My wife and I stopped in at Victory 44 on Saturday. We had eaten there a couple of times, and liked their decent pub fare. But we were in for a big surprise. A great surprise!
The menus are gone. All the items are now written on a couple of big chalkboards. They've kept a few of the previous dishes (fish & chips, bangers & mash). But most of what's offered is new. The listings on the board are pretty basic, and just as we were speculating about them, a guy who looked like a cook showed up at our table to take our order. As he started describing the dishes, our jaws dropped. This was not the pub fare. We just ordered the first three things on the top of the list, and let the cooking begin:
BEET & ORANGE is how the first course was titled. Little squares of orange lined up like a row of tiles. Along side them were a couple of deep red ribbons. But as we started to eat, we began laughing out loud. The orange squares were the beets! And the red ribbons were the orange! (Blood orange gelee, we later learned). We love that kind of humor in our dining. It was a very refreshing start to the meal.
LAMB SHOULDER was three pieces of lamb, perfectly cooked sous-vide style. I don't think they were using an immersion circulator when they doing mostly fish & chips and burgers! It was accompanied by a bean puree, and a balsamic reduction. But I don't remember much because my wife loved the dish so much she would hardly let me near it.
CHICKEN CORDON BLEU This was a wonderful deconstructed version of the tired classic. Two pieces of chicken, again cooked sous-vide, and then seared to a nice crisp. Inside were some strips of ham. The cheese, usually on the inside of the stuffed chicken breast, was alongside, as a creamy gruyere sauce. And the breading that is supposed to be on the outside of the chicken, showed up as a coating for a crunchy brioche toast. Add a couple of browned brussels sprouts, and it made for a dish that was out of this world.
TRES LECHES CAKE We were a little reluctant to try dessert. By now, it was obvious that the guy delivering our food was a serious chef, and we couldn't believe that someone who cooked like that would do desserts well. They leave that to pastry chefs. We figured that he would have brought in desserts from somewhere else. He was pretty low-key about describing the three on offer, but without much probing, it became obvious that he was high on the tres leches. What we got was not at all a traditional version like from our Mexican bakeries (I'm partial to Durango's). But it was fantastic. It was another clever interpretation, with the cake separated from the sauces. The cake was moist by itself. And the sauces included all the taste of the traditional version. Add to that a bit of chocolate mousse and some leaves of dark chocolate, and we were in heaven!
At the end of the meal the chef chatted with us a bit. Turns out that he's only been at the restaurant for a few weeks, having been brought in as chef de cuisine. He's gradually adding these creative dishes, and wants to go even further in that direction. I asked him where else he's cooked, and he said all over: NYC, Napa Valley, Pacific NW. When I got home, I Googled him. His name is James Winberg, and he was chef-owner of a place in Washington state that was getting some serious press a couple years ago. He's a Minnesota native who has just returned. And this is what he's doing. Putting out some incredible food in this low-key pub in North Minneapolis.
Right now, it's just James and another cook doing everything, cooking and serving. It's great fun to have them bring out our food and tell us about what they've whipped up for us. It's also ridiculously cheap. Our entire bill was $33.00! I'm not exaggerating to say this meal was of La Belle Vie quality. We can't wait to get back!
2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN
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