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Feb 7, 2014 07:49 AM

Travail/The Rookery

After seeing a few Facebook posts in the past two nights from the Travail crew regarding no line, no wait, open tables at the new joint, I thought I'd check it out. I couldn't believe that they wouldn't be on fire already, given the anticipation during their hiatus.

As I turned down Broadway at ~8:30, I saw Pig Ate My Pizza completely packed, including folks waiting for tables. I assumed Travail would be the same, or worse. Much to my surprise, I walked in to a less than half full establishment. I guess it must be a combination of a few things. I think some people don't know they're back yet. The rest (like me) probably assume they're crazy busy already.

Here's the setup for those of you that aren't familiar (I wasn't). The first thing you notice is how huge the space is. High ceilings, lots of windows, and a huge amount of kitchen space. The collective kitchen/bar/prep areas take up probably half of the space. There had to be 20 chefs going last night. It's really an amazing show, just in that respect.

Half the building is Travail, which only serves their tasting menu. The current menu is 10 courses (plus a bunch of other amuses and fun) for $110/couple, $55 single. This price goes down to $90/45 on Tuesday/Wednesday, which is crazy. There are tables, along with a bar on the kitchen, similar to the old style.

The other half of the building is the Rookery. Food is a la carte, with ~20 dishes ranging from $2-10. Seating included the more traditional high top bar (where I ended up) and more tables. The bar is fun too; it curves back and forth the whole way, so if you come with another person, you will actually be facing them. A nice touch. Overall, there are twice as many seats as the old place.

To the food and the rest of the vibe. The guys haven't missed a beat on either front. It's a party atmosphere at all times, and you can't not have a good time while you're there. It's absolutely infectious. Even as they were cleaning up at the end of the night, they're blasting music and the crew is dancing and singing along.

The food is right on too. Here is what I had last night:

-Pate: Pork pate (two slices), grilled bread (two pieces), whipped bone marrow, gremolata. Goodness, what a start. Charcuterie whiz Geoff Hausmann is back with the Travail crew, and I think this might be his creation. The pate is great on it's own, but when you use whipped bone marrow along side...forget it. Ridiculously good.

-Tofu: Tofu, soy pearls, mushrooms, broth poured tableside. I don't remember all the details on this one, and there were a bunch. Either way, I've never had tofu before, so I figured there was no better time. I knew the boys made the tofu in house, and I spent a few minutes after my meal talking with James about it. For my first introduction, I really enjoyed it. I can't compare it to anything else, obviously, but I would recommend it.

-Egg: Soft scrambled egg, mushroom, chives, served inside an egg shell. Simple, but delicious.

-Gnocchi: A single ~2" piece (definitely bigger than normal) of gnocchi, seared, topped with shaved parm, and mushroom (this seemed to be a trend for the night, which was fine).

-Agnolotti: Four pieces, stuffed with cheese (I think...didn't hear the type), topped with vanilla butter and fried capers.

-Beef tongue: Slider style, topped with a beet chip, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, with a few tortilla chips on the side. Rich, tender as can be...just delicious.

-Oxtail: Not sure how to describe this was seared patty, mixed with brunoise carrots. An Asian broth is poured tableside. The whole dish works well together. A little more simple than the rest, flavorwise, but still good.

-Duck rillette: This one was fun. The rillettes are stuffed into a waffle cone, mixed along with arugula and a sauce that I didn't hear. I thought the sweetness of the waffle cone wouldn't work, but it was just fine. I'm a sucker for rillettes, so I would probably get this everytime.

-Lamb: Shoulder, potato, chimichurri. I love all these things, and I loved this dish. Not much fuss involved here, just everything done right.

-Churro: Dessert time. A nice, piping hot churro served alongside a small cup of ancho hot chocolate. I'm not normally a hot chocolate fan, but this worked. It actually left a nice heat in the back of the throat by the end.

-Zeppole: Two fried pastries; doughnut holes, basically. Both had a ricotta filling (not very noticeable), and were sitting on a vanilla sabayon. I could have eaten about 50 of these things. Nice ending to the night.

I didn't get into the cocktail side of the Rookery, but the menu sets up perfectly for a few drinks and some small bites. If you decide to go for a few things only, my recommendations would be the pate, beef tongue, either pasta dish, and lamb from the savory side. Both desserts were great too.

As I was leaving, I told the guys that I can't wait to come back to do the Travail side, but I'm worried that it will be crazy packed. Given what I saw last night, maybe not. I can't believe that they aren't. For what they are (still) producing, 10 courses for $55 is the a steal of epic proportions. You can order the entire Rookery menu for $75...not sure how that stacks up to ordering it individually, but it would get you about 20 courses. I walked out last night at $58 for 11 courses and two beers. Worth every penny. Get there. Quickly.

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  1. Nice write up! I too was confused as to why they haven't been jammed other than a lot of their backers nailed them with the week of their soft opening. I will be going very soon. Thanks for the recommendations.

    1. I believe at least part of the reason it isn't packed is that 1200 Kickstarter supporters had access last week. Also, you were there 3.5 hours after they opened.

      16 Replies
      1. re: ChillyDog

        I find it laughable that they made so much on Kickstarter. It's a for profit business. Kickstarter should not be used by the likes of Travail or Zack Braff...but I guess a fool and his $. These are probably the same types of people that pay interest on credit cards or think waiting 90 minutes for a table at the "it" restaurant is reasonable.

        I live near here and have been once since the new opening. Its a great restaurant....but I think it also brings out the worst in the trendy foodie scene at times.

        1. re: brlattim

          Why should you care how kickstarter is used? If people believe and back other people I really don't see an issue with it.

          They are doing some amazing things in the food world and giving people who wouldn't ordinarily get a chance to eat such food an opportunity to have the experience.

          What's a foodie trend in your opinion that is brought out by Travail?

          1. re: phokingood

            Same reason people care about restaurants or anything. Why do you care why I care I guess is another question if you are going to go down that route.

            Kickstarter is just proof foodies are not always the most intelligent people. Food is often a fad, and people flock to what they are often told is good. I live right near Travail and have been a dozen times. They don't need some saps $ so they can feel special making a reservation. Its just stupid. Its the rich getting richer. Why does a place that has a line out the door need to borrow money. Oh wait, its not a loan...its just free $.

          2. re: brlattim

            I think it's wonderful that their Kickstarter was so successful. Restaurants are an incredibly low-margin business. You don't open your own restaurant to get rich. And if you work in high-end/cutting-edge type settings, you generally make enough to cover operating costs and not much more. The vast majority of restaurants can get by without the type of kitchen that they've designed...but they do extraordinary things with their dishes, and the equipment needed to pull it off is unbelievably expensive. Being "for-profit" doesn't mean "profitable," especially with a kitchen that high-tech and a staff that size. And you can't blame them for getting 3 times the requested amount...clearly A LOT of people see the value in helping them realize their full ambitions.

            1. re: TCchef8503

              It seems that other top notch restaurants in the TC area - La Belle Vie, Picollo, 112, Bar La Grassa - are doing well without Kickstarter campaigns. Alma and Heartland also seem to be doing well.

              Popularity doesn't equal quality. Lines out the door doesn't equal 3* restaurant.

              1. re: phokingood

                There is no way in the world Travail is a 3* restaurant.....I am not in the industry and only like sweet grapes. Crowd mentality is prevailing with Travail....I have eaten in 3* restaurants and Travail isn't. Maybe Minneapolis 3* Not nationwide 3*

                1. re: ibew292

                  I live in Minneapolis. This board refers to Minneapolis and St.Paul. What do you think we are talking about?

                  What restaurants do you deem to be 3* in MSP?

                2. re: foreverhungry

                  Are you insinuating Picollo is rated higher than Travail?

                  Are you insinuating Travail isnt worthy of a high rating?

                  Who brought up a 3* rating?

                  Lines out the door usually mean people like what they are getting.

                  Lines out the door and 300k kickstarter contributions usually mean someone is offering a product worth backing.

                    1. re: phokingood

                      Hang on, let's all take a deep breathe here, and put this discussion into some focus. We're talking about opinions on restaurants that are high end, not how a kid might be getting their next meal.

                      In order:
                      Yes, personally I prefer Picollo to Travail, so in my "book", they are rated higher.

                      I brought up the 3* rating, and yes, it's intended with the MSP area in mind, not across the US or world.

                      Lines out the door - Cheesecake Factory has lines out the door. TGIF's has lines out the door. No, lines out the door don't mean anything. Budweiser is the most popular beer in the US (or is it Coors Light? Miller Lite?). Popularity means squat when it comes to quality.

                      I like Travail. I like the food, I like the concept. It's a fun time, and it's a good value. I haven't been to the Rookery yet, but it sounds like the food is very similar to Travail's, just a different menu concept.

                      One thing that Travail has been very good at is marketing. With their old space, many folks didn't mind waiting 2 hours for a table. That's not for me.

                      I appreciate TCchef's comments about the kickstarter campaign. At first it struck me that their doing a kickstarter was a bit like saying, let's see how else we can get people to pay for our new kitchen". But yes, that type of equipment is expensive, and I fully understand that many restaurants survive on slim profit margins. Clearly, it has been working for them.

                      I appreciate Travail for what it is - it's a very different brand of food in the MSP area, and that's great. Variety is the spice of life. But usually, there are other restaurants I'd pick to go to other than Travail.

                    2. re: foreverhungry

                      Out of all the restaurants you listed, only Piccolo does something similar, but on a much smaller scale, and without the gadgetry. It's apples to oranges.

                      I'm not making a ratings argument, but Travail is essentially one of a kind in the Twin Cities. In that the dishes they create require the use of (expensive) equipment that one would not find in most kitchens. All the restaurants you listed operate on a platform of classical technique and equipment, with exception to maybe some immersion circulators and a pacojet.

                      I would imagine based on size, product cost, labor cost, rent, etc., LBV barely breaks even. But a restaurant like that isn't about profit.

                      Piccolo is its opposite number - exists only because small size and cost relative to popularity allows it to function.

                      Becker restaurants are labor-intensive and rely on volume and providing perfectly-executed familiar dishes every time. I've been to 112 a number of times, and the menu hasn't changed significantly in years.

                      Alma and Heartland are founded in classical French technique and a very popular concept - seasonal farm-to-table.

                      I'm not particularly a huge fan of the Travail style of food and dining, but they stand alone in their style, technique, and equipment required to execute. Do they NEED to have this stuff? No. But does innovation come from adhering tradition? No.

                      Kickstarter allowed them to assemble their dream kitchen. Why do you have a problem with that? Really interesting things are going to come out of it. Will they all be good? No. But if the public has voted with their bank accounts that their crew should be given every opportunity to push the envelope, who are you to judge?

                      1. re: TCchef8503

                        I'd love to know what local farms Heartland is getting their produce from in February. Anything green, any fresh vegetables, any wild mushroom, any fruit is coming from hundreds and hundreds of miles away. I sincerely doubt their root veg has been in a cooler for months. Heartland's whole identity is marketing.

                        1. re: american_idle

                          Exactly, which is why I said "...a very popular CONCEPT - seasonal farm-to-table." It's the image and perception that they have crafted, and have done it well.
                          They both do a great job of using seasonally appropriate items. Of course a lot of them are going to come from farther away during the winter. That is the reality of use quality product consistently in the MN climate.

                          1. re: TCchef8503

                            True, but I've read interviews with Heartland staff about X produce coming from Y when I know good and well due to what it is that it's not true. The "About" section of their website is fall-down funny.

                            1. re: american_idle

                              I've never read it, but yeah, they're a mix of commodity and local. There's no way they couldn't be. Even DragSmith/Six Rivers Co-op, which supplies a lot of these places to varying degrees, brings in root vegetables from California and other warmer climes during the winter. It's unavoidable, but not meant to mislead the diner. Certain products are prohibitively expensive when local/organic, and so exceptions can and will be made. Everything is generally at least a little more expensive when it's local/organic. So you have to weigh the cost of the ingredients you want to feature, and figure out what can be changed or substituted to make it cost-effective. It's an incredibly low-margin business, especially on the upscale dining side of things.

                              1. re: TCchef8503

                                "The restaurant has shunned mainline purveyors in favor of small family farmers and artisanal producers to source organically grown and sustainably raised local ingredients."

                                I understand what you're saying, but they've fallen on the sword of local / buzzwords / feelgoodery and it's laughable.

              2. They just posted to their Facebook seating is doubled from the old space and that there hasn't been any wait this weekend. I think the bitter cold has affected it as well.

                19 Replies
                1. re: american_idle

                  The seating for Travail is actually less, from 50 down to 45. The Rookery seats about another 50.

                  1. re: ChillyDog

                    Just reporting what they posted. I have no idea if one can sit wherever and order from either. Haven't been. Was going to go Tuesday, but once it was confirmed it was tasting menu only and I can't order a la carte anymore (vegetarian), I decided not to go. Would've been first in line.

                    1. re: american_idle

                      Travail is tasting menu only.

                      The Rookery is ala carte only.

                      Different chefs. Different kitchens. Different menus.

                      1. re: ChillyDog

                        I'm well aware, thanks.

                        What they posted:

                        friends, NO FEAR about waiting out in the cold in a line around the block. We have doubled our seating capacity in the new building!! Part of the motivation for the new space & expanded Rookery concept was to give your more options to craft a ridiculous dinning experience and help cut down on the wait and line. THIS WEEK EVERYONE HAS BEEN ABLE TO WALK RIGHT IN AND SIT DOWN. So, seriously have no fear and get over here!

                        1. re: american_idle

                          "I have no idea if one can sit wherever and order from either."

                          Sorry. I apparently misinterpreted this.

                          1. re: ChillyDog

                            Have you been there already? If so, please enlighten us as to how seating (note: not menus, not kitchen, not chefs) is handled. Can one order from either "kitchen"? I haven't seen this addressed, here or anywhere. I "assume" it's split side to side, but I don't "know", and I haven't seen it reported. Their plea for people to come fill up the new restaurant which, in their own words has doubled capacity, lends some wiggle room to the possibility of one space serving both / either / whatever you want to drill down the semantics on, but I haven't seen it expressly stated.

                            I went to the old Travail probably 50 times (can provide dated photos if needed). I was there the day it opened and the day it closed. I probably won't ever go to the new one because it isn't the same experience for me. So color me bummed.

                            1. re: american_idle

                              My understanding and which they've always stated is....One side, Travail is the tasting menu...the other side, The Rookery is a la carte. They've stated The Rookery was also meant for an over flow for Travail. Seems pretty self explanatory to me but I'm sure they would accommodate someone if they really wanted to eat a la carte on the Travail side.

                              1. re: american_idle

                                Yes, I have been there.

                                As you enter, Travail is to the left (front of the building) and The Rookery is to the right.

                                If you choose Travail, you get the tasting menu. If you choose The Rookery, you can only order from their menu.

                                1. re: ChillyDog

                                  Funny The Rookery would be overflow, then do those people only get to order from The Rook or can they still get Travail?

                                  Hopefully they'll streamline it someday into Super Travail.

                                  1. re: american_idle

                                    They would wait for a seat at travail in the rookery, order a beer and perhaps one of the small plates.

                                  2. re: ChillyDog

                                    Whats the fuss?
                                    "You can order the entire Rookery menu for $75."

                                    the menu that has everything that is on the tasting menu...ok?

                                    1. re: getgot211

                                      Fing good needs to explain everything. No fuss order and enjoy....

                                      1. re: ibew292

                                        I'm confused. I wasn't explaining anything, simply responding to a somewhat silly question.

                                    2. re: ChillyDog

                                      This is correct. And to clarify what getgot said, the menu at Rookery does NOT (to my understanding) overlap with the Travail menu. Different kitchens, different chefs, different food. But yes, you can get a tasting menu of sorts for $75.

                                      To say that you won't ever go again because it doesn't feel the same is silly. It feels exactly the same, just bigger. The Travail side doesn't look much different at all; same bar on the kitchen, same hot tub table, same number of tables (maybe minus one). It just happens to have another side for cocktails and small plates.

                                      I sat on the Rookery side (there is no actual division, for what it's worth), had 11 dishes, and it felt the same as sitting at the high top bar at the old spot. They just happen to have another 8-10 tables beyond that, composing the rest of the Rookery.

                                      1. re: BigE

                                        I'm a vegetarian of meager financial means. That means it's not affordable to order the tasting menu of which almost none of it is vegetarian by default, and the value is even less since dishes could be prepared sans protein (or just substituted with more tofu, but that can get tired). I used to go fairly often, order a salad, a soup, maybe a larger plate or two, and get out for $20-24, which isn't bad. Bob specifically has more than once made me something a la minute. But I can't do that anymore, I have to order the whole shebang, of which I cannot eat 80%.

                                        I might go to check out the Rookery (I just checked their FB, and it's the first time I've seen a menu posted, looks like I could eat a few), but I'm not a big drinker either.

                                        1. re: american_idle

                                          Ah. The vegetarian part would make it more difficult, yes.

                                          As I said, the Rookery is what the old Travail was with a la carte, though in (sometimes) smaller plates. Even the proteins aren't very's all on the order of Piccolo-like portion sizes.

                              2. re: ChillyDog

                                correct! If you sit on Travail side you are committing to the Chef's tasting menu (you cannot order a la carte on that side, but accommodations will be made for dietary issues).

                                On the Rookery side (which includes the long wiggly bar) you can only order micro-plates a la carte.

                                Then you can mix and match the experience for your needs. Some folks sit at the Rookery bar while they wait for a seat at Travail, some come just to eat dinner at the Rookery, some have even stopped in for a cocktail and desert after eating at Pig Ate My Pizza.

                              3. re: american_idle

                                the chefs creating the tasting menu have and always will try to accommodate an dietary concerns, so don't let that stop you! and rookery is a la carte, which means you get to pick and choose what you eat. The new concept is basically like the old Travail split into two kitchens in housed in one space

                              4. re: ChillyDog

                                pretty close, Travail can fit up to 48 (just depends on the different parties that come in) and Rookery, with the dinning room and bar is about 50

                            2. Thank you, BigE, for the report.

                              1. Is Facebook the only online connection point? Can't seem to find a web site.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Brad Ballinger

                                  Wow, it looks like they have everything but:

                                  4124 West Broadway
                                  Robbinsdale, Minnesota 55422

                                  Phone (763) 535-1131


                                  1. re: KTFoley

                                    Gotta give those boys and gals credit, they're taking full advantage of every popular social media site so they don't have to pay one cent for web hosting.

                                    Why buy the cow when you can get its milk for free?

                                    1. re: Brad Ballinger

                                      currently facebook serves as a website and home base for Travail/Rookery and Pig Ate My Pig

                                      1. re: mleaf

                                        Yes, each of the three has its own Facebook page.