Not all the Holidazzle is on the street. In honor of the season, during December Vincent A Restaurant has turned up the lights on its customary day of rest, offering a special Sunday supper menu. To add sizzle to the steak frites, and restore a bit of classical music to this darkened corner of the Mall where Orchestra Hall stands idle, he’s invited musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra, as well as SPCO and Minnesota Opera players, to perform string quartets while we sup — as delicious to our famished ears as the dishes speeding from the kitchen that fill our bellies.
Like the butternut squash soup. It’s the real deal, saluting the native flavor of the winter vegetable itself rather than hiding it in an overload of cream. Instead, a boutonniere of caramelized endive for sweetness, balanced by a ribbon of savory bleu d’Auverne cheese. Simple as that.
Then a beet salad that stands out from the genre with its complexities of taste and texture: sprigs of arugula nest not only the expected garnet chunks, but also springy marbles of beet “meringue” and silhouettes of dried strawberries — sweetness balanced by a savory hint again: this time, a creamy Bucheron cheese (apps $8–$18).
From the “bistro” section of the menu we snagged ourselves another starter, which could double as dinner for the faint of appetite: a Frenchman’s version of mac and cheese, which — sacre bleu! — involves no day-glo orange product; instead, a suave meld including gruyere, goat and something unpronounceable, which lightly kisses the curly noodles rather than glue them together. Wait, there’s more: In the place of honor, a mound of ultra-succulent braised short ribs gilded with crispy onion tendrils: a bite of mac, a bit of beef, and back for more. Also on that menu, a who’s who of bistro classics: steak frites, croque monsieur, the famous Vincent burger, steak tartare, escargots).
As a labor of love (he labors, we love), Vincent has reinstituted his signature wintertime cassoulet, $28, a casserole that easily serves two just coming off a hunger strike. Among the tender white beans in their pot liquor lounge luscious chunks of duck confit, lightly-salted pork, and a length of mild, brat-like garlic sausage. A dish of Dijon mustard that means business stands ready to stoke your palate (along with heaps of baguette, of course).
We also ordered the kitchen’s new striped bass creation, pearly and mild under its crackling skin, set atop — what’s this? — juicy shards of pulled duck (a whole new meaning to surf ’n’ turf), mingling with snippets of Swiss chard and fingerling potatoes, all mellowed with a splash of pumpkinseed oil.
Should you still be conscious after that endeavor, there’s cheese and/or dessert: a fancy Louis XV cake — hazelnut and chocolate — aside a wine-poached pear; Vincent’s “Favorite Childhood Dessert” — ice cream with warm chocolate sauce and homemade madeleines — a memory all the more apropos because Vincent is now the proud papa of Chloe, 1 month old and already spending time in papa’s kitchen. Instead, we chose the trio of creams: petite tastes of crème brulee, crème caramel, and, the winner, a bite of chocolate pot de crème. Happy holidays, indeed!
1100 Nicollet Mall