A new era at Chambers

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September 14, 2009 // UPDATED 9:59 am - September 14, 2009
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
As they said in France when one Louis the Something replaced another, “The king is dead; long live the king!” Along those lines, please welcome a new ruler in the D’Amico dining dynasty. While the aristocratic Cucina has gone dark — the dining room you relished on your birthday, at least if your rich uncle was in town — it sired a bourgeois branch of the culinary empire. The new D’Amico Kitchen is virile, affordable, approachable and downright delicious: Cucina food at Kitchen prices.

In a palace revolution, monarch chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been deposed in the Chambers Art Hotel in favor of a more egalitarian regime. No longer a dim cellar dungeon, today a hundred chairs of Milano chic now lounge at lobby level, allowing see-and-be-seensters their place in the sun (well, if 9th Street qualifies). It’s staffed by friendly, black-clad servers who know their way around the designer touches on the menu (as well they should; many are Cucina alums, as is the chef himself). Bottom line — a Rolls Royce experience with a Toyota pricetag. I’ll drink to that! (Specifically, the bubbly prosecco, at a mere $8 a flute).

The food, imaginatively created and impeccably prepared, these days is targeted at Target-shoppers’ purses: meal-sized salads and pastas, $13; elegant panini, $10; substantial secondi, $10–$19; and dolci worth the treadmill, $8. There’s also a three-course lunch for $22. Breakfast, too — a D’Amico first.

This is the kind of menu where you just close your eyes, toss a dart, and end up with a bullseye. Yet, as the pig-elite pronounced in “Animal Farm,” “Some are more equal than others.” And just as in Orwell’s parable, here it’s the porker. Suckling pig, to be specific: full of baby fat and slow-roasted until so tender that Elvis would be left without a song. It’s the kind of ultra-rich and juicy dish you really ought to eat in the dark.

It hogs the plate, but there’s room for a slew of sweet, grilled onions and a heap of husky mustard greens to swipe through the cooking liquor. It’s also served, panino-style, with more of those grand onions, roasted tomatoes and a suave fennel aioli — a BLT gone uptown. Try it with a glass of Montepulciano if red’s your fancy, or a quaff of crisp, white Arneis.

Talk your dinner partner into first splitting an order of ravioli, as elegant as the pig is homely, stuffed with smooth bufala ricotta, then lightly bathed in a drizzle of basil and fresh, sweet tomato salsa.

Dessert is mandatory (at least, if you’re in possession of your senses). But which? The super-moist, deep, dark chocolate-spice cake, attended by cherries soaked in Amarone wine and sided with olive-oil gelato? Yes! The rosemary-infused shortcake, painted with vine-sweet tomato jam and baubled with candied-lemon gelato? Yes again! For all of the above, bravo and a standing ovation.

D’Amico Kitchen
Chambers Hotel
901 Hennepin Ave.