Nestled into the formidable Le Cordon Bleu campus in Mendota Heights, student-run Technique is certainly easy to overlook. With just a wee, flimsy sign at the parking lot entrance and an understated logo on the doors, it seems more like a small design business than a restaurant. Inside, too, there’s an office feel, given the suspended ceilings, bright lighting, and lack of host station.
But Technique distinguishes itself with a faint nervous energy coming out of the exposed kitchen, and you can almost hear the deep breath of a student chef sending out a plate that’s been fussed over and perfected. Even with just a few tables and very limited hours, the kitchen still appears to be a flurry of activity, and fortunately, Technique affords diners a front-row seat.
Formerly called The Minnesota Room and located on the Brown College campus — part of a culinary arts partnership between the schools — the restaurant was renamed and moved into the LCB facility in early October. That brings it into line with the other LCB training centers, since 14 of the school’s 16 locations have Technique restaurants.
According to local LCB president Kevin Sanderson, the school will still consider Brown a “sister campus,” but opening Technique within the LCB building aligns it with other sites, especially since they all work from the same menu. At the opening ceremony, students weaved among local dignitaries like the mayor of Mendota Heights and the president of Brown, delivering surprisingly bland sandwiches and cake. But charmingly, their hands shook when they offered napkins.
There’s a kind of sweetness to that anxiety. Everyone, after all, has been a student, and a new person at a much-wanted job in early adulthood. There’s a keen desire to do well, to shine, to get noticed. That’s the vibe at Technique, and it makes the food taste just a bit better than it does — call it the flavor of empathy.
In terms of the actual dishes, they sync up with the place’s name. While none stood out in terms of creative flair and sparkle, they were perfect in terms of technique.
A salmon entree with bacon, asparagus and mushroom had a nice, buttery shimmer, and the mushroom, in particular, was very tasty. The construction looked pretty, too, like a very small highway project with bacon as a drawbridge.
Another entree, the beef tenderloin (below), was deliciously tender but not especially flavorful. The whipped potatoes accompanying it were bland, which didn’t help elevate the dish.
Although the chefs probably wouldn’t like it, having salt and pepper on the tables would have been nice. Sure, dishes are supposed to arrive expertly seasoned, but not everyone has the same taste preferences. For some of the picks, like the Caesar salad and the turkey wild rice soup starter, a dash of pepper would have boosted their appeal considerably.
In general, the dishes seemed like high-end banquet food, and that’s not a knock — making dinner for 300 people and ensuring that every entree looks and tastes exactly the same is certainly no easy feat. Although banquet dining has a bad rap with its lackluster chicken breasts and sad vegetable medleys, sometimes it’s actually done right, where there’s a bit of a decorative, faux-personal touch to each plate and a buttery undertone to most of the selections. It’s likely that many of the LCB graduates will go on to helm banquet dining, so gaining technical proficiency like this is a distinct advantage.
Then, however, came the cheesecake. Whereas the starter and entree were technically spot-on but lacking nerve, the dessert was sublime. Creamy and light, but with enough heaviness to keep it from feeling like pie, the tiny slice also featured a delicate, buttery, crumbly crust that balanced the flavors nicely. Truly, whoever they have rocking it out in the kitchen as a student pastry chef should be sending out resumes wrapped around this cheesecake.
Also, the place is a bargain. Three-course lunch is just $10, and dinner is only $10 for three courses and $15 for four. The menu changes often, understandably, and there’s a vegetarian selection at both lunch and dinner.
Technique would be ideal for a quick business lunch if you’re in the area or maybe a dinner with the grandparents, but be warned: There’s only one seating for lunch and for dinner, making reservations necessary. But if you can manage to get in, opt for a table near the kitchen.
Culinary school test restaurant in Mendota Heights
1315 Mendota Heights Road
Mendota Heights, MN 55120
HOURS: Tues-Fri, 11:45am-12:15pm; 5:45pm-6:15pm
OWNER: Le Cordon Bleu
ENTREE RANGE: $10-$15 for three to four courses
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No