17805 Hwy. 7, Minnetonka, 952-380-0333
Review published March 2005
“BIG BUCK” IS THE SORT OF PHRASE that sounds better grunted. There’s something of a “me Tarzan, you Jane” quality to it. This may seem a rather uncouth way to begin talking about chef Eliot King and his wife Jennifer’s new Minnetonka restaurant, but it’s actually a compliment: if the major problem is a regrettable name, that means the food’s good and so is the ambiance. We’d expect as much from the proprietors who brought us Prima—the cozy trattoria on Lyndale that feels worlds away from the neighboring Subway and Hollywood Video—and Three Fish, an elegant spot to eat after dropping off a roll of film at Proex.
The Kings’ latest eatery lives up to its chest-thumping moniker. Big Buck is all about man food: wood-roasted and smoked meats, pizzas, and burgers. There’s venison chili, Berkshire pork prime rib, and pheasant potpie—old classics adeptly dressed in contemporary couture by executive chef Eric Scherwinski, formerly of Lord Fletcher’s. The lodge-like décor features illustrations of wild turkeys on the walls; servers in harvest orange oxford-cloth shirts dash about like fox hunters on horseback.
Big Buck’s venison is worth chasing: gamy medallions, deep purple inside, cooked with caramelized cauliflower florets in cider-shallot jus to lend a hint of apple sweetness. The game is paired with palate-teasing polenta puffs, little diamond shapes seasoned with rosemary that are easily gobbled up like savory mini doughnuts.
The free-range chicken, its tender flesh enhanced with sweet wood smoke, also hit the mark. It was served with waxy Yukon “smashed” potatoes and a marginal side of roasted vegetables made worse by the overzealous use of cracked pepper. The meat portion was so large that, after working on it for almost half an hour, I still took home two pounds worth of leftovers. Now that’s mega man food.
While most Big Buck diners eat high on the food chain, those who prefer the gather to the hunt can look to the appetizers, pastas, and salads. The greens paired with goat cheese and toasted almonds were like a lush forest floor: shapely leaves glossed with sweet vinaigrette that countered the sour pat of cheese and the crunch of nuts. The accompanying “warm tomato fondue,” a garlicky Italian chutney, was the only misfire.
The more experimental dishes were the least successful, such as the appetizer of thin egg roll–style cigars stuffed with a rich but bland roasted duck. An apricot-mint chili glaze added interest, but the accompanying julienne vegetables tasted like Asian coleslaw with too much oil and not enough pucker. The dessert selection sticks to tradition, featuring such American favorites as apple pie and chocolate pudding.
As long as western suburbanites are able to weave through the maze of frontage roads and office parking lots that surround Big Buck, they can look forward to happy hunting.