When Figlio opened in Calhoun Square in 1984, it instantly set Uptown’s dining-out agenda.
Fast-forward 30 years for some serious restaurant déjà vu, because it feels as if Coup d’état is on the verge of pulling a Figlio and becoming the neighborhood’s latest “it” spot.
And why not? The cavernous two-story restaurant and bar is the work of the same synergistic team behind Borough and Parlour, the one-two punch that set off culinary fireworks in the North Loop when it opened 15 months ago.
And what a team: co-chefs Tyler Shipton and Nick O’Leary, barkeep Jesse Held and money guys Brent Frederick and Jacob Toledo. Even the same Minneapolis architectural firm, ESG, is on board.
Not that the restaurant is a Borough carbon copy. Far from it. The cooking at Coup d’état isn’t nearly as food-forward as its downtown counterpart, although it’s not trying to be, either.
But by taking a more thoughtful approach to what is essentially bar food, much of what Coup d’état accomplishes is often delightful, and occasionally remarkable.
Actually, to label it bar food is something of a misnomer, because O’Leary and Shipton manage to transcend the implication of dreary predictability that’s wrapped in that appellation.
In the shared-plates department, silky raw tuna and blood orange segments, radiating the same deep ruby tones, are a memorable and visually striking play of cool on cool. Delightfully creamy stuffed eggs are topped with tiny coral-tinted trout roe.
A crispy-edged slab of pork belly shimmers with fatty goodness and exudes a deep Sunday ham flavor. Mellow duck confit is the surprise inside delicate, deep-fried risotto orbs.
Shipton and O’Leary nudge diners down rarely traveled — for Uptown, anyway — territory. East Coast oysters are pulled off the grill at the exact moment where they achieve maximum ocean-fresh brininess.
In a nod to his Wisconsin roots — and a hat tip to chicken wings without serving chicken wings — O’Leary brines freakishly meaty frog legs, then deep-fries them to a tempura-like crispness, glazing them with a feisty harissa-cardamom sauce. Fabulous.
The menu isn’t exactly a sandwich-free zone — hurrah — but it’s close.
Instead, there’s bone marrow, so unabashedly smoky and spreading like jam across thin slices of grilled baguette.
Even better is the kitchen’s best dish, an approachable riff on a Borough top performer. The star ingredient is octopus, which clocks considerable low-temperature cooking time to achieve maximum tenderness.
From there, it’s browned on the stove, then tossed in a red chile-citrus vinaigrette and laid out over grilled bread swiped with yogurt. They’ll never be able to take it off the menu.
Pasta and pizza
At the menu’s heart are a handful of lovingly rendered pastas. The last gasps of winter seem to dissipate with each bite of oblong agnolotti, filled with creamy mascarpone and winter squash and finished with crispy sage leaves and divinely rich brown butter, an evergreen combination.
Gloriously spicy pork-beef meatballs are paired with ropy spaghetti. Pappardelle tossed with mushrooms and pancetta comes off as a comfort-minded stroganoff.
Finally, there’s mouth-melting gnocchi, taken to a deep caramel to demonstrate the flavor-enhancing dynamics of a hot pan, and deftly enriched with truffle oil’s enticing scent rather than the overpowering taste.
Revolutionary? Hardly (the restaurant’s name, pronounced koo dey-tah, translates into the usurpation of a government). But delicious nonetheless.
Prices can be inconsistent. A voluptuous foie gras torchon (served with an unfortunate streusel-style bread) is a more-than-reasonable $15, and what appears to be half of a roast chicken (nicely prepared) is a relative steal at $22. But then a basic Margherita pizza chimes in at a slightly overpriced $12.
Not that the pizzas aren’t special. They are.
Cracker-crusted and plate-sized, they’re topped with imaginatively assembled ingredients (a zesty house-made sausage, succulent clams, a hearty kale-mushroom combo laid out over a smear of crushed roasted tomatoes) and cut into squares, perhaps as an attempt to gain some Midwestern neighborhood pizzeria cred. Works for me, especially given the bar’s dynamic beer list.
Those hankering for a more complete dining-out experience can tap a handful of full-on entrees, some more impressive than others.
A trio of juicy scallops pair nicely against fragrant curried couscous. Firm, moist branzino, a Mediterranean sea bass, thrives under a quasi-bouillabaisse treatment. The aforementioned roast chicken.
But then a few dishes might fall into coup de blah territory. A dry, lifeless slab of skate sautéed in butter. Slices of a boldly beefy but tough shoulder-cut steak. Gristly quail coated in a blandly sticky-sweet sauce.
It may be that age-old case of starters trumping entrees. The duds are certainly overshadowed by a series of superb side dishes, including a nutmeg-infused cauliflower gratin, gloriously cheesy polenta and toothy broccolini jazzed with garlic and red chile flakes.
With its you’ve-seen-all-these-before items, pastry chef LaShaw Castellano’s menu under-promises, then frequently over-delivers.
Her tiramisu (yeah, tiramisu, the dessert equivalent of shoulder pads) is a joy, the very definition of delicately spongy espresso-mocha goodness.
A cinnamon-bolstered carrot cake slightly subverts the classic without going overboard, and a chocolate icebox layer cake teases with just the right complementary orange undertones. Only the clumsy brioche mini-doughnuts, with their ungainly bacon add-ons, have worn out their welcome.
Now entering its third month, the restaurant remains a work in progress. Sunday brunch will debut soon. The upcoming warm weather will trigger a major patio component, along with a late-night walk-up window, serving six to eight portable items (“burgers, gyros, slices, whatever we decide,” said O’Leary), sold food-truck style and catering to the neighborhood’s hungry after-bar audience.
Oh, and the kitchen will supply a coffee-wine bar in a nearby Lyn-Lake apartment building now under construction.
The voluminous room’s geography organizes itself around an informally interconnected series of spaces, the best of which are a flirting-friendly island bar (again, shades of Figlio), a long counter facing the kitchen and a ring of balcony tables.
While the decor suggests the lobby of every six-story apartment building proliferating throughout the city — including the one that houses the restaurant — it’s made distinctive by vibrant chalkboard art by Minneapolis illustrator Adam Dennis, a terrific touch.
Attention must be paid to Held’s assiduous approach to cocktailing. After all, what’s glossed-up bar food without similarly inspiring libations? If there’s top-shelf drinking to be done in Uptown, this is definitely the place.
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