Seven-year-old Piccolo is closing.
The news caps a year of loss for the Twin Cities restaurant scene, with the closing of Brasserie Zentral, Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, Barbary Fig, Nye’s Polonaise Room, Il Foro, the Village Wok, and many others. Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar, is set to close on Dec. 31.
“It’s sad, but the timing is right,” said chef/owner Doug Flicker. “The dining world has changed a lot during these past seven years. I want to close while we’re still on top, I don’t want to see it slip. I’ve accomplished everything I’ve wanted to accomplish. It’s something that I want to do, not that I have to do. I believe in my heart that this is the right thing to do.”
The appropriately named 36-seat restaurant — Piccolo is Italian for “small” — opened in January 2010 to popular and critical acclaim. After earning a four-star review, Piccolo was later named the Star Tribune’s Restaurant of the Year, and no one less than TV’s Anthony Bourdain waxed rhapsodic on the restaurant’s considerable charms.
The restaurant’s modest square footage allowed Flicker to “take chances that I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking in a larger restaurant,” he told the Star Tribune in 2009 as he was preparing to open Piccolo. He added that he wanted to “redefine the way we eat,” and he did, approaching his menu as a series of highly complex and adventurous installments.
“I think it’s kind of like combining two or three tasting menus and serving it a la carte,” he explained. “The idea is to promote eating multiple dishes and get exposure to multiple flavors. People will be able order seven courses if they want, or come in with a table of four and share a few plates. I hate to use the words ‘small plates,’ because it sounds like shrinking something down. This is what I do best, cooking-wise.”
And with minor adjustments along the way, that’s exactly what he’s done these past seven delicious years. He also made scrambled eggs with pickled pig’s feet one of the city’s most remarkable signature dishes.
Flicker said that the plan is to close March 11.
“That’ll give time for people to come in for a last hurrah,” he said. “To enjoy one — or two — more meals.”
It’s not as if Flicker won’t remain busy. Esker Grove, the new Walker Art Center restaurant under his supervision, opens Tuesday. Sandcastle, his popular seasonal beachside outpost on the shore of Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, will return for its fourth season next spring.
“I’m seven years older, and I want to do something else,” said Flicker. “I’d still like to do one more project. It’s just a little too early to confirm any details.”
New plans for the space
The building won’t remain dark for long. Flicker is trading in his role as restaurateur and becoming a landlord. His tenants? Current Piccolo chef de cuisine Cameron Cecchini and Piccolo cook Grisha Hammes.
The duo plan to reopen in mid-April, with a fixed-price tasting menu format they’re calling, naturally, Tenant.
A four-week renovation will remove the wall separating the kitchen and dining room. They’ll be adding an eight-seat diner counter, and the dining room will shrink to eight to 10 seats.
“It sounds oxymoronic to say ‘casual tasting,’ but we think there’s room in the Minneapolis dining market for just that,” said Cecchini. “This is the perfect space for it.”
Think five-course meals, “with snacks and bonuses along the way,” said Cecchini. “It’s the type of meal I want when I go out,” he said. “Not a three-hour adventure, but good, real food — a rotating crudo, a stuffed pasta — followed by the simplest of desserts, maybe a scoop of ice cream.”
They’re forecasting two nightly seatings, served Tuesday through Saturday, squeezing in a third at the counter, with the two of them — and a third cook — doing all the cooking and serving. That’s it for staff. “With maybe a weekend dishwasher,” said Cecchini. Brunch service is a later possibility.
“We’re going to give it a go,” said Cecchini. “Doug has given us an awesome opportunity, and we have big shoes to fill.”
Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757