Xavi Chef Michael Agan
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I was attempting to approximate this quote last night in a wildly awkward thank you to my server at Xavi Restaurant in south Minneapolis. They hosted me for a collaboration dinner, along with Town Talk Diner, at the charming spot on 56th and Chicago Avenue.
My dinner companion assured me, “Because it was so awkward and painful to witness, that’s how she knows you were sincere.” Then: “We should probably go now.”
I eat out a lot—way more than a normal person. Most of the time, it’s so much fun, I can’t stand it. Gorgeous dishes, paraded out of kitchens, where cooks are battling flames, seasonings, and time to get every plate consistently nice. But the emotion that I feel walking away from these instances is often courtesy of the servers. The kindness along with the delicious food at Xavi last night reminded me why I adore that little bistro.
Service is an art—almost part-mind reading, taking the temperature of fickle diners’ fleeting moods and attempting to aid them on their way to a happy place. Those gifted in this trade so often go unnoticed because that is part of the skill, the sleight of hand that transforms an evening into a magical memory. These are three restaurants that always deliver:
Xavi’s Grilled Pork with Peaches: My favorite dishes at Xavi play with sweet, spicy, and savory flavors in a lively balance, such as the grilled pork loin with peaches, black pepper condiment, charred fennel, and arugula. Plus, Tuesday just happens to be half-priced wine night. The wine list here is packed with fun new favorites waiting to be discovered. And they have a kid’s menu that doesn’t pander. This reminds me; I’ve got to make my next visit a family affair.
Bar Brigade’s Grilled Trout: On a recent, rare date with my husband, we marveled at how, when we’re old and gray (he’s already gray—I’m winning), we’ll still recall the perfection with which Bar Brigade could cook a tender, juicy bit of fresh fish, served with creamy squash and enlivened by a bit of lemon. We’ll remember it through the warm haze of comfort this team creates inside its walls. Chef and co-owner J.D. Fratzke makes every person in the room feel validated, valued, and welcome. He’s a soulful, intense, sincere, and singular individual who, along with co-owner Matty O’Reilly, makes the world a better place by sharing so much with the guests in their restaurants.
Saint Dinette’s Dumplings: Two paragons of great service, La Belle Vie and the Strip Club, had a hand in what’s been created at Saint Dinette. Owner Tim Niver has long been rightfully heralded as one of the greats in how his service is sincere without losing humor and a little verve. Laurel Elm (who once worked at LBV) runs the front of the house with grace. A recent gathering with some lady friends went from good to spectacular just by how lovingly everyone treated each diner. It was as tender as the little gnocchi that chef Adam Eaton serves in a luscious butter sauce.