restaurant review: travail

21 Feb

It’s been 10 days since I dined at Travail and I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. Before I get into any details, you must know that it was the coolest dining experience I’ve had here in the twin cities. Hands down.

But, let me back up.

Three different people told me about this restaurant before I dined there. None of those people had dined there either – they had just heard about it and thought it sounded like a place I would like. In fact my friend Emily insisted I go immediately and blog about it ASAP. She doesn’t mess around so I got it on the calendar.

A few things to know about Travail.

1. They don’t take reservations (which I find slightly annoying with any restaurant).

2. They are in Robbinsdale.

3. Everyone is talking about them.  Rick Nelson loved it, they made many best-of lists for 2010, and most recently, chefs Mike Brown and James Winberg are up for Food and Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef 2011. Not too shabby.

We don’t venture out into the burbs for dining out often, much less to Robbinsdale, but with all this hype and friend’s to repay for dog sitting, we set a date.

We went on a Thursday at 6 p.m. I arrived at 5:55 and snagged the last table for 4. There were still plenty of bar seats available that overlooked the extremely open kitchen.

I was greeted by one of the chef’s who obliged my request for something hot (it was 5 below outside!) by bringing me a mug of hot water with lemon. In his words, it was “hotter than sh!t – please be careful”.

After Brette and our dates, Meghan and Tommy arrived, we ordered a bottle of wine and asked for an overview of the menu (which is only up on a big chalkboard – nothing printed).

Our waiter (who is also the chef – everyone is one in the same) strongly suggested the tasting menu for two because it’s always different and always awesome. They agreed to do a vegetarian tasting for Meghan and Tommy and Brette and I went with the traditional meat version. Did I mention that this was a 10-course tasting menu? And that it was $60 per couple? Deal of the century.

Okay, before I start gushing about the food, let me mention a few things that I think our important.

The atmosphere was cozy, quaint and hip. There was a buzz, but we didn’t have to shout. As I mentioned, the kitchen is open – in fact, right in front. I loved being able to watch them in action.

I had heard mixed reviews on the service. We didn’t have any issues with the service. There are literally 10 chefs in the kitchen. Whoever makes your dish brings it out to you and explains it in great detail (and with great pride). There was only one extended pause between courses, but it was a welcome break for our stomachs. Plus the course they brought out next was one of the most amazing visually – I’m sure it took some time.

The chefs themselves were young, bearded (Brette was fascinated by this, of course) and looked like they were having a ball.

Based on the food that was delivered to our table, fun = fabulous.

There was not a course that we didn’t enjoy. Our least favorites were still good. How awesome is that?

So, I’m going to share with you some of our most favorites. To go through all 20 courses that came across the table would be a bit much. Not to mention time-consuming for this chic.

We will start with the meat-eating team.

This dish started as a bowl with a soft-boiled egg that had been fried along with some other crispy goodness and then they poured potato leek soup over the stop. It was all I could not to dip my face in the bowl. I loved that the egg was fried and that the yolk was still runny. Runny yolks rule! The soup was perfectly seasoned. I think there may have been doling spoons.

What you see here is some steak tartare (in the middle), beef carpaccio (on the side), mustard, cornichons, caper berries, deviled quail egg and the skateboard ramp cracker.  This was the first time either of us had tried steak tartare and we both loved it. The seasoning was super tasty and I loved it with a little bit of mustard.

What is this craziness? This plate included sweet potato puree, cherry sauce, polenta cakes, a large slice of foie gras, sweet potato chips and marshmallow meringue. Think of the sweet potato marshmallow dish from Thanksgiving meets Top Chef. It took Brette a mental leap of faith to eat the foie gras, but once he had all of those flavors together, he was a happy camper. The combo of sweet and savory was in perfect balance. Although, I would’ve had more marshmallow meringues. They just melted in your mouth right along side the foie gras. Well done fellas.

I think this was my favorite plate. They called it the chicken plate. It featured three mini chicken burgers. The chicken served as the bun with the burger in the middle. There was also a very tasty piece of pork belly, a sous vide egg (runny yolk!), farro and brussels sprouts. I loved everything on this plate. This could have been a perfect meal on its own.

For team veggie:

Blue cheese tater tots. Accompanied by a house made ketchup that Meghan could not get enough of. So we asked for more and they happily brought it. I think the ketchup out shined the tots, but what’s not to love about tater tots with blue cheese in them?

The white dish. It was simply beautiful. And very white. Tofu with coconut sauce, and daikon a few different ways. The bite I had was very coconut-y. Therefore, I loved it. So did they.

Is this not the coolest veggie plate you’ve ever seen? The tower in the middle? That’s carrot foam. There are a sea of other seasonal vegetables on the plate as you can see and some peeled grapes. Peeling grapes seems like a thankless job. The presentation on this bad boy was top-notch. Seriously, I thought TV cameras were going to jump out at any second.

This cheese plate was beyond amazing. This would’ve been a meal in itself, but no – just one course. Out of 10. The cheese plate included a goat’s milk brie, a gouda, a cheddar and a camembert. To compliment the cheese, you had your pick of apple butter, pear butter, fig butter, and of course, the skateboard ramp crackers. There was a lot of swooning going on at our table.

And for dessert:

Chocolate mousse, peanut butter mousse, banana ice cream, caramelized bananas and banana bread.  This was a great ending. The peanut butter mousse was my personal favorite, but I think the banana ice cream was the overall winner at the table.

So, those are the highlights. The above represents about half of our meal. The other half was also very good, just not as good as these. We were stuffed to the gills when we left. Can I mention again the at the 10 course tasting menu for 2 is just $60? That is a phenomenal bargain for absolutely amazing food.

Meghan gave them major props for coming up with a vegetarian tasting menu on the fly that was more than just adequate. She was beside herself with glee. Neither of us have stopped talking about it since.

The best part for me is that even though the food is super fancy, Travail does not come off as pretentious or uppity at all. All crowds are welcome as evident by the gentleman that came in a sweatpants and a Carhartt.

If you take good food seriously, go there immediately. Take your time and enjoy. Better yet, take someone with you and order the tasting menu.

If you have been there already, what did you think?

5 Responses to “restaurant review: travail”

  1. TheManInTheYellowHat February 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm #

    You may have convinced me to venture out to Robbinsdale. This seems fantastic! A group of my friends have decided to form Restaurant Club, to venture once a month to a restaurant that none of us, or most of us, have not been to before. I might have suggest this place to the group. Nice post, Jen!

    • jen February 21, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

      This would be a perfect place for a restaurant club to go!

  2. Jackson February 21, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    Wow. Sounds and looks amazing. Sounds like a great place for a special occasion.

  3. Ann February 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    very cool!

  4. Mellissa February 22, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    This is on my list! I have heard really good things about it and need to venture out that way to try it.

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