Heady days. We’d pack our passports, undergo inoculations, then head to the northern reaches of Minneapolis to revel in the small plates of Erick Harcey’s Victory 44, housed in a (barely) converted gas station, tended by burly servers who possibly transitioned from former shifts in the grease pit. We jostled in line (no reservations), memorizing a chalkboard menu, waiting for our (noisy, crowded) tables.
Well, chef/owner Erick—the same—has recently rehabbed a second site, this time amid the lotus eaters of Linden Hills. He’s transformed the former hardware store at 43rd & Upton into a supremely urbane dining room—white-white walls soaring to a timbered ceiling, a white wash to the wooden tabletops, a row of generously sized booths clad in black and royal, warmed by transparent glass rods that light the room. It’s elegant in a minimal, Scando style, and I love it (and that’s before even looking at the menu).
Harcey’s food here harks back to his grandparents’ Swedish cooking, but filtered through the kind of modern eye that’s made New Nordic the world’s trendiest cuisine. (Save yourself a trip to Copenhagen’s Noma, “the world’s best restaurant.”) Start, for instance, with pickled herring paired with potato, cukes and dill, as tradition dictates, plus apple and almonds as the upstarts. Or chilled ribbons of beets, that Nordic staple, dolloped with that sweet, caramely, love-it-or-leave-it cheese called gjetost—both served frequently, but rarely, as here, together. The collage also includes gooseberries and chervil under a dusting of sweetened rye-bread crumbles and powdered walnuts (and I’m probably overlooking another half dozen ingredients). Interesting but not compelling.
Instead, among the starters ($12) we preferred the silky chicken-liver mousse gilded with gelatin—a straight-up production so far—adorned with dried blueberries—tart-sweet, as was a honey-vinegar touch, and served with a granola-sequined cracker (beats Ry-Krisp). But the option called “fermented lettuce” turned out to be more of a science experiment than a taste treat. Pale leaves of romaine come brined in whey, lemon and garlic, brightened (not much) with dots of egg yolk, more powdered (and tasteless) walnuts, and buttermilk.
Skip it, and head for the mains ($22–$28), where we just had to try that uber-Swedish trinity: meatballs, mashed potatoes, and pickled cukes. It’s a straight-up presentation, as tasty as any I’ve had in Scandinavia (and IKEA). A veggie option—a textured mélange of grains painted with pureed sunchokes and garnished with onion, apple, hints of truffle and pickled radishes—featured salt as the dominant spice. The winner, and it’s worth the drive: glazed pork cheeks, meltingly tender and garnished with (what? And why?) dustings of chicken skin, settled over a sweet, intense puree of carrots, husky bits of blood sausage, and more walnut powder.
Four desserts ($12) are listed, and each caught our fancy. Noodling between the gjetost terrine, a soder (fruity) tea cremeau, rye pancake, and juniper bavarois, we settled on the latter two—the pancake not the crepe we’d expected, but a delightful, muffin-like pouf served with more blueberries and birch ice cream (braggin’ rights: tried it last summer in Finland). The juniper-scented bavarois (also on my Finnish menus) came brightened with a carrot granite (those Finns again), capturing the veggie’s sweet essence.
Service was smart and Minnesota-sweet. A high five for this kitchen’s bold rethinking of Swedish soul food.
4312 Upton Ave. S.