When we last heard of the Dakota, it was in flux, having lost heavyweight longtime chef Jack Riebel (whose new Butcher & the Boar should open soon). Riebel had such big shoes to fill that owner Lowell Pickett hired not one, but two up-and-coming chefs to fill Jack’s shoes. Well, they finally debuted their new menu, one with a lot more budget-friendly options than the former menu, and I finally got around to trying it.
Holey moley, there’s some great food at the Dakota right now.
Exhibit one: The beef carpaccio. Order it, and you are presented with a plate that looks like a bit of stained glass from a rose window at Chartres, but: You can eat it! Rosy, paper thin, very beefy tasting slices of beef tenderloin are layered on the plate among slices of beet, the white sort striated with a star-pattern of red—slices of beet so thin you can see through them, which are themselves interleaved with transparently thin slices of carrot, thin slices of pickled onion, and miraculous, utterly symmetrical, utterly delicious slices of pickled beet gelée (little discs made by taking a ring cutter to a sheet of something a lot like very fancy spiced beet Jell-O). But that’s not all: Carrot oil tints the white parts of the plate orange, and all the good meat and vegetables are sprinkled with micro-celery and micro-carrot greens. I know it probably sounds like a lot, but it actually just reads to the palate as something very clean, very light, but also very saturated with flavor. Yum.
Exhibit two: The “cassoulet.” I say “cassoulet” and not cassoulet because it’s something else: A popover made in the style of a Yorkshire pudding, with roast drippings, served split and spilling over with fat gigante beans, fresh ham, duck confit, house-made sausage, all of it united with a rich and meaty brown gravy, and topped with a bit of bacon powder and toasted rye crumbs. Each bite is a powerhouse—lush, big, and earthy. If there was a prize for the most comfort per square inch in a comfort food, this cassoulet popover humdinger would get the prize.
I picked those dishes advisedly, as each is the work of one of the two co-chefs. Derik Moran is the genius behind the carpaccio. Restaurant mavens will recall Moran as the force behind some truly brilliant cooking at Nick and Eddie. Before that he was at Porter & Frye, and before that he had a string of cooking jobs in Wisconsin. Moran is all of 25 today, and a lot of other chefs in town consider him a major, major talent. Sameh Wadi of Saffron, for instance, tells me Moran is on his list of future world-changers. Moran tells me that he’s largely been involved with changing the systems at the Dakota, installing sous vide equipment to reduce ticket-times, for instance. (And speaking of sous vide, try the poutine. For $19 you get a rosy strip of steak on down-home hand-cut potato planks and a wealth of gravy and cheese curds. It’s the best under $20 steak in Minneapolis.)
Meanwhile, the cassoulet is the brainchild of co-chef Kristin Tyborski, a Fargo native, and formerly sous-chef at Solera, as well as another Porter & Frye alum. Tyborski told me the inspiration behind the dish was to sort of take gravy to its utter, most comforting place, and yet not to mess with it to much at the same time. Done. So delicious.
So, what’s with the co-chef arrangement? It’s a family thing: Both Moran and Tyborski are in key, early family stages of life—Tyborski, 31, has a six-month-old baby and Moran is expecting his first child in April, and, seeing how other restaurants in town have made a go of Gen-Y co-chefs (like the three-chef partnership behind Travail), it seemed like the best way to have both happy chefs and happy ownership. And as far as this critic is concerned, happy diners too. The greatest new restaurant I know of in downtown Minneapolis is hiding in plain sight.
Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls., 612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com