With the temporary closing of Travail Kitchen and Amusements for expansion last spring, I sadly missed my opportunity to visit the original location for this foodie destination. I have been to the pizza place that they opened in its former spot, Pig Ate My Pizza, perhaps the subject of a future post. Fortunately for me, the crew (co-owners Bob Gerken, Mike Brown, and James Winberg) was not about to let their loyal followers go hungry. Over the course of the past year, Travail held a number of experimental pop-up dinners, leading to a full pop-up restaurant, Umami, which recently officially shut its doors for good in preparation of the new Travail/Rookery opening. I was able to make my way to 2 of the events – one at Midtown Global Market and one dinner at Umami. This post covers venue, food&drink, and price for both events. I’ll preface the details by saying that on a scale from 1 to gastrorgasmic, these guys are off the charts!
Pop-Up Dinner at Kitchen in the Market (Midtown Global Market)
I won’t say much about the venue here. It was an improvised space, but appropriately casual for their style. What I love about the Travail crew is that they are unpretentious yet serious about their food. There was definitely something like Smells Like Teen Spirit or Enter Sandman and Gangnam Style played (yes, the kitchen crew joined in the dance).
The deal here was a 10 course meal including wine pairings, with reservations held through ticket purchase to various dinner sessions. The 10 courses took us on a tour of the world. The following is what I can remember (hopefully it’s correct and somewhat complete):
- Course 1 (Russia) – creme fraiche, biscuit, salmon roe, green onion
- Course 2 (Japan) – hamachi with aioli and seaweed salad
- Course 3 (China) – dim sum platter with pork buns, shumai, potstickers
- Course 4 (US, South) – bisque with andouille sausage, shrimp, pork rinds, and corn bread croutons
- Course 5 (Mexico) – chile relleno: sausage wrapped in piquillo peppers, eggs, mole, and chicharron
- Course 6 (Italy) – risotto with trumpet mushrooms, mozzarella, and freshly grated black truffle
- Course 7 (Spain) – bacalao and chorizo sausage
- Course 8 (France) – chicken ad asparagus (I wish I remembered more about this one)
- Course 9 (Korea) – sous vide short rib bulgogi, kimchi, pickles, grilled green onion, snow peas, rice
- Course 10 (Back to Mexico) – churros and ice cream (I remember some interesting flavors like thyme)
While it was awesome that they included wine pairings, all I remember is getting a sparkling white with the amuse bouche, and what seemed like about one every other course. I think I was too enthralled by the food and atmosphere to pay attention to the pairings. Hard to pay attention to anything else with people dancing Gangnam Style and bringing out your meal on gigantic wooden planks.
While $80/person isn’t cheap, it’s extremely reasonable for a 10-course meal of this quality including wine pairings. Especially when that includes tax and service fees. Really, I would have easily paid more, but Travail is about making ridiculously awesome food accessible to as many people as possible.
UMAMI by Travail
So when I say these guys are casual, I mean like the drink list being written on chalk on the ceiling. I seriously wish I was as creative and innovative as the folks at Travail, but I’ll take getting able to enjoy the results. The location of their pop-up restaurant was in a less than desirable part of north Minneapolis, which was part of their goal in trying to spread wonderful food as far as possible. I think their preference for locations just makes the experience that much more interesting by juxtaposing the type of food you’d normally see at a Michelin 3-star restaurant with rather weathered locales.
They had a limited but good selection of beer and wine available. I believe tried the Barbera d’Asti and Grenache, and both were delicious. Again, the real focus is the food. I’m not even going to try to recount everything they served, but there were a couple things revisited from the pop-up dinner at Kitchen in the Market. For example the dim sum and sous vide bulgogi and kimchi/banchan. Most things were new. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves – they show every course.
At $40/person (not including drink), this 11-course meal was a steal. I really can’t say anything more than that.