It’s been seven years of evolution. When Doug Flicker announced he would open Piccolo, it was on his terms. The kitchen would serve what he wanted to cook: small plates that defied cuisine categorization. He experimented with techniques, ingredients and dabbled in molecular gastronomy, but what remained was his dedication to the ephemeral Flicker muse. Where he led, we followed. Now, he says it’s time for this chapter to come to an end.
In its time, Piccolo has been the shining star of our culinary universe. It’s the place that Andrew Zimmern uses to dazzle out of town friends. It’s where Anthony Bourdain discovered that Midwestern food could actually stand toe to toe with New York dining. It’s the place that we counted on for astounding, beautiful, delicious food in an intimate setting.
When it first opened, Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune gushed over the beautiful plates, cozy room stacked with cookbooks, but worried about the long-term viability.
When speaking to Flicker, he says it’s not that the restaurant hasn’t been successful, it’s just that this is the next step in his progression as a chef, business owner and, in a way a logical next step for Piccolo. “I've accomplished everything I wanted to there. It's been an amazing time... That being said, it's become a special occassions place. On one hand it's an honor to hold that place for people,” he said. “On the other... It's time.”
The game has changed mightily in recent months with many of the restaurants that held a special place as perennial “bests” on the media’s collective lists shuttering one after another. La Belle Vie, Vincent A Restaurant, Brasserie Zentral and more recently Saffron and Heartland (which will close at the end of the year.) The standard bearers for white linens and birthday dinners are closing their doors as casual neighborhood eateries pop up one after another. It may seem alarming, until one looks back at the final days of Auriga, Flicker’s first restaurant. He also shuttered that space when the restaurant was still at the top of its game, but it was another time when we decried the End of Fine Dining.
As the chef works on the new Esker Grove (doing mock service this weekend and opening to the public on Tuesday December 13) Piccolo will wind down and then be reopened as a new restaurant run by Flicker’s sous chef Cameron Cecchini and cook Grisha Hammes. Those two first met on the line opening Borough in Minneapolis. The duo will be fleshing out ideas while simultaneous working the line at Piccolo. The next chapter for the address with be called Tenant, a casual neighborhood tasting menu spot.
“I've accomplished what I wanted to at Piccolo,” said Flicker. “I don't want it to slip or become cliche.”
It’s hard to believe this chef has been in the business for 30 years, but that kind of longevity doesn’t happen without change. Flicker will continue his work at Sandcastle, a seasonal eatery on the shores of Lake Nokomis that serves a seriously good hot dog, fried chicken and a mean twist cone. And, he is very excited about the new venture at the Walker Art Center. “Esker Grove will get plenty of attention. Working with them has been a trip and I could not have a better team opening that restaurant.”
So, we will embrace his pragmatism and think of another creative soul who made the unreal commonplace. Apologies to Dr. Seuss; we promise not to cry because it’s over, only smile that it happened.
March 15 is Piccolo’s final service.