My publisher and I ambled out of a scuzzy bar in the Warehouse District and were met by two of Minneapolis’ hottest restaurants, just standing there like celebrities brushing their mutts. Such is life in the new Hollywood of creative dining: Acclaimed chefs, locally and nationally, are setting up shop all over the Mini-apple. I stood, starstruck, on the corner of the street.
I talked Pubby into trying this new spot, known for its artful plates and the luxurious taste-bud massages brought on by its food. It had all the right props – on the menu, on the walls, in the air – but Borough’s panache couldn’t cover for its lack of substance and quality.
The Basics: Located on Washington Avenue, you could throw a snowball from Borough’s front walk and hit Bar La Grassa (This matters for next week’s review). Their menus are seasonal, and the current ones are right here. You can read about the chefs here. They’re certainly not rookies. They have a downstairs bar called Parlour with a limited menu.
“Why don’t you guys go to the bar, get a drink, try an appetizer, then make your decision?”
So at the bar we ploppeth, between a section of glossy white tiles and industrial-chic bar taps. The mecha-taps, relative to the short walls and mismatched china cabinets, make the bar look like it perhaps hadn’t been built there but smashed its way in. The other walls are concrete and cruddy, decorated with smears of putty as if still under construction. I don’t know if Borough was stylish or not, but I could certainly tell they were trying.
The hostess made a selling point of the appetizers, claiming them to be sharing plates, so the $14 carapaccio should work … right? That’s what we ordered. Meanwhile, the barkeep showed Pubby a “Minnesota Corona” – a Grain Belt with a lime in it – and slid me a Brau Bros Moo Joos.
The sheen hadn’t even come off Pubby’s new drink sensation when a large, mostly uncovered plate was set between us. Before I could say “Where’s the rest?” the server was gone.
The entire dish could have fit in the palm of my hand. I took one bite and was afraid to eat any more until Pubby had some. So much for sharing size. He looked at the dish, even smaller after my bite, gave me his tenth-best “This is why I don’t listen to you” look, and went back to a phone call. Entrees? No, that was enough, thanks.
Wrong dish, wrong time? Looking at photos of their food online, I don’t think that was the case.
Pubby comes from the Duluth area, where five bucks can buy you a food coma, but I understand the concept of fine dining and that it’s not about the portions. You’re going for dazzling appearance and decadent flavor, and I’m fine with paying for that as long as it’s there. The carapaccio had neither.
Every stick figure I draw has scoliosis, and I could make this “art” at home. It tasted Mike Tice: It just was what it was. It tasted like a sliver of roast beef with a pebble of shrimp and minced … stuff. At best, it was the food version of a Justin Timberlake flick – where all he has to do is be Justin Timberlake and the acting doesn’t matter because his fans will just gawk at him anyhow. At worst, it was the re-arranged leftovers from a previous customer’s plate.
Fine dining establishments are supposed to create classics. That’s why they’re fine. That’s why, when studios need acting like Christoph Waltz’ in “Basterds,” they don’t call Justin Timberlake. And I’m not ready to eat average food at Borough just because it’s at Borough.
Is it unfair for me to review a restaurant after four bites? Absolutely not. Borough would have kept us in our seats with four sock-knockingly good bites. Instead, Grain Belt won best actor for its portrayal of a Corona and Pubby and I left the show early.
Of course, Borough has its uses. I know enough people who’d come here just for the Facebook boast or to impress a date by acting like it’s “their kind of place” when he’s only been there a handful of times. Otherwise, Borough is a victim of the very culture it wormed its way into: I’d love to give this place a second chance down the road … but, for every actor who blows his audition, there’s another one on the corner waiting for his big break.
Such is life in Hollywood.