Monday, April 07, 2008

An Evening with Nellie and Gnocci at The Dakota

My dear Andy - Queen Drrty Martini, went out and had an amazing night at the Dakota and wanted to share:

My turn! I’m finally asking to be a guest blogger for Eating the Minneapple after accompanying Joy on many an adventure…but rarely venturing out on my own for a newsworthy evening of epicurean delight. Last evening, I wasn’t on my own but asked our friend, Eric, if he cared to take in a show by Nellie McKay at The Dakota - the opener of her three-night engagement in Minneapolis. Eric and I have a history of sharing music. We go back farther than many in our group of comrades, somewhat unbeknownst to even ourselves. Only looking back through old pictures from 1993-1995 is it verifiable in concrete evidence that the flashbacks I have of seeing him as a fellow 10th grader in All-State Choir are, indeed, flashbacks and not hallucinations. Then, we (re-)met again in college and sang together in the concert choir (sigh…we’ll always have Europe). I can recall him accompanying me as I feebly sang “The Phantom of the Opera” in a dorm’s common room, now to only be somewhat reenacted when I have too much wine and make him accompany me on “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” a much more pleasant song with which to assault on-listeners.

Back to the point. When attending a Holly Cole concert last month, it was brought to my attention that Nellie McKay was to be gracing the Minneapple with her presence. Excellent! I’d stumbled upon her on a tribute to the 40th Anniversary of the Beatles’ “Rubber Sole,” and have since been delighted by her chanteuse-meets-Broadway style and sound. Even more importantly, though, I was looking to apologize to my palate as I’d shirked eating any food at the Holly Cole concert due to a Diet Night during which I balefully watched plates of appetizers, entrees, and desserts walk past me to other, more deserving (or less stupid) people. Tonight, with Nellie and Eric, I would eat, drink, and be merry.

The Dakota had opened up its entire space for the evening, unlike when we were squished into only half of it for the intimate performance by Holly Cole. I was only able to get us seats in one of the booths near the back of the lower dining room, but we found that they were preferable to the closer-up, but closer-together, tables. We were able to sit back and relax without having to make sure our skewed chairs (for better sight-lines) didn’t make our outer shoulder the next big obstacle for the parade of servers and their steaming dishes. Instead, we only had to worry about getting there before our anonymous booth-buddies in order to get the half of the booth that faces the stage. The unfortunate aspect of going as a twosome to a concert at The Dakota is that if the only tables available are for four, you may find yourself sitting with strangers, which may or may not be savory conditions under which to eat, drink, and be merry. I was hoping that we might end up with a twosome that involved at least one straight, attractive man who likes jazz and food. I can’t complain about how it turned out - our boothmates were no-shows. We had the whole place to ourselves and spread out as our bounty arrived.

The drinks. I’d already perused the drink list while waiting for Eric who was only slightly later than me due to the fact that he scored rock-star parking at a free meter just outside the club. The Minnesota Martini with its Shakers and Alexis Bailley looked delicious, but how could I remain Queen Drrty Martini if I didn’t try one here as well? I ordered mine with Grey Goose (I’ve decided that Ketel One makes them too bitter) and Eric ordered a pomegranate martini which, upon tasting with its sugared rim, was a nice blend of sweet and sour but made me feel slightly sticky the remainder of the evening. The Drrty Martini was fantastic--not too briny or vodka-y--but had only two, empty Spanish olives for garnish. Maybe the ones with pimentos were too expensive, mine were just sad. As we waited for our drinks we studied the menu. It was time for some small dishes and we zeroed in on what we both seemed to be hankering. The server appeared with our drinks and I piped up,

“We’ll take the gnocci...and the fries with béarnaise.”

The server never even flinched but repeated as any good Kindergarten teacher would: “An order of the ‘no-kee’ and fries? Certainly.” I shook my head clear. Did I just order “no-chee?” God, what a gracious man to issue a very gentle correction for which he gained my trust and admiration, (unlike the time my architect-boss ridiculed me for pronouncing the leather furniture line Natuzzi like one would say “Jacuzzi,” rather than as it should be said: “Nah-toot-see.” Can’t we all just agree on our mispronunciations for consistency’s sake?). Eric and I then clarified that we’d rather wait to order so as to enjoy an evening of slow eating to good music…and that we’d decide upon our entrees as we nibbled our fries and “no-kee.”

Nibbling, it was not. Dredging, drooling, scarfing, and swooning ensued. The little brown potato dumplings with black truffle and Pecorino quickly became our shared mistress. The gnocci, chard, and turnip had a buttery texture and nutty flavor…and were smothered in a celery root velouté. Okay, I had to look that up this morning…what was that divine dressing? All became clear when I read its description--velouté is one of the Five Mother Sauces of the French Cuisine. Mon Dieu. Made from a blond roux (I admit, I puff up with pride at the blond reference), this sauce held together the dish without overcoming it like the cheese sauce over hashbrowns at Denny’s. To continue the love affair with our butter-based decadence, at one point we decided to forgo pouring the little creamer-pitcher of béarnaise sauce over our fries, eschewing that technique for just taking a few fries between our fingers, sticking them down the neck of the pitcher, swirling them around, and sending them straight down the gullet. When you’ve got it good, you’ve got it good. If we could’ve decided which one of us would get to lick the pitcher, I’m sure one of us would’ve cast aside decorum for this delicacy.

I should mention the music. As we gobbled our tubers and butter, we had the fortunate opportunity to listen to Nellie’s opening act, The Tropicals, made up of Peter Lawton and Craig Wright. Upon hearing their names, I immediately recalled their performance with Dan Wilson on the CD “Dan Wilson Live @ the CCC,” and a smile crossed my face. Any guys who sing the song “The King of the Yellow Butterflies” were friends o’ mine. I admit that our lack of seeing each other recently meant Eric and I chatted a bit too much during their act, but I’d like to think that we were able to coexist in harmony with our surroundings.

We ordered our entrees with a bottle of Rex Goliath Pinot Noir. Eric ordered the Cobb Salad Burger with bacon, avocado, hard-boiled egg, blue cheese, and some sort of chutney. I decided to get the chef’s special, a beef steak that was coated in a bourbon reduction, and accompanied by a fresh salad and sweet potatoes. We received our wine and entrees during the lull between the opening and main acts. Perfect. We were able to munch and discuss without missing or disrupting the show. Eric’s burger was topless (I didn’t think The Dakota was that kind of place). No top half of the bun only two onion rings as a crown. Interesting. Since we were going halfsies on the entrees, I tasted one of the rings. Sigh. They were a disappointment. Onion rings are sacred and these were blasphemous. Why? It was encrusted in cornmeal…without seasoning or much of a sense of moisture. It was like an Ore-Ida baked onion ring, but not even. Hmm. Suspect. Well, there were only two of them so fifty percent of the offense had disappeared. Eric could fend for himself against the other ring. The Cobb Salad portion of the burger was excellent--almost like a sweet salsa, with bacon and avocado interspersed but not overwhelmed. I took pause, though, when I sliced through the patty and saw red…literally, but not figuratively. I was a little taken aback that “medium” was a deep shade of pink. Thankfully, the low lighting helped to pull the wool over my eyes and I ate what I normally would not--red red meat. Eh, it was worth it. Even Eric thought it was a bit too pink to be considered medium, but we enjoyed the burger nonetheless. *

My slab of beef, on the other hand, was surprising. Perhaps it was too thin of a cut to be ordered medium-well, as it was a little tough.** The sauce had a kick to it, not in a bad way…but in an Andy Way as my Scandinavian taste buds were left somewhat shell-shocked. Good glazing, good flavors, deep and rich and spicy. Not to be left out was the side of al dente grated sweet potatoes with singed edges and their own hint of heat. As reprieve, the fresh side salad of arugula, vinaigrette, and what I believe to have been white cheddar chunks and crisped pancetta flakes was perfection.

Nellie took the stage as Eric had finished his half-bunned burger and I was mopping up the sauce of the steak. Coffee and dessert were in order and we were going to sit back and enjoy the show. The last time I was at The Dakota for the Holly Cole show, my friend ordered the Fallen Chocolate Chestnut Souffle, but rued the fact that she didn’t get the cheesecake with pistachios, white chocolate, and red wine pear compote. So, we made sure to get that last night--I needed closure. The cheesecake was creamy and not too sweet. The pistachios were toasted slightly, and the presentation was punctuated by a nest of spun sugar that was a playful distraction for the two of us. Nellie’s sweet sounds paired with this sweet dish made for a sublime time, though she punctuated her performance with political jabs that rivaled the sour ting of the pears. Particularly of note was her rendition of “Zombie Walk” during which she portrayed the different political candidates as zombies. She’s quirky, but dead-on as far as commentary is concerned. No complaints here, other than that I should pay more heed to the coffee-slurp-to-forthcoming-one-liner forecasting.

All in all, the company was stupendous, the food was wonderful, the service was perfect, and the ambiance was enchanting…much like the chanteuse, herself. Hopefully, our forthcoming evening at Brasa before the Jesse Mallin concert on Thursday will be just as pleasing.***

*JoyEstelle - I'd just like to say that the meat's requested doneness by our guest blogger has no relation to how I believe a proper burger should be ordered.

** Trying not to be sarcastic, but yes, I think you may have stumbled on what happened there.

*** I can't believe you're going to Brasa without me! I expect another post. Thank you so much for sharing. Sounds like a wonderful night!


At 10:25 AM , Blogger andy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11:43 AM , Anonymous J.Lo said...

That's not the Nelly I'd go to see (did I mention I'm going to Kid Rock in May?) but it sounded like a lovely evening. My fave Christine Rosholt is playing the Dakota on Monday 4/14. I might wrangle up a date and go taste the gnocchi.

At 12:04 PM , Blogger andy said...

Or, sans date, you could tempt fate and see who you'll be seated with at a table. :)

At 6:32 PM , Blogger cindyMN said...

Great post. And great way to fill up the blog! Always nice to have some guests!

At 7:30 AM , Blogger andy said...

Thanks! It was a fun one to do.

Also, I have to 'fess up to not realizing that it is "Dakota," not "The Dakota." Mea culpa.

At 8:59 AM , Blogger cindyMN said... guys going to eat out again? LOL

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