3800 Nicollet Ave. S.
Yes, once in a while, truth in advertising does prevail. Perhaps the Gold Standard is Blackbird cafe’s promise: “Our goal is to make Minneapolis yummier by offering a high quality meal at a good value.” And what they neglected to mention—or were too modest: the atmosphere and service are pretty darn swell, too.
The room remains as quirky as when the neighborhood café first moved here, before the era of décor with a capitol D, seemingly curated by Antiques Roadshow via a high-priced designer. Maybe you know (and love) it already: walls mounted with scores of antlers—a collection a taxidermist might envy—along with mismatched gilt-framed mirrors, brightened by the glimmer of shabby-chic chandeliers and ugly lamps. Our window-side table proved quiet enough for actual conversation, a growing rarity.
And talk we did, exclaiming right off about our shared starter, a pair of those slim, cigar-shaped crispy duck rolls ($8) that fulfilled our MDR of yumminess. The ultra-succulent shreds of duck meat gain boldness with a dip in the provided sweet chili sauce—lively without putting your manhood to the test.
Next we shared a bounteous salad ($8) whose baby greens came piled with firm/tender chunks of lightly smoked beets, along with the asparagus the menu promoted. But, big mistake: Rather than steamed, then chilled stalks or pieces, the chef had opted to shave the spears into long, thin tongues and serve them raw—mostly bitter, sans nuance—nothing a little roasting wouldn’t cure. Nor did the salad’s promised egg yolk surface as a golden orb begging for a fork to shatter and spread its rich essence. Instead, pre-punctured, it lurked on the bottom of the plate, along with crème fraiche and dill. Underwhelming. Talk about lost opportunities.
Next time: the Brussels sprout hash, the always-lovely chicken-lemongrass pot stickers, or maybe a run for the heirloom gazpacho, enriched here with radish and avocado as well as the textbook cukes.
Maybe we missed a winner by bypassing the squid ink tagliatelle ($15), mingling clams with chorizo, almonds and preserved lemons (shades of the Mediterranean). Instead we shared an entrée of lamb meatballs from the same corner of the world, starring Star Thrower Farm lamb in dense, golf-ball globes—overly sharp with salt, alas—chumming with Moroccan-style couscous, along with asparagus (cooked this time), all livened with a spritz of ras al hanous sauce and the cool antidote of minted yogurt.
With hitherto unpracticed restraint, we saved room for dessert—the wisest decision of the evening. The custard cup of burnt-caramel pudding ($6)—true-flavored, un-mucked-up with superfluity of sugar—left us licking our spoons and seriously considering a second order. It came topped with gingerbread crumbs and an offbeat (and winning) fillip of cardamom cream. (Well, gingerbread and cardamom have been paired forever during Christmas baking, but seldom so successfully.) Next, a limpid chocolate pudding cake ($7) starring glamour-bar Valrhona, sided with mint-chocolate chip ice cream and candied cherries—no, no, not those awful maraschino ones that ruin many an Old Fashioned, but the dark Bing variety—like eating jewels.
And Blackbird is just that—a neighborhood jewel, indeed.