I was incredibly excited when I finally secured a reservation at Doug Flicker’s Piccolo Restaurant. I entered with great anticipation for enjoying the creative genius of one of the most highly regarded chefs in the Twin Cities. The restaurant is small by comparison to many in the area, the front room seats approximately 24 guests primarily in banquettes that fill two of the walls. There is a large painting plus a mirror overlooking the area creating a warm, yet open environment.
The menu requires a little explaining. It is broken into five sections, with three choices in each. You can choose the five-course fixed price culinary adventure for $52 (one from each of the sections) or choose from any of the options to create your own individual experience. The portions are incredibly small, borderline Lilliputian; I would guesstimate a few bites would finish each of the dishes. The server does make mention of the size but even with that advanced notice I found them even smaller than I assumed.
I decided on three-courses that included (a) Soft poached duck egg with hazelnuts, smoked bacon, foie gras and pine cone syrup; (b) Dungeness crab “parfait” with hearts of palm, French breakfast radishes, crab butter and sea salt; and (c) Braised pork cheeks with figs, truffles, potato and lardo (different than the on-line menu).
As I waited, the server brought four slices of pumpernickel and some butter that was topped with a touch of sea salt. The bread was room temperature, not warmed prior to delivery, disappointing that such a simple step is missed. The flavors of the bread and butter with the touch of the sea salt were very good.
The duck egg arrived. From a visual point of view it was beautiful, but I was surprised there was no aroma; after one bite I understood. The egg was served at room temperature. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and that was the intent, but when I order a poached egg, I assume it would be served warm. When opened, the egg exuded the creamy yolk, but there was no seasoning at all on the egg; it was a bland, cold, previously poached egg. The hazelnuts were a good complement for both its texture and flavor but the miniature rasher of bacon was the only ingredient that I really enjoyed. This was a badly executed dish.
I was a little concerned about all of the positive press after this introduction, but the next two courses changed my view completely.
The “Parfait” was fantastic. A creamy custard lined the bottom of the jar with several pieces of Dungeness crab sitting atop and then a few slices of hearts of palm and radishes finished the glass-enclosed presentation. The dish was a decadent interpretation of creaminess and flavor. Dungeness is one of my favorite varieties of crab and this was perfectly prepared, moist, with delicious flavor; the chef did this mollusk justice. Not as pleasing was the crab butter and radish combination. I loved the breakfast radishes, it was a first for me, but the crab butter was very off-putting to the palate and reduced the enjoyment.
The “pork cheeks” was delicious. It was not multiple “cheeks,” but a small piece of a single cheek. Sitting next to the cheek was a small cube of potato and sitting atop were two small sections of the fig. All of these items were nestled in a creamy sauce. The combination of these ingredients was divine. The cheek was moist, flavorful, succulent and full of richness. The sweetness of the figs was a perfect complement and the texture of the potato added yet another level. Then the creaminess of the sauce offered and incredibly soothing addition. I only wish it was larger as this was one of the best dishes I have ever tasted. As an aside, I struggled to find the truffles or the lardo, but this was delicious with or without.
Unfortunately the service and staff were the polar opposite to the brilliance of some of the preparations. As much as my server was pleasant, the lightning pace of the meal was unacceptable. The three courses were delivered in less than thirty minutes. There was no time to savor, no time to contemplate, no time to reflect and no time to relax. It was get him in and get him out. I mentioned this to the server, who checked the tickets to confirm my point, and he apologized, stating it was his fault. This was the professional response.
Then my overall dining experience was completely destroyed. When I mentioned this to the manager (he approached the table), instead of a professional response or an offer for a relaxing cup of coffee or dessert, he confronted me, and his final words were, “I will just refund your money so you never have to come back.” His actions were totally uncalled for, entirely unprofessional and completely out of line. There is no reason for me or anyone else to be treated in this manner.
As much as the last two courses were some of the best cuisine I have ever experienced, there are too many great restaurants in the Twin Cities to eat…places who treat their guests with respect, and who understand good customer service. Piccolo’s staff needs some significant training before I would recommend or return.