|Cocktail and amuse bouche of housemade
pretzel chips and a whipped cheese
I’ve made no secret of my love and excitement for the Zentral “complex” just a block away from my office. When the whole plan is complete, they will have their fine dining Brasserie Zentral, the wine bar Foreign Legion, the skyway level casual Cafe Zentral, AND a liquor store. It’s a pretty massive undertaking but a brilliant concept. There is something for almost everyone here.
Cafe Zentral was probably most exciting for me because as a recent divorcee, I’m on a tighter budget than in years past. The Cafe gives me a casual and less expensive way to nibble at the Zentral empire. That said, I have been lusting over a dinner at Brasserie Zentral since before they opened. It was the foie gras macaron that did it, combining two of my favorite things into one fascinating little package. The moment I read about it, I was a lost cause. Somehow, someday, I would have dinner there.
By now you can probably imagine my outright glee when I saw BZ on the Minneapolis-St. Paul Restaurant week list. I made a reservation without knowing what the restaurant week menu would be, just that I had to have it. $30 for a starter, entree, and dessert is still a lot of money, but the value is unbeatable. Restaurant week is a GREAT way to try places that might otherwise blow your budget. I’m posting the special menu at the end of this post so you can see what they offered.
My dining partner opted for the Weisswurst (eaten too quickly to be photographed), Kavelierspitz, and the custard.
We also added on a Foie Gras Trio because I refused to leave without trying the famous macaron.
The spaetzel texture was spot on, soft and light. The peas still had a good amount of bite to them and the wild mushrooms added a nice earty touch. I think the bite of the fried(?) onions on top was a perfect balance to the creaminess. Duck bolognese is not part of their normal menu but my friend encouraged me to order it because I’m a sucker for housemade pasta. Their’s had a nice al dente chew to it and the richness of the sauce paired beautifully with the pasta. Kudos to them for not drowning good noodles in sauce! And the strudel, oh the strudel. It was flaky, buttery, and delicious. The caramel sauce added a fair bit of extra sweetness in a controlled way. (Some bites I wanted a lot of caramel, some I just wanted to taste apple and pastry.)
I only sampled a bit of my friend’s meal but the bites I had were great. I loved the texture of the veal sausage and regret not trying the mustard. The Kavelierspitz was like the best pot roast ever. Melt in your mouth tender beef in a rich broth (though a bit salty to stand on it’s own) paired with perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables. Also included was a small beef bone with a bit of marrow. The marrow texture was a bit firmer than I’m used to, but the flavor was perfect. I’m running out of glowing review words, which doesn’t seem fair to the quark cheese custard. This was like a cloud of sweet and tart almost cheesecake. I absolutely loved the texture and that it wasn’t a sugar bomb, it really let the flavors shine. And the caramelized filo was impossibly thin, a lovely crunch touch to the creamy custard.
Talking about the foie gras trio is like dancing about architecture. (No one really knows where the “dacing about architecture” quote comes from, but I would attribute it if I could.) This is the dish I have lusted after since day one. It was as disoreinting in person as it was in theory. The most traditional presentation offered was the torchon, a small medallion of foie with some toast points and fruit. Alone, the foie was a bit too salty but with the crunchiness of the toast, the rich smooth flavor was able to shine.
On to the foie gras brulee. You know that look dogs give you when they hear an odd noise, when they cock their head to the side? That’s the look I gave the brulee. The custard was smooth as silk and looked like a normal vanilla based custard, but instead of sweet, you get a deep flavor reminscent of marrow or really good Irish butter. It’s a deep flavor in a light texture and it will confuse your mouth. The key is to get the bits of bruleed sugar with the custard – then suddenly it comes together and makes sense. Well, it makes sense to your taste buds, your brain is still cocked to the side thinking “Whaaaaaaaaaaat?”
Last, but most certainly not least, the macaron. The macaron itself was everything I wanted it to be but the foie gras filling was a bit more challenging. When you managed to get everything in one good bite, it was magical – a chewy cookie with the rich and creamy foie. But we found that trying to bite the cookie squeezed the soft foie out, and on it’s own, the foie was overpoweringly salty. It definitely needed the cookie, it just wouldn’t stay in the cookie. That said, I don’t regret any of this for even a second. This was a dish that had to be tried for the sake of saying “I’ve eaten a foie gras macaron.” Also, based on the cookie portion of the macaron, I am begging Zentral to have a line of macarons at the Cafe. Pretty please with a cherry on top!
All in all, this place is just spot-on delightful. The menu is broad without being overwhelming and there are a variety of price points. The service was absolutely impeccable. I walked in having a crappy and melancholy day, I walked out feeling like a million bucks. These people obviously know what they are doing, and they are doing it well. I, for one, welcome the new Zentral monopoly of the Soo Line building!
Appetizer (choose one):
Entree (choose one):