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Published October 30, 2012, 11:34 PM

Halgrimson: Trip to Cities filled with culinary delights

It used to be that if you wanted to go to a restaurant and have something other than steaks or chops or fried chicken, you had to travel.

By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM

If you go

Piccolo

4300 Bryant Ave. S.

Minneapolis, MN

(612) 827-8111

Reservations are a must

It used to be that if you wanted to go to a restaurant and have something other than steaks or chops or fried chicken, you had to travel.

Twelve years ago, when Tony and Sarah Nasello opened Sarello’s in Moorhead, I told them that now I could spend my airfare locally. And the Fargo/Moorhead restaurant scene has only gotten better.

But going to eat in the Twin Cities is still an adventure. I always check out their local publications to find out what’s going on, but my old friend Larry Sanderson, our host during our stays, used to work in several Minneapolis restaurants, and he keeps me informed.

Earlier this month, we spent five days sampling the food in eight Twin Cities restaurants. Some were return visits but two made me fervently wish that the Cities weren’t a 500-mile round trip.

The first restaurant is Piccolo, where the dining experience was like eating tasty art.

The restaurant seats only 36 in two simply decorated rooms with a kitchen in the middle. As we were being seated at our table, we walked through the kitchen where at least seven cooks were busily at work. That was a real plus for me, as I love seeing restaurant kitchens.

The artfully arranged plates are perfectly coordinated, and diners have ample time to completely enjoy each course and never feel rushed.

Portions are perfectly balanced so that diners are satisfied and nothing is left on the plate. I dislike big portions where I either have to leave some behind or have it wrapped up to take home. And I don’t have a dog.

Although the portions are small, the plates on which they are served are capacious.

The restaurant offers a tasting menu from which diners may choose a course from each of five sections that list three selections each. The cost for this option is $48 plus tax and gratuity. Individual dishes run from $8 to $14.

There were five of us at the table, so we got to sample and share almost everything. My favorites were the Halibut cheeks with artichoke, Portuguese blood sausage, Manila clams and sea beans and Moulard duck breast with Roman gnocchi, fig and pistachio mustards and smoked cipollini onions. These combinations were not only innovative but the flavors were exquisite.

And the rest of the menu followed suit: chestnut soup with gnocchi, beet and sea urchin terrine, brioche and foie gras with gooseberries, scrambled eggs with pickled pig’s feet, chicken with white beans and liver and beef tongue with pickled Savoy cabbage were some of the choices. It was a fascinating bill of fare.

One of the ways I judge a restaurant is on its bread, and I like it crusty and served with unsalted butter. Piccolo was right on the mark.

The chef and creator of these exciting dishes is Doug Flicker, who went from high school into a restaurant kitchen. He worked in various Twin Cities establishments until 2010, when he and a partner opened Piccolo. The restaurant has received kudos from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, City Pages and Minnesota Monthly, and it deserves every one of them.

In the dining room where we ate, there was a long shelf of cookbooks with everything from Sous Vide – a special method of cooking – to Irma Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking.” I liked seeing Rombauer on that shelf. Made me feel at home.

As in all good restaurants, the menu changes often, usually at least four times a year in conjunction with the seasons.

Sources: Minneapolis Star Tribune,

City Pages, Minnesota Monthly

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