This week in the Tap: Thoughts on the closing of Il Foro, Scena, and Parella.
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at email@example.com.
The (Rapid) Decline and Fall of the Crudo Empire
The reviews of these exciting new places certainly weren’t bad, and it looked momentarily as though these restaurants were going to transform the local dining scene. Dara wrote of Parella “I hate to compare new restaurants to what other places are doing, but I couldn’t help it at Parella, mainly because so often there I felt like exclaiming, ‘Well, this is the right way! They’re doing it the right way!’”; Rick Nelson described Scena’s crudo and pizza menus as “home runs”; and the headline on Mecca’s Il Foro review was “Il Foro has culinary prowess for classic staying power.”
There was no lack of plaudits for these artfully designed eateries, which collectively brought some great food to the local scene. The missing element was a customer base.
Every restaurant opens for particular reasons, and every restaurant closes for particular reasons as well, so we can’t just say “crudo was a bad idea” and bury all three of these restaurants in the same unmarked grave.
Some thoughts, then. Crudo was a bad idea. Not for everyone, everywhere, at all times. But here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where we are drowning in sushi and not lacking for expensive restaurants, the need for another, lesser-known way to purchase small pieces of raw fish for large amounts of money never seemed self evident. The real energy in the cities at the moment seems to be a (sometimes cross-pollinating) mix of farm-to-table fare and mid-Southern food, and in as much as we need a counter to that, cosmopolitan joints like Spoon and Stable, 112 Eatery and Bachelor Farmer seem to do a fine job.
There’s often a gap between a trend and a customer base. Perhaps you know someone (or were someone) who was excited about crudo, or more broadly, about spending a lot of money to eat Italian food of varying degrees of accessibility in the name of sophistication. I know of no such people, and the main thing from this group of four spots that seemed to resonate was that Il Foro made a damn good burger (a burger I now regret never having tried. Gather your rosebuds while ye may …).
This isn’t to say you can’t do well doing thoughtful, upscale Italian — look at Broders’, for example. But Broders’ hasn’t lost touch with the soulful, approachable Calabrian-Sicilian heart of Italian-American food, and the prices have always been reasonable. The gap between ordering a huge (albeit satisfying!) hot dago at DeGidio’s and paying for a 10-course tasting menu at a place like Scena is absolutely enormous, with a lot of fertile ground in between those extremes.
Maybe it’s better to see if a metro area can absorb one novel concept restaurant rather than launching four at once. I am thrilled beyond words that we’re going to see a legit kaiseki place open in downtown Minneapolis. In concert with a more approachable sister restaurant and with the right support from diners and critics, it may do really well. But I would worry if four kaiseki places decided to launch more or less on top of one another.
Finally, amid the carnage, here’s something worth noting: the newly opened and high-profile Mucci’s is roaring along merrily, stacking up hourlong waits. Where this entire pack of now mostly-closed places zigged — high prices, high expectations, an emphasis on novelty and choice ingredients — Mucci’s zagged, with reasonable prices, comforting and familiar Italian-American dishes, and an emphasis on warm hospitality and solid execution.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE CRUDOCALYPSE: A TIMELINE
June 1, 2015: Monello opens
June 16, 2015: Il Foro opens
July 13, 2015: Parella opens
December 3, 2015: Scena opens
January 25, 2016: Parella closes
May 16, 2016: Scena closes
May 22, 2016: Il Foro closes
- Wayzata Brew Works, 294 Grove Lane E, Suite 150, Wayzata
- Modist Brewing Company, 505 N 3rd St, Minneapolis | Read our extensive preview.
- Rose Street Patisserie, 2811 W 43rd St, Minneapolis | The Linden Hills incarnation of Patisserie 46 is a bakery and full-service restaurant with 54 seats.
- Blue Door Pub, 1514 Como Ave SE, Minneapolis
- Dogwood Coffee Company (new location), 825 Carleton St, St. Paul
- Inbound Brewco, 701 5th St N, Minneapolis
- Handsome Hog, 203 E 6th St, St. Paul | Former Brasserie Zentral and Meritage chef Justin Sutherland is cooking contemporary Southern food with a high-end twist. Our review.
In late March he had been feted at a grand banquet arranged largely by Charles McKim and held in New York at Madison Square Garden — the old Garden, an elegant Moorish structure designed by McKim’s partner, Stanford White. McKim assigned Frank Millet to secure the attendance of the nation’s finest painters, and these took their seats beside the most prominent writers and architects and the patrons who supported them all, men like Marshall Field and Henry Villard, and together they spent the night lauding Burnham — prematurely — for achieving the impossible. Of course, they ate like gods.
— from The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
This passage — written about the organizers of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago — is fairly stirring by itself. Even more interestingly, it’s followed by a reprint of that night’s menu, an extravaganza containing something like 35 different tastes, everything from soup to beef to fish to cakes to cigarettes.
Fully aware that what we were doing was madness, our team (see below) committed to recreating the menu verbatim in a St. Paul feast we dubbed The Devil in the Twin Cities. What followed was a 19-person, six-hour, 10-course odyssey of cooking, eating, drinking, and general insanity. (Suffice it to say that when around 10 p.m. one of our cooks was drinking alcoholic punch out of a massive stainless steel mixing bowl, the impulse was honest, not a mere jest.)
What follows is a richly annotated and linked summary of our menu, plus some lessons from the evening that you can apply to the next insanely ambitious meal you attempt (or should you never attempt something like this, let the wisdom of your choice be a comfort to you).
CREDITS: Dan Norton (above, bottom photo left) came up with the idea of executing the menu, soup to nuts (or oysters to cheese, as the case may be), cooked a challenging course, and brought many of the after-dinner treats. Karsten (above, top photo far left) and Lauren Steinhaeuser agreed to host a throng of 19 people in their home, while Karsten shouldered some of the most difficult bits of cooking. David Friedman (above, bottom photo right) and Rose Daniels provided the lovely, complicated duck course that was the single most involved plate of the night. Various guests pitched in and saved our bacon over the course of the night. Chief among these was John Derscheid, whose mastery of hollandaise and command of the kitchen more generally elevated several dishes from mundane to divine.
LESSON 1: HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
The dough was going through the pasta maker, but it looked as though it was going through a document shredder: It was emerging from the steel rollers torn to bits, sporting gaping holes. I held the tatters in my hands, cursed them, folded the dough back up, and tried again.
Dan had suggested the day before that buying backup pasta wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I had scoffed — haughtily scoffed — at his idea, as I’d executed fresh pasta a dozen times in the past without a problem. “Seriously,” I said, “nothing can go wrong with this.”
Several hours after the pasta debacle, Dave gave me something like a shout-out for the pasta as we idled in the kitchen, bottles in hand. “You died on that hill,” he said. He said it for two reasons: one, to spotlight the fact that I’d beefed it all up, hilariously, in the thick of the action, and two, to pay me a backhanded compliment — I’d run all of that dough into the ground, swearing and sweating, finally wringing about 10 plates’ worth of good pasta out of the effort.
A guest named Ryan actually jogged to Kowalski’s to get store-bought fresh pasta to kit out the last nine plates. It wasn’t pretty, but we’d made it work. And we’d learned that my brother Dan had been 100 percent right that there was no harm in buying some fresh pasta as a backup. Just in case. You may wish to act similarly when the risk is high and the expense is low.
LESSON 2: PREP IS EVERYTHING
Any professional chef will tell you that you live or die by your prep, and we came into this meal with that maxim in mind.
This posting is closed – thanks for your interest.
WEB DESIGNER: SITE REFRESH (Position filled)
Heavy Table is in need of a site redesign within the world of WordPress. The changes are reasonably minimal – bigger photographs on interior pages, a more magazine-like landing page, more social media integration – but we have 6,500 pieces of archived content and we want to make sure the transition is smooth and elegant. As a boutique indie journalism LLC, we don’t have a massive budget for this project, but a budget exists – we’d love to find someone local to the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro who can work with us to make a beautiful and functional site that will both serve our readers and stand as a killer portfolio piece. Experience on similar projects is a huge plus. Contact James Norton, firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER (Position filled)
The Heavy Table is looking for someone who can shoot restaurants, chefs, products, events, and more for us on a sporadic, time + interest-available basis. Most immediately: We need someone to shoot the upcoming Tuesday episode of The Weekend Starts Now. The guest list includes former mayor R.T. Rybak (above), radio personality Stephanie Hansen, and Chef Joe Hatch-Surisook. Please send a link to a portfolio or published project, and be available to shoot Tuesday night from 7-9pm. The pay is minimal, the work is flexible and fun. Contact James Norton, email@example.com
CHEF CAMP: CHEF INSTRUCTOR (Position filled)
We’re looking a chef to teach our last two (out of 16) instruction slots at Chef Camp, a three-day wilderness cooking instruction retreat at YMCA Camp Miller. Restaurant experience is helpful, but not a must; likewise, wilderness cooking experience. This is a paid one-off gig with support vis-a-vis ingredients and equipment. Contact James Norton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Open-faced Egg Salad Sandwich at The Bachelor Farmer Cafe
Scandinavia knows that that second slice of bread only gets in the way. A perfect square of dark bread, brazenly toasted to a crispy, deep mahogany, is all you need. That way, your sandwich can be all about the creamy eggs and sweet pickled ramps. As it should be.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]
Veal Sweetbreads from Lowry Hill Meats
When the time came to buy ingredients for a 10-course meal based verbatim on an 1893 menu printed in Erik Larson’s stunning non-fiction book The Devil in the White City, we were a bit stumped when it came to the veal sweetbreads. We called a couple of good butcher shops, and then a couple more. About 10 more shops later, we hit the newly opened Lowry Hill Meats, and lo and behold they had a couple of pounds of frozen sweetbreads for sale at a fair price. We thawed them in the fridge, poached them, pressed them into a form, seasoned them, dredged them in flour, and sauteed them, topping them with a pea-celery-romaine sauce. They were profoundly rich and tender, and suitably divine.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton from an upcoming story about a Devil in the White City dinner]
Pad Ped Bai Kra Prao at Ruam Mit Thai
Better known by its common name, Number 36 ($12.25), the dish is a colorful bounty of red and green bell peppers with onions and chicken. The vegetables are cooked quickly and on high heat — brushed with char but retaining a fresh crispiness. Jalapeño peppers, quartered lengthwise with the ribs and seeds intact, add an element of danger that you can engage with, or set aside, if you prefer. Thai basil and oyster sauce add aromatics and umami to create a perfect balance.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]
Rhubarb Crisp from Rhubarb Renaissance
’Tis the season for harvesting the living daylights out of your garden’s rhubarb while it’s tender and plentiful. We chop and freeze a good eight to 12 cups of it every year to have on hand for pies (or whatever) and make crisps whenever the need arises. The recipe from Kim Ode’s Rhubarb Renaissance is our favorite: mix four cups of chopped rhubarb with a half cup of sugar and two tablespoons of flour in a baking dish. Then blend a stick of butter, a cup of flour, a packed cup of brown sugar, a cup of old-fashioned oats, a pinch of salt, and add that topping to the fruit. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350ºF and you’re left with one of the best crisps imaginable: a buttery, crunchy exterior, tender fruit in balance with the topping, and a good sweet-tart balance.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Lobster Roll from Bread & Pickle
Is Bread & Pickle’s lobster roll authentic? I’m not going to wade into that debate. (Cough, butter not mayo. Cough.) Is it even mostly lobster? Nah. It seems to be at least half shrimp. But it’s hot (the toasty bun) and cool (a light slather of mayo) in the spirit of seaside (or urban lakeside) eats. It feels way more special than a burger. And most importantly, it’s available right now at the newly open-for-the-season Bread & Pickle. Which means it’s summer in the city.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Tricia Cornell]
The Weekend Starts Now podcast taped the fifth show of its second season at Indeed Brewing Company‘s Ox Room on Tuesday, May 10.
Join us Tuesday, May 24 at Indeed for our next taping session featuring beer, smart conversation, former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, and the occasional non sequitur.
This weekly podcast is a joint project of the Heavy Table and Secrets of the City, and it covers art, music, food, drink, culture, and more in the Upper Midwest.
The Weekend Starts Now is brought to you by Indeed Brewing Company. Indeed Brewing Company cultivates an artfully eclectic lineup of distinctive flagship beers, well-loved seasonal releases, and adventurous specialty brews from the heart of Northeast Minneapolis. Indeed Brewing: We’re not just brewing beer, We’re crafting experiences. We are thirsty creatures, Indeed. There’s more to explore at www.indeedbrewing.com.
Our podcast is also brought to you by Annie B’s Popcorn and Caramels. Annie B’s, making handcrafted caramels and popcorn right here in Minnesota since 1978. Enter the promocode “Weekend” at anniebs.com to take 20 percent off your order!
Hear the whole episode here!
SEGMENT 1: INTRODUCTION
Wherein James expands upon a recent column about the damned millennials and all their hang-ups vis-à-vis classic restaurant hospitality.
SEGMENT 2: TOM WHISENAND OF INDEED BREWING
Indeed Brewing co-founder Tom Whisenand joins us to talk brews and craft beer culture in the greater metro.
SEGMENT 3: ARIK CANNON FROM F1RST WRESTLING
Wrestling impresario Arik “The Anarchist” Cannon talks about the grass roots of the art form — and business — that is pro wrestling.
SEGMENT 4: YOUR WEEKEND STARTS NOW
Weekend picks and events including Art-A-Whirl and Water Bar.