THE PHYSICAL DISTANCE between the now-defunct Auriga and Mission American Kitchen is only about three miles, but the philosophical gap between the two Minneapolis restaurants is more like the gulf between Barcelona and Fargo.
In its 10 years of operation, Auriga was a chef-driven haven for gourmands. Mission is a meat-and-potatoes workhorse of downtown power lunchers. So what happens when Auriga chef/owner Doug Flicker makes the jump to someone else’s dream restaurant? “It’s been a little jarring,” he says, laughing darkly. He then equates Auriga’s closing to the passing of a loved one: “You miss that person,” he says. “But you also realize that life moves on.”
For Flicker, moving on has involved adjusting to the “sheer volume” of a much bigger eatery. When asked to name an entrÃ©e or two that symbolize the Flicker incarnation of Mission, the chef declined; instead, he enthused about streamlining the workflow in the kitchen and an ambitious reorganization of the cooler.
This emphasis on nuts and bolts—as opposed to culinary fireworks—comes through on the plate. Mission’s hearty menu will delight diners who want to spend about $25 on a high-quality, instantly comprehensible entrÃ©e that delivers precisely what it promises—and not a flavor more.
Mission’s Kobe pot roast, for example, is tender and mellow, but its flavor is innocuous to a fault. And the deviled eggs seem a little too virtuous, eerily agreeable without a note or two of heat, vinegar, or scallions. The classic crab rangoons are crunchy and delicious—safely the best in the Twin Cities—but they still walk on the mild side. After so much soft-shoe, you start to wish for the stray roundhouse punch—regardless of its accuracy.
Mission’s menu is certainly calibrated to suit its clientele. But if its owners want to get ahead of the booming trend toward international and haute cuisine, they should let the artist start slinging some flavor around. MM
77 S. Seventh St., Mpls., 612-339-1000 Â» Lunch Mon.—Fri.; dinner Mon.—Sat. $$$ [w]
Minneapolis chefs name their summer favorites
Â» Sweet corn
Scott Pampuch, chef at Corner Table, considers ripe, in-season sweet corn a reward well worth the wait. Pampuch selects ears not by kernel color, but by kernel size and consistency—and always tastes before he buys. He suggests eating corn the same day you buy it because refrigeration causes corn to lose flavor. Pampuch’s favorite way to cook corn is to soak ears in water, roast them in their husks in the oven or on the grill, and then eat them with “way too much butter and way too much salt.”
Â» Heirloom tomatoes
To Tracy Singleton of the Birchwood CafÃ©, these misshapen delights tantalize the senses and “taste like summer.” When selecting tomatoes, Singleton suggests avoiding bruised, soft, or “leaky” fruits but says small, healed cracks are not a problem. She stresses the importance of not refrigerating tomatoes and encourages serving heirlooms simply, with baguette, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. Or, eating them plain. Of her favorite variety, the Garden Peach, she says, “Just bite into it.”
Chef Paul Lynch of FireLake loves the way asparagus kicks off the growing season. He recommends choosing stalks that are stiff and bright green, with tips that are tightly closed. Lynch likes to roast stalks in the oven or, for jumbo stalks, on the grill. He often serves asparagus sautÃ©ed with sesame seeds, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of orange. He also includes it in fresh pasta primavera, calling a mix of asparagus, mushrooms, pasta, butter, Parmesan, basil, and tarragon “perfection in a bowl.”