I’m officially announcing the end of an age. The age of fine dining. It went out with a bang, namely a trip to Restaurant Alma. I’ve been wanting to eat at this restaurant ever since I saw the film Dirty Work: The Story of Elsie’s Farm by Deb Wallwork. (This is the same filmmaker who made Grow, a short film mentioned a few posts back. Dirty Work tells the story of a small CSA farm run by a couple, Don Roberts and Joni Cash, that struggles and eventually downsizes. Don’s son is Alex Roberts, the chef at Restaurant Alma, which is consistently on “best of” lists of restaurants in the Twin Cities.
For my 50th birthday last year, we ate at a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant in Chicago, The Bristol. It was a fun time of small plates and sharing and at the end they treated us to every dessert on the menu! (I was a very special guest.) For my birthday, my parents gave me a gift certificate to Restaurant Alma, which is what put it in reach for us.
Of course, the height of the fine dining era was going with my brother to Next, Grant Achatz’s restaurant, when he had invitations to a preview. Not only that, my review of that preview is still my most popular post on this blog. That was an experience I’ll never forget and my brother was the absolute best companion.
However, I realize my thoughts about food and going out to eat have really changed. I have always enjoyed cooking, but I have also always really enjoyed going out to eat. And I’m not saying we will stop going out to eat. Oh no. But no more bills over $150 for two people. I’ll save the fine dining for home.
Before the meal, we went to “Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art” at the Weisman Museum. The image at the top of this post is by Laura Letinsky (“Untitled #6 from the series Rome 2009) and from the exhibit. It was a fine show, but most of the art was performance art, which means most of the exhibits were records of performances, so there was a lot of reading. I have some thoughts on politics and art and the politics of art and food, but that’s for another post (and in large part the exhibit, supposedly about radical politics, reeked of privilege, as did the dinner of course).
My favorite piece in the exhibit was a display related to food from Iraq by Michael Rakowicz. It included dates mislabeled as to country of origin in order to circumvent the embargo as well as replicas and images of plates from one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces that the artist bought on eBay and used to serve “performance art” meals until Iraq insisted on their return– as well as pictures of the “Enemy Kitchen,” a food truck flying an Iraqi flag and serving Iraqi food served by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. My second favorite piece was a collection of items from a series of parties where the color scheme was entirely the pinks and browns of Baskin Robbins. (One summer I worked at a Baskin Robbins and felt like a kids’ party clown getting out of my car in my uniform to pump gas.) Or maybe the video of working class men breaking the Ramadan feast that had strong echoes of Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper.
And afterwards, Restaurant Alma. The food was delicious. And one of my favorite things about the night was how good I felt when I got home. It was healthy food, flavorful, and the portions were right (though, sure, one more scallop would have been nice as Steve almost cried handing over half a scallop to me from his perfectly cooked pair).
I didn’t take any photos of the food. My favorite dish was the farro with white beans and squid, and Steve likewise enjoyed his first course the best, endive and smoked potatoes. But it was all good, perfectly cooked and perfectly paced and gorgeously plated.
And I want to keep eating that way… on occasion. I just want to see if I can come close at home. So this morning, when it was time for brunch and Steve was still talking about the smoky potatoes, I gave it a whirl. We’d had a nice dinner with friends on Friday that consisted of salmon with red pepper sauce, asparagus, and some of the last of the garden potatoes. We still had some of everything, so I made a breakfast version. Starting, of course, with “presentation” in the form of badly drizzled red pepper mayonnaise (mayo, garden red pepper sauce and fresh lemon juice)
I boiled the potatoes a few minutes before roasting them. Not smoky, but well-seasoned and roasted. Could have used more time for char, but hey, it’s just brunch. Along with roasted asparagus and some onions, garlic, and rosemary.
A fried egg topped with salmon and fresh sprouts. More red pepper sauce served alongside (actually, the red pepper mayo did add a bit of smoky flavor).
I mean, really, why go out?