderful food both for the eyes and palate.  Good customer service takes energy and training as well, so I hope that our experience was just a fluke.

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