Food & Drink: Victory over europe

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March 28, 2011
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar
Just back from Paris, and eager to tell you about one of the best meals of my life. It’s back home here in Minneapolis, at Victory 44. The name sounds like a tribute to VE Day, yet Chef/patron Erick Harcey opened the spot just two years ago, bringing close-to-crazy, 21st-century food fantasies to the land of hot dish. As he high-fives himself on his website, “Victory never tasted so good.”

That’s an understatement. So are the digs — a neighborhood corner bar-cafe, once a gas station, now a station for gastronomes: bare floor and tables, paintings of pigs’ fannies, and, hogging the seats, folks in sweatshirts who’ve probably never heard of Ferran Adria, the reigning monarch of trendy European cooking, who invented  molecular gastronomy and other conceits. But clearly Harkey has.

The small-plates-only menu offers no clue of what you’re in for. Thus, waiters (ours came from Goodfellow’s) act as tour guides, helping you and your mates compose a dinner (well under $10). The menu reads, for instance, “marinated sweetbreads.” After your “Wha-a-a-t?” your guide explains: sweetbreads clad in filmy country ham, then panko crumbs, served with leaves of Brussels sprouts on a swipe of apple butter with batons of toasted brioche and a foam of taleggio cheese (homage to Adria, for sure) and half a dozen other scents I’m probably forgetting. Tastes even better than it sounds.

True for the ham hocks, too. The tender, long-cooked meat is shredded, again garbed in a little crunch of panko, and topped with a fried egg (ham and eggs: Get it?), with more taleggio fondue, roasted piquillo peppers and tomato jam. Or, consider “miso mussel chowder.” Its comforting broth laps longneck clams, newborn octopi and tender cod, along with mushrooms, radish sprouts and more. Or sweet scallops upon fennel, bouncing between a bright, sweet-tart citrus vinaigrette and garlicy almond aioli. Genius.

Or what about those Devils on Horseback — yes, the very ones your mom served to her swanky cocktail guests. Here those dates come swathed in stone-fruit jam, bacon foam and dehydrated japaleno “pearls” (more of that molecular cuisine) and an apricot-jalapeno puree. And if all that’s too fancy-schmancy, the blackboard also lists a “perfect burger” and Reuben. Plus bacon fries.

We moved on to a best-dressed cheese plate and triptych of desserts (three for $10): homemade, elderflower-scented marshmallows with elderflower meringue and chocolate; a divine peanut butter mousse with salted caramel; and bites of angelfood cake attended by malted white chocolate. Plus, plus, plus.

The only Big Mistake was an order of cheddar agnolotti. The pasta itself was swell, but it’s paired with kimchee butter (incorporating non-Korean apple chips) and shiitake “bacon.” Jarring as a duet of “Chopsticks.”

Meals begin with complimentary housemade chips flavored with blue cheese and garlic and end, if you choose, with mellow Dogwood coffee. The short, interesting and well-priced wine list is fine, but beer is even better: regionals on draft, plus “moderns” including New Belgium and Brau Brothers, and “classics.” Yes, there’s a $3 can of Hamm’s. Try the five-course tasting menu for $30. Victory is ours!

Victory 44
2203 44th Ave. N