My friend, Mona, and I arrived at Vincent to a brightly sunlit dining room with white-linen-covered tables. Kimberly, our server, immediately cooled us down from the summer heat, as she delivered a beautiful Chilled Cucumber Gazpacho—the Soup of the Moment ($8)—made with cream, vinegar, basil, olive oil, grapes, bread crumbs, and almonds. Plated decoratively in a coffee cup on a saucer, it was refreshingly light. As we began to enjoy the gazpacho, time in the restaurant started to slow down.
Chef Vincent Francoual stopped at our table to welcome us to his restaurant, saying he would stop by later for a chat.
Looking around the room and out the window, Mona and I commented that we couldn’t wait to return with her husband, Mike, and my partner, Chad, to sit in the new patio outside along Nicollet Avenue. It was designed to resemble a French sculpture garden. “Heures Joyeuses!” or Happy Hour on the patio is Monday-Friday, 4:30-6:30 PM. All beer and selected glasses of wine are $3 each, and many food items are $3.50-$4.
Two more plates arrived.
We shared the Carpaccio of Red Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese, and Frisée Greens ($11.75). The beets, which had been roasted and sliced ever so thinly, tasted earthy and sweet, but not grimy. The combination of whipped goat cheese and greens complemented the beets. It was tremendously satisfying. Mona commented that she generally doesn’t care for beets, but loved this salad.
Next, we sampled the Pan-Seared Scallops, Leeks, Fingerling Potatoes, and Orange Sauce ($14.75). Scallops are my favorite seafood when prepared correctly. These were perfect—pan-seared, crisp on the outside, tender-white on the inside, with an incredible butter flavor. The beginning of our lunch couldn’t have been better.
The famous and celebrated Vincent Burger was delivered to our table for our scrutiny. This was a toughie, because if you didn’t hear or read about it in the summer of 2008, you probably were visiting Mars. So, I decided to dive in and try it, putting all the press behind me. The Vincent Burger is prepared with ground beef, braised short ribs, and smoked Gouda ($13.50). Of course, french fries adorned the plate. Kimberly offered Béarnaise sauce ($3.50) for dipping the fries—tarragon heaven. The short ribs and Gouda are cooked inside the ground beef patties. One cannot find a burger as moist, or with fascinating flavors combining together so perfectly. It’s only $8 during Happy Hour.
Francoual pulled up a chair. When he asked how we were enjoying our meal, we raved. He seemed truly pleased. He is unassuming and pleasant. When I called to make an appointment to review his restaurant, I received a call back from him personally. I was surprised, because one cannot pick up a local publication that isn’t singing the praises of him, his restaurant, or the Vincent Burger. He’s a rock star in the culinary world, but the only one who doesn’t know it.
Sharing our delight over his beets, Francoual said, “One of our servers, Jennifer, grows them in a community garden. She brings them in, and we roast them. If we don’t use her beets, we purchase from local farmers’ markets. I call it a deconstructed salad.”
“Clean and simple” is Francoual’s motto.
Delightful to speak with, Francoual recounted his beginnings: “I was born in Puy-l’Evêque, in the Cahors region of France. I began culinary school in Souillac at the age of 15. Four years later, I earned a diploma C.A.P. of Cuisine and C.A.P. in Pastry.”
Later, Francoual related that he is training for the Twin Cities Marathon, and has participated in the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon. I read recently that he formed a triathlon team that raised more than $77,000 in three years for Fraser, a Minnesota nonprofit organization serving children and adults with special needs.
When desserts arrived, Francoual explained that the Vanilla Ice Cream, Warm Chocolate Sauce, and Homemade “Madeleine” Cookies ($8) was his favorite childhood dessert. We also enjoyed Three Creams: Crème Caramel, Crème Brûlée, and Pot de Crème ($8), as well as Louis XV Chocolate Cake with Hazelnuts and Poached Pear ($9). We couldn’t finish everything, but took much pleasure in trying.
Francoual excused himself, and returned to work. He’s a man in a very happy place in his life, sharing beauty and happiness through his culinary creations, while breaking the rules American-style.
I expected elegant dining with attitude before arriving. But Vincent—A Restaurant is a dichotomy both elegant and casual at the same time, which made me glad, and left me feeling quite welcome anytime.
1100 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit www.GardenCounty.info. Check out his “Word of Mouth” Blog under Extras at lavendermagazi.wpengine.com.