MSP 112 Eatery (long)
Kismet brought me to 112 Eatery again. A chowhound friend of a friend had an unexpected TC layover and I offered to take him out to dinner. We went to 112. This friend travels widely and eats well when he travels, but he was still blown away. I thought I'd share his thoughts.
"My new foodie buddy (let's call her K) and I showed up Wednesday evening and ended up closing the place. I could not possibly recommend this place more highly. I think I'd probably drive out there from DC just to eat at 112 again.
The table was back near the kitchen, cozy and quietly humming with the bustle of a very professional eatery. Green olives and spicy candied almonds welcomed us to sit. K & I started with the rosenblum “vintner’s cuvee” xxvi zinfandel, definitely drinkable. It's a gregarious sort of wine, pepper and berries, gently playful, goes with everything.
We decided to make up our own tasting menu, sharing an entree and a number of appetizers, reserving the right to dive into a second course if desired. Needless to say, it was desired. We started with the cauliflower fritters. The fritters were battered lightly and only on the flowery end, fluffy cloud-trees deep-fried until crisp and GBD. The scattering of salty parmesan melted between fritter and tongue, cut and balanced with a sharp spritz of lemon. This dish is simple, made of few ingredients and with perfect technique. Eat them now, don't let them cool!
Next up was a small plate of sautéed sweet breads in a red porcini & clam sauce. One cluster of sweet breads sits in the middle of the plate, golden and crisp on the outside, creamy and ever-so-slightly earthy in the middle. A shallow layer of porcini mushrooms lightly robed in red clam sauce brings the flavors of forest and sea to join in a balanced chord of light, earthy flavors that reverberate and echo in the mouth as an a capella choir of men's voices in the cathedral of your mouth.
Immediately following the sweet breads were the lamb scottadito with goats milk yogurt. These "lamb lollipops" (as K named them) are thin, flattened lamb chops that have been sautéed in a hot pan to medium-rare, just barely long enough to caramelize the surface. They are buttery and tender, not the slightest bit chewy, floppy meat-on-bone best used to mop up the savory sauce below them. The sauce is yogurt and mint with pan-juices from the lamb, slightly salty, it amazed me with its sublime simplicity in every bite.
The one actual entree that we ordered was the tagliatelle with foie gras meatballs. The pasta was so fresh that you'd swear it was rolled out and boiled right in front of you. Wide ribbons of tagliatelle, lightly bathed in butter and oil, cradled six little balls of foie. Sorry, Chicago, you're not allowed to eat this one. The meatballs were simply poached, seasoned lightly with chives. The pasta and oil were just a vessel to carry the ethereal flavor of foie to the tongue, to hold it there after you swallow, just waiting to be joined by a sip of wine.
That course finished the zinfandel, and we were still a touch hungry, so we asked our waiter for a recommendation. He brought us glasses of a niedermayr "alto adage" pinot bianco, crisp and silky, with definite notes of grapefruit. With this wine, he paired two salads: foie gras/lardon salad and the surprising ham and pineapple salad with black truffle mayo.
The first was a small plate of prickly frisée drizzled with the rendering of the lardon. A slice of foie gras had been seared in the drippings, and on the side was a poached egg that had been rolled in breadcrumbs and then quickly deep-fried. The components of this dish were so simple that they clearly had to be eaten together. Cut open the egg, let the yolk run into the salad, then assemble a fork-full: egg, foie, lardon, frisée, dip it all in drippings and yolk, savor, repeat. The egg is fluffy inside, crispy outside. The foie melts in your mouth. The nuggets of lardon are delightfully chewy, just shy of crisp, somewhere between bacon and Colombian chicharrones. The frisée is fresh and crunchy, gently poking out from the silkiness of the other textures. It all melts together in an incredible mélange that transcends salad-ness. It's too hearty to be fairly called salad. It is almost a deconstructed BLF sandwich (bacon-lettuce-foie), but with mayo split into drippings and egg and the bread reduced to crispy fried crumbs.
The second salad was row of thin, layered, postage-stamp-sized slices of marbled ham and fresh pineapple. Drizzled over the top of this heap of classy Hawaiian pizza topping was a handmade mayonnaise with black truffle oil and a few black truffle shavings. I never would have thought that a Hawaiian pizza needed any help, but let me tell you that the next one I make will definitely have black truffle oil on it! The deep earthiness of the truffles undergirds the sharp pineapple and cured ham in a way that I couldn't have imagined. The silky mayo reaches out and grabs each of the flavors to swim and play across your tongue like a squad of beautiful synchronized swimmers. I never would have guessed that this dish would be a star.
For dessert, we shared a tres leches and the carrot mascarpone cake. For those of you unfamiliar with Latin desserts, tres leches is like a generous slice of gourmet Twinkie crowned with meringue and drowned in cream. Traditionally, it's made with three milks: milk, cream, and evaporate milk. This one was the only disappointment in the meal, definitely a gringo version. The carrot cake was light and heavenly, thin stripes of cake interspersed with tangy mascarpone, garnished with a simple heap of barely candied crushed hazelnuts. It looked like zany orange-brown and white striped socks. The cake was as light as wedding cake (the American version, not the British), and the occasional crunch of candied hazelnut was always a surprise. The mascarpone is lighter than American cream cheese, with a touch of citrus. I saved the last sip of pinot bianco to wash down the last bite.
This is one of the finest meals I've ever had, and shared with lovely company and conversation to boot!"
We had our first experience at 112 a few weeks ago, too. We also made up our own "tasting menu" of about 8 items. Our server seemed a little surprised at first, but he soon understood what we were looking for.
We also thought the cauliflower fritters and lamb scottadito were standouts. So were the blue prawns w/ rooster mayo. We did not order the foie meatballs, because we were having the foie gras in the lardon salad. That was wonderful, but now I'm kicking myself. What's wrong with doubling up on foie gras?!
The one disappointment for us also was the tres leche. I love the versions from various Mexican bakeries in town. I thought I'd try it to compare. When I hesitated, our server encouraged me, saying it's fantastic. Er...no, it's not. It was dry, with none of the luscious moistness of the Mexican bakery renditions. Gringo version, indeed.
Our first visit to La Belle Vie came a month earlier. We have to say that the overall experience of LBV, of course, was marvelous. But just considering the food, 112 had it beaten. I understanding why they're getting so much praise. We can't wait to get back to order the other 8 menu items that intrigued us. We'll likely skip the desserts, though.
Next time, FireRev, I'll swap you my blue prawns w/ rooster mayo for your tres leches cake. I found the prawns fine, but not extraordinary. My experience with the tres leches cake was not the same as yours--and that was coming off of just having tried two different tres leches cakes at Midtown Global Market, one from La Sirena Gorda and the other from the Mexican bakery in the Southwest corner (not sure the name of the vendor, I'm afraid.)--so, I hope you just caught them on an off day. I loved 112 eatery's tres leches cake.
I've not gotten around to trying the lamb scottadito, but I can never seem to get enough of the stringozzi w/ lamb sugo at 112 Eatery. It's my favorite dish there (I haven't tried them all yet...) The cheeseburger is great, too. The bacon egg & harrisa sandwich, which I'd heard so much about, struck me as a little too ordinary, but, I must say, I have a serious bias against fried egg sandwiches in general, so I probably am not a good judge.
Great report. The cauliflower and the tres leches are definite favorites of mine. I find the foie gras meatballs/pasta just a little too rich to have as an entree, but it's good for a taste if you can split it with others at your table or convince someone else to order it (and let you have a bite.)
You forgot to mention the carmel corn (if you can call it that) at the end of the meal! They didn't short-change you, did they?