29 November 2007

Another birthday dinner at Chambers Kitchen

Well, another birthday has come and gone. It’s always a little difficult to pick a restaurant for a birthday dinner when your birthday usually falls so close to Thanksgiving. But since my birthday was on Sunday after the holiday, I felt like I’d have a chance to work off the Thanksgiving feast before indulging in a birthday feast.

My wife and I had pretty much decided on a return visit to Chambers Kitchen. The clincher was a phone call she received from the restaurant. They had noted that we’d been there a year ago for my birthday, and they called to see if we’d like to eat there again this year. They offered us something that they call the Captain’s Table. We’d meet the evening’s chef, have a glass of Champaign, and learn about the entrées on the menu. We’d also get a tour of the kitchen.

So we made a reservation.

When we arrived, we were escorted to a bistro table just in front of the staging area of the kitchen. In a few minutes, our chef came out to meet us. (“My name is Eric,” he said, “Eric with an ‘A’.” So I guess it’s Aric.) He told us a little about his background (born in Wisconsin, trained in Chicago). He asked us what we ate last year. He told us about some new items on the menu that he thought we’d enjoy. Then we met another chef, Dave, who, we were informed, was preparing a foie gras appetizer for us. They seemed to be a little concerned that we would eat foie gras. We assured them that we most decidedly would.

We were escorted to our table and began to peruse the menu. Before too long, Dave came out with our special appetizer. It was a small morsel of foie gras pate served with a toast point and something Dave called a plum mustard. Tasted separately, the plum mustard and the foie gras each were wonderful. The foie gras was smooth and rich. The plum mustard was sweet and tangy. I liked them together. My wife preferred to eat each separately.

Not being sure just how this Captain’s Table thing was going to work, we decided to order a starter course from the menu. My wife asked our waiter about a couple of items, but they all were seasoned with cilantro. She commented that she’s sensitive to cilantro and so ordered the butternut squash soup instead. It was delicious and quite unlike any squash soup we’d eaten before. The squash soup we’re used to is thick and creamy. The soup served at Chambers Kitchen had a a good squash flavor but the broth was thinner. We thought was probably a chicken stock. I ordered the Kampachi sashimi. The fish was expertly sliced paper-thin. It was served with crumbles of fried garlic and a wonderful chili and sesame sauce.

One of the items on the menu that Aric had mentioned was char-grilled chicken served on mashed potatoes with a kumquat-lemongrass dressing. My wife decided that she would try it. I ordered the grouper with wok-fried Napa cabbage, water chestnuts, and cucumber. The wine we picked was Le Haut-Lieu sec Vouvray. We’re not very familiar with vouvray, so we asked the waiter. He commented that it would be a nice segue from the glass of Champaign and that it compliment Linda’s chicken very nicely.

While we were waiting for our entrée, we were surprised that another appetizer was delivered to our table. This one was on the menu – smoked bacon wrapped shrimp. Wow! It was succulent and very flavorful. The shrimp was firm but moist. The bacon wrap was very thin; it added flavor without overpowering the shrimp.

Not too long afterwards our meals arrived. By now, we both were feeling fairly satiated. As we dug in, we encountered our first, and really only, shortcoming. After her first taste of her meal, my wife commented, “This has cilantro in it.” We debated what to do. On the one hand, she was already full and didn’t really feel like eating a whole entrée. On the other hand, we felt disappointed. When we talked to our waiter about appetizers, we rejected a couple because they had cilantro in them. We felt like he should have made the connection and when Linda ordered the chicken, he should have mentioned that it had cilantro.

In retrospect, I also realized that we missed an opportunity. After all, we had spoken to the chef before we ordered. We could have noted Linda’s sensitivity and asked which meals were made without cilantro, or, alternatively, we could have asked if a particular item could be made without it.

As we discussed what to do, Dave came back and asked how things were. So we told him about Linda’s sensitivity to cilantro. He responded immediately and insisted on redoing the meal without it. It took a little while, but shortly he arrived with a redone meal, this time without the offending herb. Linda only ate a few bites, but was enjoyed the flavors and was satisfied with the way it worked out.

My fish was delightful. The stir-fried vegetables were very tasty. (They also were flavored with cilantro. I’m not a big fan, but I don’t have a sensitivity, like Linda does.) The fish was moist and flavorful. I probably could have finished the plate, but I also was full after all the appetizers, so I also had some leftovers on my plate. We had both mine and Linda’s boxed up and brought them home. (We had them for dinner later in the week.)

Needless to say, by now neither of us had room for dessert. Nevertheless, the waiter brought us a sampling of three sorbets when he brought the bill. I gave him a credit card. And when he brought the charge slip back to sign, he also brought along two different candies for us to sample.

So, I’ve said it before on Krik’s Picks, Chambers Kitchen is easily one of my top restaurants in Minneapolis, and this birthday dinner confirmed my earlier judgment. Even though we had the problem with the cilantro in Linda’s entrée, they handled it graciously, promptly, and satisfactorily. In terms of value, it was amazing. Even if you factor out the complimentary appetizers and other extras, we had plenty to eat and the cost was reasonable – certainly fair for the quality and amount of food we had.

After we’d finished, we went into the kitchen to say good-bye to Aric. As promised, he gave us a tour of the kitchen. We weren’t the last table to leave, but no one was cooking anymore, so it was pretty quiet. It was fun.

I have no qualms about recommending Chambers Kitchen for a celebratory meal anytime. If you have a chance to experience the Captain’s table, by all means do so.

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