by Guest Writer Christopher Akerlind
Two thirds of the way through my work on the Guthrie Theater’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill’s great dramatic chronicle of a disastrous day in the life of an American family, I end my own day off, hoping for no disaster, with a short trek to Minneapolis’ trendy warehouse district for a meal at the much lauded Bar La Grassa, “The Fat.” The night is frigid, the upper mid-west finally sporting temperatures befitting wintertime.
Isaac Becker, Nancy St. Pierre and Erik Sather’s hot and hopping spot is mobbed on a Monday night. I arrive on the late side, worried that I might have missed an opportunity, but the posted hours indicate that this busy place serves until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until one in the morning on weekends. It’s a dream for theater folk who work late and often find restaurants closed after final curtain.
I begin with what’s known in Minneapolis as a “Prarie Martini.” Prarie Vodka is an organic and kosher corn-based spirit made in Minnesota that is smoother and less bracing than its wheat- or potato-based brethren. My drink is complemented by a complimentary amuse-bouche of gigande beans, an almost potato-like legume, swimming pleasantly in greeny fruity olive oil, shredded carrot and cauliflower, slivers of red and green hot peppers, and bold use of pebbles of black pepper. It’s not too spicy a bite despite the the presence of the peppers.
The dish that follows, accompanied by a glass of peppery Sicilian Vigneti Zabu Nero d’Avola, is the high point of my experience: white anchovy and avocado bruschetta. The saltiness of the briney anchovies is enhanced by the rich, creamy, and unctuous avocado, and further seasoned with chive and pink salt crystals. The whole anchovies watch me as they head for my mouth on one of the most delicious bruschetta I’ve had.
Next, a half portion of pasta negra tossed with perfectly cooked juicy mussels, diced tomato, sea urchin, and chilis. Tasty and reminiscent of a Thai dish, it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its ingredients, particularly the sea urchin, whose presence inspired me to order the dish in the first place. The chili and basil are simply too loud for the fragility of the spiny echinoid’s delicious roe.
Another restaurant signature is its minimalist design with simple white tile, stainless steel, and dark wood—the only exception the rustic-style dishware. The overall clean effect highlights the food, wine, and fine efforts of the staff in the busy open kitchen that runs the length of the room.
The minimalist sensibility extends to the menu, where concise language describes what the kitchen offers. For instance, in the “Secondi” section, despite the presence of more complex items, I’m seduced by the clarity of “Chicken $22.”
The whole roasted chicken is delivered butterflied, fully boned save for the wings, split in four pieces end-to-end, covered in garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes, and accompanied by a whole lemon split in two. The marriage of the freshly squeezed lemon with the chicken’s juices still leaking onto the plate creates a “liquor” that is then gradually reabsorbed into an already moist, tasty, and tender bird, its flesh easily cut with a fork. Gorgeous.
House-made limoncello is less sweet and sticky than most, another satisfying jolt of flavor. A complimentary mouthful of peppery brittle is a fitting end to this nearly flawless meal. In the spirit of the play, I take three hours, our production’s running time, to conclude this long day’s journey into satiety. •