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112 Eatery (MSP) Maybe it was an off night, maybe expectations were too high or maybe its just coasting?

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Ate dinner at 112 last weekend for the first time ever (i felt it was the one conspicuous chink in my local "foodie" cred - for all that has been written about foodieism vs. being a chowhound i think its safe to say with chef becker's beard nomination(s) and my love for promoting the best (if not most obscure) in our local food scene that it was a major failing i had not tried it sooner).

Overall the food was pretty good, and a few items shined, but it was somewhat flat, dull and heavy, with consistent misses or near misses that troubled us.

We ordered widely - starting off with the veal tongue w/ soba and sweetbreads in clam sauce. The clam sauce was great, the sweetbreads nicely cooked, but substantially underseasoned. this would be a theme for the night. the veal/soba combo was a bit odd, but worked for me, though this too could have used some more salt and acid to bring out the flavors - the veal tongue was breaded and fried very well but we all felt like this preparation didnt really highlight all the things we love about tongue.

I ordered a single country style rib with salsa picante which came with a small wedge of lime. this was delicious, if a bit precious for 5 dollars. id easily order this as an entree option if it came in a 3-for 12 or 13 dollar package and feel like i was getting a better deal. well seasoned, perfectly cooked, really nice flavors.

the fried mortadella and grougere sandwich was also very good, light, cheesy pastry and delectably meaty mystery meat (ok ok i know its not technically bologna but its close enough). this came out with a really nice grainy mustard and some pickles i believe to be home made (i prefer mine less sweet but these were good and cut the unending richness of the sandwich).

escarole w/ anchiovies was good, if a bit oily, the escarole was nice and tender but not overcooked and paired well, if somewhat boringly, with the saltiness of the little fishes.

tagliatelle with foie gras meat balls was somewhat of a disappointment. for all the hype the meatballs certainly were delicious but i thought the pasta was a bit overcooked so that within a few minutes of getting the plate set in front of me it had formed a large mass - and there was no real sauce/contrasting flavor to speak of. maybe it was misfired in the kitchen, but if not im just not sure i get this dish, it, like the veal tongue with soba, seemed an odd if potentially vialbe combo, but it just didnt click for me on the plate.

gnocchi were good, but like the tagliatelle needed something to balance their excellent texture. these were delicious, for sure, but couldnt hold a candle to mertiage's version, and by the time we had each eaten a spoonfull or two we were kind of over them. again the flavors seemed rather unidimensional and flat.

after the delicious pea soup we had enjoyed at alma we got a side order of the shell peas which were simple and very tasty with just some oil and a bit of good parm these were a hit, but didnt really highlight the kitchens skills beyond being able to identify a seasonable vegetable and cook it appropriately (a skill i appreciate as much as the next guy, but it doesnt scream cutting edge/inventive to me).

the bacon egg and harissa sandwich should have been a no-brainer hit, these are things which it is easy to love. and while we enjoyed the sandwich we all agreed the execution was laking - the toast seemed dry, the balance of the ingredients needed some work and the egg was a bit overly fried for our tastes. it sounds contradictory since i mentioned the food's heaviness elsewhere but this was one case where we could have used some more fat - the toast the sandwich was served on really detracted from, rather than presenting and uplifting, its contents.

the real miss of the night was the pork tenderloin. our server asked how it should be cooked and we asked for it med-rare. when it came out i thought we had been sent the ahi because the insides were so red. i only had a small bite of this and it was ok, and the person who ordered it was fine with the done-ness but our servers utter lack of interest or even ability to discern the difference between seared outside, cold inside (for pork!) and medium rare was somewhat disappointing. the medallions of pork were also the most woefully sad looking things, in terms of cut. if they were as big across as my thumb id be surprised, and milk caps might be a better analog to give you an idea of portion (3 of them for 18 bucks).

other than our servers mis-step in handling the pork done-ness issue (we asked if she thought it had been done to medium rare, she said "i guess" and basically dared us to tell her it was unacceptable instead of getting the picture) she was rather cold and disinterested in us which didnt make us feel welcome in the least. further when we asked for cold butter (see previous posts about my father's cold butter evangelism) she said she could go see if there was any and returned to tell us that there was no cold butter in entire restaurant (!). the warm bread was delicious despite this.

in the end we ordered a ton of food, a glass of decent wine and a drink for 140 dollars, which while its no bargain didnt leave us feeling ripped off either. despite that there seemed to be a lot of interesting or adventurous flavor pairings that somehow did not live up to their billing or really, obviously, could have used an added component to pick things up. we kept coming back to how different this meal was from the one we had had at alma just a few nights before- where everything seemed effortless and elegant, where 112 was really trying hard and not quite getting there. i appreciate the place for experimental and innovative cuisine (and understand that is not, in any sense, what alma is trying for) but there would not be a nanosecond of contemplation before going back to alma again, where i would think about a return trip to 112 in terms of where else i could spend my money. id love to hear if there were things we didnt order that we should have, or if other people have had recent, different experiences.

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  1. What a total bummer. I haven't been to 112 Eatery in about a year, so I don't know if my old favorites are worth recommending or not. I have to say, though, I've never been in as love with (as everyone else) with the foie gras meatballs. It's clever, but too too much.

    I always, always, get the stringozzi with lamb sugo, at least a half order. I also think they do a fantastic job with whatever their vegetable small plates are. I usually get a couple. A personal fav is the cauliflower, but usually whatever they have going is delicious.

    I've only had the gnocci once, and thought it was great.

    I know Becker's trying to open a second restaurant. I wonder if they've gotten distracted?

    ~TDQ

    1 Reply
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Oh, one other thing. The lamb scottadito is the dish they are "known for". I still prefer the stringozzi.

      ~TDQ

    2. Ok, well thought I would give it a try as well. There were 4 of us. We had the lamb scottadito and muscles for apps. They were both pretty good, with the lamb being a stand out. For main I had the veal tongue and it was pretty tasty. Others had the tagliatelle with foie gras meat balls and like it says above, the meatballs were good but the pasta was overcooked and it was all one big mass of stuff. It was good, just sorta bland and nothing to really take hold and make it pop. Also ordered was the risotto and squid and sausage thing. That was pretty good and the best one of those I have ever tasted (only one too). So, the food was pretty good and my only complaint is the booths there are not big enough to comfortable sit 4 people. It was loud and they had REALLY bad music playing that didn't quite cover up everybody yelling at everybody else. I think their food deserves a better ambiance.

      3 Replies
      1. re: princebaal

        Agree on the noise level and bad music which added up to a not-so-pleasant meal for my mother-in-law and ourselves. I don't want to have to yell in order to carry on a conversation.

        1. re: princebaal

          Hmmm... When I had the dish, the noodles were on par with Luci or Broders.

          1. re: kevin47

            Luci presumably knows how to cook pasta? I had a terrible pasta experience there involving overcooked noodles, flavorless stone fruit, and a whole piece of thickly cut prosciutto.

            Broders is a "pasta bar". Fully worth the money, but not hard to beat on the finer points of fresh pasta cookery.

        2. I had similar experience about a week - tagliatelle with foie gras meat balls were very bland and nothing to write home about.

          I liked the gnocchi, but I kept wishing they had more "wow" factor.

          The real disappointment for me were cauliflower fritters - I've read several reviews and really wanted to try them - they were completely void of any flavor. They tasted like steamed cauliflower.

          I did enjoy the scallops appetizer.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lerkin

            I'm with you on the cauliflower fritters disappointment front; ordered twice, much too salty each time, and limp. Next time go for the escarole w/ anchovy & nutmeg, which has been consistently delicious and well-prepared.

          2. thanks TST, jfood feel better that it is not just him.

            But he has eaten the pasta-foie five times and never had the stickiness issue, loves the lamb, the gnocchi has always had a nice crunch to it, the ponzu wrapped sirloin was great and the chicken someone at the bar gave him a bite of was very good. Did not like the sweetbreads and the burger and service have both taken nosedives. And the female MOD, major you know what.

            Jfood has almost moved it back to the return list, maybe some time in August.

            1. Ohh my..if the Gnocchi didn't hold a candle to Meritage's version (which I find gluey and inedible..) then it was definitely an off night. I've actually not experienced any of the negs you mentioned except maybe as it relates to the cauliflower which, at times, has been a little limp..As I've said I'm comparing it to Lupa in New York which was the first time I'd ever had cauliflower like that. I sometimes think I make trips to New York just for that dish so it really isn't fair of me to compare the two..

              10 Replies
              1. re: cherrylime

                I cant imagine Meritage's gnocci gluey and i have earnestly contemplated ordering a second round on multiple occasions, and always (5 or so times) has absolutely light clean cloud-like texture with an actual sauce (albeit a simple one) to complement their light insides and crisped outside.

                in contrast i just wasnt that into the gnoccis plain-ness. if they had had the texture of meritages i could have overlooked it but they were not revelatory and not particularly inventive and i felt let down, which i guess describes the rest of my meal as well.

                I could agree that it was an off night if it had been a couple of things, but if it wasnt train-the-new-kitchen-staff-by-letting-them-fly-solo night i think there are some bigger issues afoot. i felt like when 112 opened many of the things they were doing were considered much more avant garde and they deserve all the credit they do for playing a major role in the development of the scene in mpls, but at this point there were execution errors (salt please) and not-quite inventive enough yet also not quite "clicking" flavor and ingredient combinations that, as i said above, made it seem much more like they were trying than succeeding.

                1. re: tex.s.toast

                  So, am I the only one who likes Italian gnocchi, made with potatoes and flour, that are soft but chewy, and NOT fried with a crunchy crust. And with a nice red sauce and some grated parmesan cheese. All I can find in this town seems to be this tater-totified version, that is called 'Parisian' . That's what I'd call the Meritage and 112 versions. I miss Philly sometimes.

                  1. re: faith

                    You are not the only one. That type of Gnocchi (at least done well) is very rare in these parts. I think I had some that was pretty good at Campiello once but they're closed. I had some at Pazzaluna that was pretty good. Really though, that kind is an art. I've never lived on the East Coast so really the only good gnocchi like that was in Italy. Funny, I was thinking of making that kind of gnocchi on this chilly july day..I'm sure there are still Italian grandmas and grandpas in East St. Paul who know how to do this right. I wish there was a homey, semi low brow restaurant where you could get it..

                    1. re: cherrylime

                      Campiello moved to Eden Prairie. NOT closed. Moved.

                      -----
                      Campiello
                      6411 City West Pkwy, Eden Prairie, MN 55344

                      1. re: MplsM ary

                        There used to be two Campiellos - Uptown and Eden Prairie. Now there is one.

                        1. re: bob s

                          Thanks. For some reason I can't fathom I confused it with Santorini which did move to Eden Prairie (from St. Louis Park).

                          At least we still have A Campiello.

                          1. re: MplsM ary

                            Yes it is fortunate - I sometimes pine for Campiello's shortrib and spaghetti, but I can't convince my better half to tramp out to EP for it.

                            1. re: bob s

                              Agreed. there's lots of stuff I miss about Campiello; their pizzas are so underrated. For us, they rival Punch which is saying something. Really, almost any of their wood oven stuff...then again their pastas and salads are incredible too....(our son thought we were going to Camp Yellow when he was little, which sounded infinitely more appealing to him) Unfortunately there's almost nothing that will get me to Eden Prairie that isn't completely mandatory. My last 3 trips have been Attorney appt, Dr. appt, and data recovery..Thus, I don't associate EP with fun or relaxation or really anything that I want to do in my free time.

                              1. re: cherrylime

                                Hi Cherrylime,

                                On a totally unrelated subject, I am about to make your Tortilla chicken mole soup, which you posted back in 2007 and I am wondering if this can be frozen and used at a later time?

                                I wasn't sure how else to get this question to you...you can post your response here and I'll check back. Thanks in advance.

                                1. re: dkennedy

                                  Yes it can. I just made this last night!

              2. Sweetbreads, tongue, and clam sauce. This dish comes from the "don't try this at home" school of cookery. Even if everything is cooked to perfection, I can personally see no reason to bring this together in my mouth. Red tide is effecting the clam industry this summer so these are probably frozen. Hmhh.

                1 Reply
                1. re: keg

                  honestly this was one of the better things we ate that night - the clam sauce with mushrooms was very good and had deep woody/oceany flavors going on. the sweetbreads just needed salt.