Sea Change, Sea Urchins, Tosca Preview. And: Oh, Yeah, the Recession is Over!

I’ve had one of those weeks where I’ve been too busy to write, which is especially lame because I’ve got so much good news to share. Get ready for buckets and buckets of exclamation points. Where to start?

Sea Change!
The Tim McKee sustainable seafood restaurant in the old Cue space at the Guthrie has a name, and the name is Sea Change. Inside the belly of MnMo, we had started calling it Red Herring. Now we’ll stop. We have a shot of one of Sea Change’s dishes in our July issue, but I can’t say much about it yet except that it’s gorgeous. Other than that, here’s your inside scoop. The Grand Opening will be July 20, though there will be a soft opening in the weeks before that. They’re closing after Tony Kushner’s Intelligent Homosexual closes “To change the look somewhat, and try to address some of the issues the room has,” McKee tells me. “It comes off awful cold, there’s not a lot of softness to the atmosphere.” Yeah, the restaurant is so cold it may as well be in outer space (as imagined by French brainiacs who admire English literature, but still). Of course, the whale-sized, disconcerting photos of playwrights will remain—they’re part of Jean Nouvel’s architecture—but McKee says that they will be, somehow, “softened” with “elements.” Good luck with that! Of even greater interest to restaurant insiders will be the fact that the new Sea Change team is actually already in place, and cooking their little hearts out. One of my friends, who’s twice as exacting as I am in his demands of restaurants, went the other night by accident (he decided last minute to take in a play), and reported it was outstanding, the best of his year. So, if you’re someone who likes the intimacy of Spring Training more than the hubub of the regular season, my advice is to go to Cue now. You’ll find Matt Holmes, Erik Andersen and the whole Sea Change team cooking for an empty room—and you.

St. Paul Barrio Almost Open!
The Lowertown location of the year’s hottest restaurant looks to be right on track. McKee tells me the planned opening date is June 16. “We just passed the health inspection this afternoon,” McKee told me, “So we can start bringing in food. At this point I don’t see what would stop us from opening on schedule, except that there’s always something.”

Amazing Tosca Preview!
I’ve been skeptical about the new restaurant Trattoria Tosca (see previous blog posts). It seemed like a place that would err on the side of cost-cutting, safety, and timidity over art and adventure. I’ve only been once and while, in time, I will write a full and nuanced review, but my first visit made has prepared me to eat my skepticism, my words, my hat, and anything else I have to swallow to get more Tosca food. The meal I had there the other night had elements that were stunning. Staggering. Fantastic. The best thing: A pasta dish called “tonarelli” which costs $9 for a small portion and $15 for an entrée-sized one. I will next attempt to order in a $99 kitchen-sink sized portion. It’s that good. Chef Adam Vickerman starts with handmade pasta— a particularly thick and toothsome version made with lots of egg yolk—then cloaks it in a sauce that is not going to sound delicious, but was phenomenal. It’s a variation on vitello tonnato, and involves making an emulsification of tuna, anchovies, egg yolk, Italian Pinot Grigio vinegar, canola oil, and olive oil, all of which tastes like nothing so much as the Carbonara sauce of your dreams. It’s creamy, it’s lush, it’s so rich that it may as well be custard. How can a fish and anchovy sauce taste that good? I don’t know, but I had four adults at a table ready to stab each other with forks to get the last bite. Granted, my table was one of only a handful seated in the restaurant, but if Vickerman can cook like this consistently, Tosca is going to be one of the most important new restaurants of the year. 3415 W. 44th St., Mpls, 612-924-1900,

The Recession: Over?!
Last week, when I wrote about frog’s legs, chef Russell Klein of Meritage wrote me to demand why I forgot to include Meritage. To which I replied: “No good reason, just early dementia.” Turns out that Meritage is our leading frogs legs restaurant, and it even offers them at lunch “Buffalo” style (they take out one bone). “They’re like little lollipops” says Klein, and, yes, he cooks them in a fancy French version of the classic Buffalo sauce. Still, while they are on the lunch menu, Klein tells me they sell many many more as a Thursday night special, cooked Provençal in butter with garlic, parsley, and confit tomato. “I used to do them once in a while at [legendary New York City restaurant] Caravelle, and now I find we have a couple regulars who just love them.” Klein also noted that his “Recession Sundays,” three-course Sunday dinners for $24, have a loyal following, so he may keep them going after (if?) the Great Recession ever ends. But maybe it already ended? Intriguingly, Klein says that he noticed a swift uptick in business a few weeks ago: “I don’t want to jinx it,” he told me, “but actually, business has been really, really good lately. It was like the warm weather came and all of a sudden everyone wanted to be outside and celebrate. Last fall, it was like everyone got nervous at the same time, we saw a lot of shared appetizers, less expensive wine. Everyone was nervous the bottom was going to drop out. Now all of a sudden we’re selling more $100 bottles of wine. We’re getting more requests for [$65] tasting menus. I heard that in May consumer confidence was up. I’m really seeing it.” Meritage, 410 Saint Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670,

Morel-fest is Back!
If the recession is over, let’s celebrate! By going to Meritage for their Morel Fest. Klein is friends with Jim Kyndberg, chef and owner of the dearly departed Bayport Cookery, and of course the Morel Fest was the Bayport Cookery’s signature meal, and many diner’s favorite springtime treat. The Morel Fest at Meritage takes place one night only, June 7 (no Recession Sundays that night) and will consist of five courses of various morel items. It will cost $75, with wine pairings available for an additional $25. I’m going to assume this one will sell out, so if you want in, reserve now!

Sea Urchins!
Unless you want to just sit on your back porch and eat 25 portions of sushi, that is. Okay, here’s what I mean. After writing about frogs legs last week, I realized that I knew almost nothing about them. Turns out that they’re considered seafood, are priced and valued more or less like shrimp, come in through one of two supply chains, either through Asian direct-import channels or through Coastal Seafoods. Tim Lauer, a Coastal manager, explained to me that “frog-gigging,” that is, wild frog-hunting, is all but extinct in the northern U.S., though you will still find wild-caught frogs in restaurants in places like Louisiana. Mostly, frogs are farm raised in Bangladesh, China, and Vietnam, and, indeed, Meritage is currently Coastal’s biggest local seller of frogs legs. Lauer and I got to chatting about other specialty items. It turns out that many of my favorite foods are “specialty items.” Yours too? Fascinating tidbits I gleaned: 112 Eatery is roasting those big, fat, sweet northern crayfish for a side-dish special right now: oven roasted asparagus with a crayfish cream sauce, almost like a velouté. Yum. I love those things! D’Amico Cucina, which I raved about in the magazine recently, has Atlantic razor clams on the menu right now. Sweet, sweet razor clams—I love those things even more. And every Wednesday or Thursday, the Minneapolis Coastal has been getting in 10 to 15 fresh sea-urchins, the roe-sacks of which are those wonderful, sweet, iodine-scented treats that sushi bars call “Uni.” But Lauer says that sushi bar uni is almost always frozen, and so is a pale relative to fresh uni. Also, he estimates you might get 50—no typo there–sushi bar servings of Uni out of a single live sea urchin, which runs around ten bucks. If the recession isn’t over, that’s my call for the cheapest luxury you can have this summer: Sea urchin and Champagne on the back deck? Nice.

Bar La Grassa News!
Finally, I’ll leave you with what I know about Bar La Grassa, the new Italian joint coming this summer from Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre (112 Eatery) and Josh Thoma (La Belle Vie, Solera, Barrio). Turns out the current opening date is forecasted for mid-August, price-point is thought to be a little lower than 112 (most people spend about $35 on food and alcohol there, and the expectation is that most people will spend about $30 pre-tip at Bar La Grassa). It will feature a full bar, and it will revolve around pasta. “Part of the restaurant will be a pasta bar,” Nancy St. Pierre told me. “There will be 12 or 14 spots where you can sit at the bar and watch the cooks cook the pasta. We’ll have 10 fresh pastas, 10 dried pastas, and, like 112, people can choose if they want a large-size serving or a small-size one.” Bar La Grassa will also offer something for carnivores. They’re putting in a grill, and St. Pierre imagines there will be at least half a dozen non-pasta entrees, particularly a large steak, sized for sharing.

And that’s all I’ve got. Check back next week for more exclamation points. Till then, have a good weekend!