Restaurant review

Restaurant review: Climbing the basement of Myriel’s church

Is a grandma’s pie in the basement of a Minnesota church something that brings international culinary stardom?

If you live in Minnesota, your first reasonable thought is probably, No never. A grandmother’s pie is a humble thing, a quiet thing, something that does not enter into the international culinary struggle. He sits towards the back of a table covered with a vinyl coated cloth, usually between the seven-layered bars and little haystacks of melted chocolate chow mein noodles, and he lowers his head because he’s humble. . He knows it doesn’t matter to anyone except Karyn Tomlinson, chef and owner of the new St. Paul Stunner. Myriel, for whom a Minnesota Grandma’s Pie is so important that it broke down doors and changed the world, or at least a little corner of it.

This story begins in the small town of Dassel, Minnesota, one of those western farming towns built around church and pie.

“Apple was almost always apple,” Tomlinson remembers, thinking of his grandmother’s pie. “The pie was apple pie, unless the peaches were in season. She would look for Haralsons in the orchard on the outskirts of town. Cinnamon, apple, really simple. She taught me how to use lard in the crust and handle it very, very lightly. It must be rustic, ugly – maybe even it will fall apart when you cut it because you haven’t handled it at all. She was still, always make a pie. She brought a pie to everyone who got sick, who had a baby, and of course to any funeral. Little Karyn worked alongside her grandmother in Dassel, and at first she began, like all babies in a kitchen, to shake and prick pieces of dough with the little pins of her baby fingers. “I will never forget Christmas when she gave me my own cookie cutter, pie plate and rolling pin.”

Sitting in Karyn Tomlinson’s new restaurant, Myriel, in the famous former Ristorante Luci space across from the St. Kate campus, you feel like no one in the local culinary world will forget this Christmas either. Tomlinson’s rise to culinary stardom is quite well known in the world of chefs: cooking school in France, pastry chef in Borough, a few years at Meritage, winter cuisine at Fäviken in Sweden, a return to Minnesota for a tour as chef at the locavore Palace Corner Table, where she became the first female solo in history to win the prestigious Cochon555 national whole pork cooking competition. With that career arc, you can reasonably predict that his restaurant would feature huge patches of pork belly on cookies, but the new Myriel is geared towards a much different world.

You don’t just feel it in the pie – which was peachy when I tried it, and both light as air and satisfying like bacon, exactly what you would hope for in a lard crust. But even more, this firm rooting in a place and in time is also found in other dishes: in the smoked lamb fillet on crème fraîche infused with birch, or the textured farm cucumber puree soup with more cucumbers. , or the very room that is Myriel – white like the interior of a Swedish church, stripped and whitewashed so that nothing gets in the way of pure contemplation.

“These are Muscovy duck eggs,” Tomlinson explains as she visits each of Myriel’s table between courses, showing four lightly browned oblong eggs in a silver dish. You lean in and hear a story about the eggs which, like many on Myriel’s plates, come from a farm near Dassel. Tomlinson has cultivated a relationship with farmers and gatherers in this way after the Historical Society of the Dassel region invited her to dinner. Perhaps they had heard of how Tomlinson had used his grandmother’s pie to break down the doors of the world.

Highlights: In 2016, Tomlinson used the kitchen at her Airbnb in Trondheim to bake Grandmother Jeanette’s pie, which she then presented to chef Magnus Nilsson’s staff in Fäviken as a thank you for pressing her to last minute for dinner. He liked the pie so much that he offered her an unpaid internship, and she spent a season living in a tiny cabin on the mountainside, foraging for food, and thinking about cream of birch. In 2018, Tomlinson got a whole hog from Hidden Stream Farm for the National Pig Pork Cooking Competition555, butchered it, returned the lard for the pie crust and won it all – and that grandma’s pie was the fireworks that closed the show. For this, Tomlinson gained a lot of press by anointing her as Pig Queen, although no one seems to have noticed that she won by bringing a pie to a pig fight.

“Grandmother Jeanette Tomlinson. . . pie was her love tongue, ”Tomlinson recalls as we speak on the phone and she drives to meet the Forager who helps provide Myriel with unusual flowers and greens. “To me, his pie is nothing but good and loving pairings.” Not that making grandma’s pies is painless. “I ended up making a bunch of them for his funeral two years ago. But I am not a cook grandmother.

Definitely not. With the technical skills of a three-star chef, Tomlinson does not cook at home. And yet there is a religious grandmother in the mix that makes Tomlinson’s food different from every other elite international tasting menu.

Tickets for the Myriel tasting menu, at $ 135 per person, weren’t easy to get the first few weeks Tomlinson was giving them. She has a lot of fans, mainly from her years running the kitchen at beloved Corner Table but also from her Instagram presence, @katomlinson, as the head of the pandemic cooking show Karyn’s Quarantine Kitchen. On the night I managed to score a few, the guests were almost all female, dressier, more girly and bubbly than the general population, bowing down to photograph their food and friends and cocktails. A synchronized show that took place with silver bowls coming out in parade both from the kitchen, since all the diners eat the same meal for the tasting menu at the same time. This meal was half a classic jet set restaurant tasting menu, half a fantastic adult snack, and not like any meal I have ever had.

The first course was a filled sumac tea and a trio of quarter-sized appetizers: duck liver pâté supporting a small canoe of pickled onions on a house salt, thin translucent slices of radish and fennel on a Gouda cracker, and trout tartare on a perfect circle of kohlrabi. The tea and goodies arrived on this old-fashioned sort of plate that was once called a bridge set, the kind big enough for a sandwich when you play bridge, with a quirky divot for a cup of tea. The plate was ridged, covered in delicate scrolls of gold, and instantly transported you to a different head space, a space where fine and delicate treasures come and go with silent exclamations of pleasure.

A dozen courses followed. A very small slice of applewood smoked lamb tenderloin accompanied by a thick cream infused with birch, placed on a circle of beetroot. A bright green soup of liquefied cucumber, homemade cottage cheese created from local farm milk and fresh tarragon oil. Bread made from home-ground cereals and a starter Tomlinson has been making for a decade. A salad in a silver bowl that remains in my memory the most charming I have ever eaten: full of flowers and brilliant handfuls of green carrots concealing a rainbow of carrot discs – lift the greens and the flowers , find the carrot jewelry. The salad was accompanied by a buckwheat cylinder containing a tomato and goat cheese pie, and the whole thing was vital and fulfilled, as if you were eating this very summer.

In total, there were 16 dishes, including the respectful little omelet that followed the presentation of the eggs. What an omelet it was! Pure, trembling, fresh as a sunrise. Wowza.

If a small omelet and a silver bowl of flowers aren’t what you are looking for, try the a la carte menu, which offers larger dishes that are equally appealing. I was particularly charmed by the lentils, a French preparation made from firm legumes with a very meaty and salty taste. Add a poached egg or a duck leg confit for a dinner. Parisian rye gnocchi, that is, gnocchi which are dumplings made without potatoes, are particularly delicious, crispy and light but also grilled with cheese. My friend, who doesn’t really like meat or seafood, shouted with joy as he tasted them: “Oh, it’s like tater tot bar food, for fancy people!” And then she trampled the whole plate. It’s easy to do alongside Myriel’s well-chosen pocket wine list and extremely enticing semi-salty cocktails.

What not to like? It’s a chef’s new palate with a rare voice, rooted in a specific location, a draw for ticket foodies and neighbors who want good bar food. One thing, however, don’t ask Myriel.

“I can’t tell you how many nice old ladies came in saying, ‘You must be Myriel!’ “No, I’m Karyn,” Tomlinson said. “Myriel is the bishop at the beginning of Wretched who invites Jean Valjean to dinner, and when he hears all that he has done wrong, he sets the table even more nicely. Later, when Valjean steals Myriel’s money, the bishop tells the police that he gave the money to Valjean as a gift. “It is the act of grace that puts Jean Valjean on another path. It’s hospitality, the kind with biblical implications, the way Jesus showed hospitality in his way of life, ”she adds.

“Before opening, I read two chapters of Wretched to staff, ”she said. “They’re still teasing me about it—story time with Karyn. But it’s really important to understand if you’re working here. It’s not like other restaurants. It’s like me. When the chips are low I think of hospitality in Wretched and in the Bible, and I use my grandmother’s teapot. When I first became a chef, the only female chefs I saw were, like, covered in tattoos, crossed knives, scowling. Which is good if that’s who you are, but it wasn’t me. I was wondering, Can someone like me have a restaurant?

The answer is Myriel, and the answer is very original. Yes.

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