The Rookery, the newest venture of the Travail trio (Mike Brown, Bob Gerken, and James Winberg), evokes a suburban gastronomic Disney World: over-stimulating, exciting, and unapologetic. It exudes personality while keeping you on your toes, dishing up one micro-plate at a time, either a la carte or via the $30, 11-micro plate “Bite Flight.”
Sharing a space with nationally recognized (tasting-menu only) Travail, the 54-seat Rookery and its counterpart are distinguishing themselves from their more “reserved” competitors in town by making their restaurant a theme park, with the food as the main entertainment: Gratuitous hair band music blaring from overhead. Non-stop commotion.
An open space with quirky embellishments: peculiar teddy bears stuck in the rafters and a toy car in the back; it’s aggressively quirky without a cohesive theme throughout. Gimmicky, perhaps? Not really. Delivering something other than food and having people pay for it is a business model – and seems to be a smart one at that.
So, with an open mind, we sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The Violette Pilot ($10, pictured at top), a bright, candied, floral-note combination, made for an inventive, complex gin creation. The presentation alone was quite whimsical; we didn’t know whether to drink it or pot it. However, the smooth operator of the night belonged to Pisco the Night Away ($11). Consisting of four ingredients — Pisco (a South American grape brandy) and egg with an apricot and black pepper fruit leather garnish — this soothing, well-balanced, sweet-sour libation packed a mean punch. Don’t let its modesty fool you. (Downfall: Thanks to the name, the infamous Chumbawamba song was stuck in our heads. And now it’s in yours.)
Let us preface this by saying that our edible adventure started out on a pretty good note. Enter the oysters ($2). Much to our chagrin, they didn’t serve your typical oysters — not by a long shot. Silly us for thinking otherwise. Instead, in a petite porcelain cup, was oyster pot de crème with compressed cantaloupe. Despite its richness, it still had a lift to it, and the cantaloupe garnish was a nice texture contrast to the custard’s silkiness. However, the cantaloupe itself tasted out of place. The combination of the two flavors resembled an arranged marriage: forced. We didn’t like it. We didn’t despise it. We respected its intentions.
Our next bites were meticulous. Immersed in a seaweed and mushroom broth lay a mini oxtail hamburger ($4, above) surrounded by togarashi, carrots, and peppers. The cutting technique and precision of the vegetables left us almost speechless. The rich flavor held on even with the raw beef texture, with the perfect amount of salt.
Other noteworthy noshes, with a few nitpicks, included the lamb ($5) and the sunchoke ($3, above). The former comprised three neatly placed, nicely seasoned, medium-rare slices of lamb alongside a crisp-to-perfection potato pave and an aggressive chimichurri. The lamb played second fiddle to the pungent garlic taste when it was cast to be the principal. In the latter, orbiting the roasted sunchoke were pureed sunchoke, sunchoke chips, Dijon mustard, and pear butter. The pear butter added a bright, element of surprise, but overall, the plate was modest in comparison to its peers.
The three plates we tipped our imaginary hats to were the foie gras ($6) – a well-balanced dish with several moving parts (grated foie gras, sesame cracker, pickled fennel, blueberry jam, ricotta, and toasted pepitas) coming together harmoniously; the gnocchi ($3) — light pillows served with luxurious, meaty octopus wading in a pool of perfectly sweetened roasted red bell pepper, micro-cilantro broth, and chorizo (an exquisite touch); and the agnolotti ($2, below) — a rich meets airy love story between a mushroom and sage sauce and a delicate porcini foam. It also made us consider going on an all-black-trumpet-mushroom diet.
Also, the decadent, chocolate-covered chocolate chip cookie may have been the best dollar(s) we spent that night. “One dollar?” we asked. “I’d sell my mother for one of these.” But then again, when has buttercream let us down?
We awarded two honorable mentions of the night to the haute dog ($2.50) — an aromatic bite consisting of hearty pork and velvety gruyere on a homemade baguette topped with peaches and the showstopper, pickled celery root — and the hamachi ($4, below), served on two dainty, thinly sliced lemons accompanied by grated micro-wasabi, chive, sesame, white soy, and patchouli oil. While the hamachi bite was a bit precious and overrun by acidity at first, it regained its composure, and the subtle nuances came to light.
Overall, our visit was memorable. The servers were Johnny-on-the-spot in this no-holds-barred, highly charged food playground. The experience was perplexing, amusing, and, yes, filling. It brought us out of our comfort zone and left us quite exhausted. With every bell, whistle, and foam, The Rookery’s allure (and delivery) will have a long shelf life in the sleepy town of Robbinsdale. (Hopefully without violating any noise ordinances.)
Just like Disney World, you’re glad you experienced it, but one time may be enough – or two, if out-of-towners are visiting.
Cocktail bar and restaurant in Robbinsdale
4124 W Broadway Ave
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
CHEFS / OWNERS: Mike Brown, Bob Gerken, and James Winberg
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Walk-in only
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited
MICRO-PLATE PRICE: $1-$6 (“Bite Flight”: 11 micro-plates for $30)