This has been an incredible year for great restaurants. I’ve been talking a lot with chefs about the incredible variety and quality we have in town today, and the top notch chefs.
The emphasis is clearly on neighbors supporting their neighborhoods, with a sprinkling of people like me who are willing to drive anywhere for a great eating experience.
Last week I ate a Friday lunch at Tilia, dinner at Saffron, a family Saturday lunch at Victory 44—it was the triple-play of great restaurants. Oh baby.
Tilia is Dara’s new restaurant of the year in the issue on newsstands now, and it’s hard to disagree. We arrived at 11:30 a.m. and sat at the bar, which meant we got to sample a half-dozen tastes of their incredible beer selection. We had the faux gras ($6), a creamy, rich chicken liver custard; the leeks, slow cooked and bathed in a truffle vinaigrette ($7), and we split the fish taco torta ($10). That’s an awesome meal for $23.
Victory 44 is in North Minneapolis, and it’s only 10 minutes from my home in Maple Grove. It’s certainly in my list of top five places to eat in the Twin Cities now. The charcuterie is incredible ($7/$14)—so much so that somehow my six-year-old was inhaling terrines and espresso-coated foie gras. My happiness that the kid was eating the foie was tempered by my anger that the kid was eating my foie. The cheese plate (above) is awesome ($6/$12)—the half-plate included three pieces of well-curated cheese. And the perfect burger ($12) is really perfect. A large helping of fries on the side, with a burger that has bacon as part of the meat grind, topped with bacon and cheddar—it’s truly excellent.
Victory 44’s new coffee bar is also a treat. I stopped in yesterday for the Signature Latte ($4.50), which was a beautifully-made blueberry vanilla latte. The flavors of coffee, cream, blueberry and vanilla were all in perfect balance—no one flavor overwhelming the other. It was magical.
Saffron just lost the white tablecloths and refocused the menu on small plates, and it’s as awesome as always. The quality of food at Saffron has always been in my Top Five, so I was worried about the shift to a more casual environment. But nothing to worry about here. The red lentil soup ($8) is one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in months. The hint of aleppo chili, the dusting of papika, the chunks of squash, and those perfect little lentils mingled together like the perfect symphony of flavors.
Sorry—that was a little pretentious for what Saffron is going for these days. Don’t miss the Octopus “A La Plancha”—a lovely piece of fish cooked on a hot plate. The sherry flavor works so well with the dense, meaty octopus ($8). And the simply marinated carrot salad ($5), with the freshness of mint and the zip of that aleppo chili is also excellent.
And while I’m thankful for such great places to eat, I’m even more thankful for how much the restaurant community gives back to our town. This summer my friend JD Fratzke and his colleagues at The Strip Club Fish & Meats in St. Paul helped me put on a dinner for People Serving People, the homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. JD and The Strip Club donated time, food, and a lot of love.
Erick Harcey from Victory 44 and Steven Brown from Tilia were part of at least a dozen chefs and farmers a couple weeks ago donating their time at Solera, where Chef Jorge Guzman asked me to host a fundraiser for Second Harvest Heartland. It was amazing to see so many chefs on a Sunday night, giving their time to help their neighbors.
A lot of us don’t realize that when restaurants are closed, their chefs and owners are often open for business—cooking or hosting fundraisers and cooking in people’s homes for dinners the restaurants donated to fundraisers for auctions.
A vibrant food community with a heart—that’s what I’m thankful for this year.
2203 44th Avenue North, Mpls.
2726 West 43rd Street, Mpls.
123 N. 3rd Street, Mpls.