Piccolo in East Harriet, Minneapolis

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Attention former band geeks: Do you remember which instrument the piccolo is? It’s that tiny, flute-like instrument that had to be played by the girl in the band with the smallest fingers. The instrument not only shares its name with the restaurant that recently replaced Cafe Agri on a quiet corner near Lake Harriet, but it also lends many of its attributes to the food featured at the new dining establishment — short, sweet, and pricey.

While the expertly prepared food reflects the admirable skill of chefs Doug Flicker (formerly of Auriga fame, as well as Mission American Kitchen, D’Amico Kitchen, and Porter & Frye), Polly Nielson, and Dan Berger, the tiny portion sizes (described as “moderate” on the restaurant’s web site) fail to justify the hefty bill that arrives at the end of the meal. The well-trained and courteous waitstaff at Piccolo recommend three to five plates per person, which, at $7-14 / plate, can easily lift the total past the $100 mark per couple* before you’ve ordered wine. Many people have no problem paying three figures for an imaginative and well-executed meal, but then they probably aren’t looking to the good-but-not-great bread basket to provide as much sustenance as it has to at Piccolo.

Make no mistake — the cuisine at Piccolo is worth touting. A trio of sunchoke croquettes ($8) topped with shaved fennel, radish, and a green apple mustard kicked off the evening with a bang. The crunchy coating encased two bites of creamy vegetables, and the inventive mustard added a welcome punch. If one person ordered this dish as an appetizer, it would be the perfect portion leading into a larger-sized entree. But since sharing is often the custom at a small-plates restaurant (think Spanish tapas), that means a few bites for each person and it’s gone. Poof. What’s next?

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

For many, the potato gnocchi ($11) will be an appealing choice, and Piccolo’s version includes white beans, robiola cheese, and guanciale in a creamy sauce. Though the beans were slightly dry and undercooked, the delicately flavored sauce (is that homemade chicken stock we tasted?) and perfectly cooked potato dumplings rallied to save the dish. A more solid all-around plate is the sea scallop ($12), prepared to the ideal texture, highlighting the scallop’s natural sweetness, and paired with red wine-braised onions that a dining companion favorably compared to a tangy barbecue sauce.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

The black cod ($12) also showcased the chefs’ skill at seafood preparation. Matched with smoked celery, pancetta, arugula, and hazelnuts, the fish featured the proper firmness, without tasting overcooked, and blended seamlessly with its accompaniments. It would have been ranked the favorite if it had not been followed with the roasted chicken with ricotta pain perdu, cipollini onions, and golden turnips ($13). The golden, savory rectangle was everything you’d want in a roasted bird — juicy, meaty, and comforting. If that chicken were served as a full portion, Piccolo would have customers standing outside the door waiting to experience its superior flavor. Instead, you’re teased with those few luscious bites and then have to put down your fork and knife with a longing for another plate or two.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

There’s no question that you’ll have room for dessert at Piccolo, and with only three choices on the menu, you may have room for the entire selection. Luckily, all succeed beautifully. The bitter almond cake ($6) tastes anything but bitter since it’s paired with vanilla ice cream and brown butter honey, but you’ll be so busy capturing every last drop with your spoon that you won’t notice. The ricotta panna cotta ($6) is a burst of spring’s promise with its Meyer lemon and quince topping, while the chocolate terrine with dark raisins, chocolate pearls, and pinecone syrup ($8) will more than please chocolate lovers. It may look like a brownie when placed on the table, but its pudding-like texture gives the dessert a lightness that echoes the rest of the meal.

Piccolo deserves credit for dividing its wine list (priced at the relative bargain $5-9.75 / glass) into user-friendly categories that make it easy to choose exactly what you’re craving that night. With sections like “aromatic and fruity” and “full-bodied and tropical” whites, as well as “spicy and jammy” and “full-bodied and rich textured” reds, even wine novices will feel confident when ordering their beverage. Several wines are available in half-carafes and full bottles as well, for parties that decide to share their drinks along with their food.

Listen, no one is expecting the Cheesecake Factory here. The Minneapolis-St. Paul dining scene certainly has room for restaurants like Piccolo that focus on quality over quantity. However, though quality comes at a price, it doesn’t have to come at such a steep one. No one should have to spend $30-50, without wine or dessert, to quell the grumbling in his stomach but not feel truly satisfied. So if you have a Chipotle-sized appetite, put Piccolo on your list for another day when you’re not so ravenous. Perhaps a payday would be ideal.

*Editor’s note, Feb. 7, 2010: The original version of this review neglected to note “per couple” in reference to the $100 check. We regret the error.

Rating: ★★½☆ (Good)
Modern American small plates in East Harriet

4300 Bryant Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409
CHEFS: Doug Flicker, Polly Nielson and Dan Berger
Mon, Wed-Sat 5:30-10pm
Sun 5:30-9pm
Tues closed
BAR: Wine
Yes / Yes for weekends
One dish / No
$7-14 / small plate; 3-5 plates recommended per person


  1. Jason Walker

    Hard to see this succeeding as a neighborhood place. It doesn’t sound appealing at all – even if I could afford it, why buy overpriced food?

  2. Wurstmacher

    Check your math. 5 x 14 = 70 before wine. You must be thinking about a pair of people? Food writing, particularly when it reflects pessimism or negativity is a giant buzz kill for a restaurant.

  3. geoff

    We’re in a recession. Whether you’re fat or skinny, rich or poor, tasteful or tasteless…you want perceived value. For some that means HUGE portions. For others it means chef-driven $7 plates. For some it means wine priced near retail. In light of this, the review seems fair and honest review to me, and not at all negative. applauds the food, reveals the portions as small. I mean, isn’t that just what Flicker is aiming for?

  4. Jill

    Um, no, I’m six months pregnant, but I have a healthy appetite regardless.

    I am all for the small-plates concept. My favorite restaurant ever is a Spanish tapas place back in D.C. But those plates aren’t $14/each – they average more like $5-8, and I’m totally willing to pay that for small quantities of high-quality food. But once you move into double-digit prices, I expect more than a few bites. And as much I love bread, I don’t want to rely on the bread basket to help me feel full.

  5. Stu Borken

    I have not been there, but, I have read extensively about Piccolo. I believe, the mind set you have to have if you go there, is, ” You dine for pleasure, not to assuage hurger, and, price should not be an issue”.

  6. Nenox

    I will take excellent and overpriced over boring and cheap any day. It shouldn’t be a matter of how full you are after the meal but how much you enjoyed it. It is like looking at the mona lisa and going, “yeah its nice, but its so small.” If you want nice ingredients prepared by a good chef and good cooks you have to pay the price. And it isn’t that out of line compared to what other high quality places are providing.

  7. True Believer

    I’m stunned at all the bickering over portion size. I have heard no one and I mean no one complain about getting 2 ounces of rice and an ounce of fish at a sushi joint. Wait I had one friend, she was Japanese and her family ran a sushi bar in Tokoyo. She said here the fish sucked, there was no creativity and there was too much rice… Not to mention the general lack of service at all the beloved sushi places here. “it’s hand made and that takes time.” what do you think DF’s food is if not lovingly wrought?

    In closing, I dare any of the naysayers to make ONE of the items from the Piccolo menu that you ate and keep track of your time then ask again if the effort equals the price.

    Talk is cheap…

  8. Ryan

    Wow it must be nice? I wish I could ignore my customers perceptions in my business.

    Geoff is spot on, it might be fine artistry…it might be damn tasty…but if the perceived value is weak it will end up just like Auriga.

    You can b*tch all you want about people not appreciating it for what it is, but that isn’t going to pay your invoices.

  9. sue

    It may be fine to be “small” but don’t tout it because us Minnesotans will not check it out unless we are the foodie elite.

    Cafe Maude has smaller tasty plates but I never feel like I’m getting a bad deal. At this time when we are holding our wallets tighter great value is key. And I don’t mean the Cheescake Factory. Change or die unfortunately….

  10. Andrew Zimmern

    Saddest part of this whole exchange is the oddly condescending and yet intriguingly naive attitude of the writer…”Do i taste chicken stock??? Bitter almonds not bitter???” sounds like someone needs to dine out more! Why cant one person order an 8 buck appetizer if they care to? strange. and yes i think we need more piccolo and less stand up bass in our band, to borrow a metaphor. I had the shittiest food last night at McCormick and Schmick and blew 70 bucks on 2 entrees, no apps, no beverages and would have killed someone for a few nibbles at Piccolo. Sorry Jill, i wish i could understand why you would rave about everything you ate, but trash the concept. seems you liked it..and for dessert, smaller is always better…c’mon now, werent you just looking to feed the monster here?

    Many restaurants serve small portions, intending the diners to share and graze til they want to move on out and head home. everyones definition of that is different. 2 people can get quite full for 70 bux at piccolo…i am shocked that anyone thinks a wagon wheel sized bowl of anything equates with quality or value. next thing youll tell me is that Camel wide cigarettes are better for you than Marlboro reds since they deliver more toxins per puff?

  11. Ryan

    I am very split on this issue.

    “Is that homemade chicken stock we tasted?” is an awful turn of a phrase. It makes the author untrustworthy. It’s Doug Flicker. The man cooks with heart and soul and if she tasted Swanson or that organic stuff I buy in box, my little foodie heart has nothing left to believe in.

    On the other hand, I both loves La Belle Vie and am slightly irritated by being hungry when leaving, I understand the plight we’re talking about here.

  12. Cam

    Had dinner at Piccolo last month and the food was good and creative not delicious and spectacular as I was expecting from Chef Doug Flicker. Money was not the issue, but what I expected and what I got was most certainly the issue. If the plates at Piccolo are going to be small, then please deliver some real high notes of flavor profiles to each component on the plate. 1 guest, 10 out of 11 savory dishes on the menu, 1 dessert and 2 glasses of wine = 139.00 plus tip. I went to Fuji Ya afterwards to have a real meal.

    I wish Piccolo the best, but this patron will not be dining there again. Solera and Bar La Grassa are my places from now on.

    Mr. A Zimmern, I find it amusing that you dined at McCormick and Schmik’s and found the food “shitty”,…their food is always “shitty”. I hope that this was just one of those moments where you could not find a better place to go due to time constraints.

  13. Graham Smith

    The real issue is not Piccolo itself, but rather the mindset of the average diner when entering a restaurant like Piccolo. From the culinary laymen to the most experienced and refined palate, the expectations are through the roof before the water glasses are filled and the first course presented.

    In our society, many people imagine themselves to be much better critics of food than they truly are. When they enter a restaurant like Piccolo they enter as if they are penning the next Dish review in the Star Tribune. They take notes…they take pictures! (Not sure you are allowed to do that but that’s cool). As they savor every bite they tend to do so not with an open mind but instead trying desperately to find a flaw. Then they make wild claims about what they just tasted…”Is that homemade chicken stock we tasted?” C’mon on!

    The beautiful thing about restaurants like Piccolo, or a big chain for that matter is that they have their fans. While I prefer to skip the chains, for many people this is the way to go. The only difference is that you don’t see a public outcry on blogs against the Jack Daniels Strip and gargantuan tower of potato skins at a TGIF’s. Do they cost less and offer more caloric intake for the buck? Absolutely! That’s just not my thing and for some people Piccolo won’t be their’s either.

    Piccolo has already found its place in the heart of the true foodies in Minneapolis. As for the many other esteemed critics on this site, the only words of advice that I can share are before you debate the percieved downfalls of this restaurant, you might want to try it. Call me crazy but how can you possibly have an opinion on the restaurant before you have even tried their food?

  14. Don Estes

    Ya know, if ya wanna pail full of food, der are better places ta go dan Piccolo, maybe not so good, but ya get totally, totally full. I reluctantly took my 6’6″, 290# eating machine to Piccolo. Anxious about the $12 scallop, I just dug in and went with it, splitting everything with my wife. A long time foodie, 5-6 courses later, I was completely satisfied. This place changed the way that I eat. You don’t like small portions? Get over it! Don’t be a big baby. No more Minnesota-sized feedbags of highly processed food that lead me toward an unhealthy lifestyle. I want small, high quality, scrumpuously delicious food that I can hold in my mouth and contemplate. I want flavors that awaken taste buds in a single 360 degree explosion of flavor. I want to eat to enjoy eating, not just to sustain myself. Remember, “The first bite is the banquet”, the rest is just cleaning up your plate. Piccolo gives all of this to me. The price may be a little higher than you are used to, but artistry costs money. It takes time. Go less often, treat yourself–you’re worth it. Jill, your pictures are truly pathetic and reveal nothing. Do you keep pics of yourself taken in the dark? P.S. I’ve lost 15 lbs since I started eating at Piccolo. This philosophy works.

  15. Lauraland

    Thank you Graham Smith, for your eloquence, and thank you Don Estes for your humor.
    I’m joining Matty in the Piccolo diet – a reward to myself for cooking more at home until the economy recovers and I can afford to be more expansive with my dollar and my waistline.

  16. BB

    “Treat yourself, you deserve it.” Ah, vanity strikes again. How can anyone justify spending over $100 on a single meal? Spend half that and make amazing food at home for weeks, and send the other half to Second Harvest for the poor souls who need it.

  17. AJ

    I like small plates and am definitely willing to pay more for good food, but I was pretty disappointed and didn’t think it was worth the price. The owner seemed very nice, but our server was pretty bad. She didn’t seem to know the menu and recommended two entrees with meat after I informed her that I was a vegetarian and asked her for recommendations. I always like to see local, neighborhood restaurants do well and try to support them, but I’m not sure we’ll give this second try.

  18. Don Estes

    Last night I finally had my chance…my daughter was in town and we got reservations at Piccolo. You know that I’m a fan…but this was the acid test. After a year Erin earned the Grande Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris before LCB went commercial…top of her class even against the Japanese housewives and wives to be who came from Tokyo to learn food with same zeal and commitment that Kamikaze pilots learned to fly..a life or death matter. She’s cooked at Daniel’s in NYC, Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Rockpool in Sydney…she, you might say, has a taste for good food. “what’d ya think, Erin?”. She couldn’t believe how utterly yummy the food was. She couldn’t believe that the place is only 6 blocks from our house…like a “neighborhood place”. She was astounded at how inexpensive it was relative to what she was getting to eat. She knows prep; she knows how long reductions take and how many there were. We are all perplexed by the people who think this place is just “good”.

  19. Stu

    If ever I read a restaurant review that held credence it was the one submitted by Mr. Estes and his daughter.

  20. Brian

    Just when I thought I found a great local food website, they give Piccolo a bad review. Sad. I guess everywhere needs to have portions the size of your head to fill your take home bag.

  21. Anthony

    My wife and I tried Piccolo for the first time on Fathers Day evening. Must say this is the best meal I’ve ever tasted and I don’t care that we spent $125 to experience this true work of culinary art. Let the detractors line up at famous whatever-his-name’s..I’ll opt for this kind of epicurian revelation anytime.

  22. MK

    It would be great to get some updated, brighter pictures for Piccolo, given the beauty and delicacy of the small plates!

  23. My Annoying Opinions

    Piccolo is one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities, hands down, and perhaps the most ambitious. For it to receive a review of this nature from what purports to be the guide to serious food in Minnesota is borderline scandalous. Really, portion size? We ate five courses and were fully sated. But you don’t go to a restaurant of this caliber just to fill your stomach; you go to be stimulated by a kitchen that is doing interesting things with food, pursuing a vision without losing sight of taste or succumbing to trends for the sake of being trendy.

    It’s been four years: you need to go back and correct this folly. Or at least send someone to review it whose focus is gastronomy not how much food they’re served.

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