Chambers Kitchen (Minneapolis, MN)
Individual chocolate cakes with molten centers: one could have a worse legacy in the culinary landscape of America. This singular inspiration from Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been released into the wild, resulting in over 20,000 Google hits for the recipe and frozen cakes to microwave at home.
Jean-Georges is a master chef. His namesake restaurant in New York is a foodie pilgrimage. His other properties are also destinations. And given the current instability of the Twin Cities' restaurant scene, at least at the high end, we are pleased to have his hand in at the Chambers Kitchen.
In the basement of the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, Chambers Kitchen is the hot new dining room, with plenty of modern art, modern attitude and modern cooking.
The menu is Asian-influenced, and most dishes offer a bit of spice. This is not spicy food, though; the heat is deftly worked in as a sublime bottom note to the overall flavor complexity. Our spice-sensitive friends loved the food, and so did we.
A couple of perfect dishes from the tasting menu: slabs of king oyster mushrooms and slices of avocado with chile oil and lime. The flavors and textures were earthy and smooth but perfectly accented by the lime and a bit of heat. Sounds simple, and it is, but it is also fabulous. And shrimp wrapped in bacon is a marvelous combination, but spiced with barely hot cumin, honey, and passion fruit mustard, the classic pairing is more pungent, sweet, and hot. Everyone swooned with joy over this dish.
Almost as good was the mahi-mahi with Malaysian chile sauce. The heat of the sauce was balanced with Thai basil and diced celery, and the whole dish had a remarkably complex flavor, given the simple ingredients.
The only clunker we found was the duck à l'orange. The garnish of crystallized ginger and pear clashed badly with the kohlrabi puree. It was startling. The other dishes were spot on, and this one was all over the place.
Which brings us to dessert. Yes, there's a dessert menu, but we recommend ordering the dessert tasting. In fact, you can eat somewhere else and then go to Chambers Kitchen; they take dessert reservations after 9:30 p.m.
And then desserts will rain down on your table. Caramelized banana cake. Passion fruit soufflé. Crème fraiche cheesecake with kumquat marmalade. The famed liquid-center chocolate cake. And the sorbets: blood orange, condensed milk, raspberry chili, lemongrass and more, each in its own small container. Pass them around. Fight over your favorites. There isn't a better dessert course in the Twin Cities.
None of this is cheap. Appetizers are $7–$14, and entrees are $18–$34. The seven-course tasting menu with the dessert tasting (we recommend this tour through the restaurant's repertoire) is $85, $130 with the wine pairing. Desserts are $7; the tasting menu is $10 per person. Add wine, and you're easily spending $100 per person.
Chambers Kitchen feels like a New York transplant. Sure, the young dressed-in-black waiters could do better to radiate a little Midwestern charm, but they're neither pretentious nor unwelcoming. They clearly want you to have a good meal, and based on everything we've tried, you definitely will.