As opposed to my more calculated dining experiences, the ones for which I plan to bring a notebook and have a deadline, The Rookery was another story. It wasn’t even my choice. I was told we were going so we went – on a Thursday, to Robbinsdale, to the back portion of the remodeled Travail. If you’re behind the times, Travail moved into a new space about two years ago, opened a pizza place in their old space, and continues to deliver a theatrical dining experience in a new environment.
I hadn’t visited since the re-vamp and was happy to let someone else make the plans for once.
The Rookery is the chef’s table at Travail, not unlike Birdie at Nighthawks in South Minneapolis, with one exception: every 6 weeks or so, the chef rotates. Travail chefs get an opportunity to develop their own menu and theme, presenting a pop-up of sorts to the public without the risk of the traditional pop-up or opening their own space.
The chef currently finishing his tenure behind the counter is Nathaniel Moser (above), at the time I would call him the boyfriend of a friend of a friend. I suppose that’s my disclosure statement. His theme is upscale bar food, with an emphasis on upscale. The most low-brow items on the menu are a burger and fish and chips, but they both fit in with the menu as a whole.
Because of their emphasis on food and the unusual ways in which it can be served, I never really gave much thought to the bar program at Travail. On arrival, though, it is clear that they have. The menu is extensive, covering the basics and classics plus many signature drinks in a multi-page cocktail list. There are several tap beers and wines available, but in keeping with the “dinner and a show” mentality, I opted for a cocktail if only for the showmanship.
The Pisco Sour (above) is pleasantly tart and creamy with the fluffy egg white nearly whipped into meringue, creating a latte-like foam at the rim of the glass. Pisco, a spirit that is gaining popularity among US drinkers, is similar to brandy in that its distilled from grapes, but there is no wood aging to adulterate the grape flavors. It works beautifully in classic combination with the lemon and dash of bitters. It sets a clean backdrop for our first courses.
Moser’s scallop crudo with yuzu, apple, roe, and scallion (above) is a textural adventure through crisp and crunchy territory. The scallop is prominent but the beauty of the dish is each ingredient’s contribution to the plate as a whole. There is a scallop cream on the plate that hits some notes of sea without being fishy.
Moving into earthier beverages to accompany heartier dishes, we each opted to try both the Manhattan and the Brooklyn. The Manhattan (below) is everything you would expect from the classic with none of the classic screw-ups – it’s not too sweet or fruity, and it’s boozy as hell. The Bulleit bourbon and Carpano Antica, a vanilla-forward vermouth – are in ideal balance. And the ice isn’t the little shards that fall out of the front of your fridge and melt like a Sno-Cone.
The Brooklyn, a spin off of the Manhattan in which each ingredient is replaced with something similar, has wonderful herbal notes that are difficult to describe. Equally as strong from an alcohol standpoint, notes of fennel and anise are prominent due to the amaro, and a vanilla counterpoint arrives on the finish, in a similar fashion as with the Manhattan.
High marks were given to the Kale dish, a hearty side chock full of bacon. The habanero listed on the menu was missing, but the plate really didn’t need it. The Mussels, however, displayed a breadth of flavor beyond our expectations – “dried shirmp, lime” and something called “Thai ‘pesto'”. The balance offered by citrus cut the slickness of the shellfish. The pastry in the lamb pot pie was superb, and contained within were the traditional components of pot pie mixed into a rich gravy.
There really were no missteps in the savory food. My partners in dining were equally content with the crispy fish and chips and hangar steak but the portions were so generous that I mainly stuck to what was in front of me.
The only lackluster moment was in the Coconut Panna Cotta with chocolate mousse and blood orange supremes. While the accoutrements were a bright spot, the panna cotta was sadly too gelatinous, almost into Jell-O territory, rather than the creamy Italian masterpiece it should be. Opt instead for the donut. That’s all it is, and it’s great. A perfectly cooked, raised donut.
Moser’s final weekend at The Rookery is sold out, however the bar is first come, first served. So tonight is your last chance to experience his food. However, next to be featured in the Spotlight series is Andy Goettsch, who promises crudo, pasta, and other Italian options. Visit the Travail website for tickets to The Rookery, and follow The Rookery on Twitter for news and upcoming chef spotlights.
Finally, speaking of spotlights, stay tuned for the upcoming collaboration between the Travail team (specifically Moser and Goettsch who are skilled homebrewers) and Faribault’s F-Town brewing. The Spotlight IPA will be released in about two weeks.