On Friday night The Wife and I took The Rooster to Le Cordon Bleu’s recently revamped culinary school restaurant, Technique. Back in the fall of 2009 we had visited their previous restaurant known as The Minnesota Room, located across the street, for lunch and enjoyed it so we were looking forward to trying the new place for dinner.
We had reservations for 5:30 and arrived just a few minutes after. We were the first people in the restaurant and our table was ready with a highchair. The new restaurant is far more beautiful than their old space and provides near panoramic views of the kitchen as the students prepare the meals. While we were expecting to choose from a variety of options from their menu to meet either three courses ($10) or four ($15), when we arrived we were presented with a seven-course menu for $15 instead which did not include all of the options we saw on their online menu. Even so the tasting menu looked good and we weren’t in much of a position to complain at $15/person.
I generally don’t see much value in what I like to call “the flatbread craze”. They’re items which appear on so many restaurant menus, so often, that my eyes glaze over when I see them. If this little flatbread hadn’t been part of the menu I certainly would not have ordered it. When it was finally delivered to our table I was honestly a little taken back by just how small of a portion it was.
A 1/4 of a mouthful which was more cracker and garlic than chicken, bacon, onion or peppers, this one was a total miss for me. While piquillo peppers (they misspelled them on the menu) have no real heat as they’re about ~100 or less on the Scoville scale, just above bell peppers and far below the 2500 – 5000 of a jalapeno, they do have a nice flavor which, along with everything else, was completely dominated by the garlic. It took a couple of swigs of water to wash the taste out of my mouth and being that I’m a huge garlic fan I’m guessing that for the average person this would have been nearly disgusting and if the portion had been any larger people would have been leaking garlic out of their pores the next morning in the shower.
The second course was an appropriately sized salad which claimed to include a base of “seasonal greens”, a hilarious misnomer for January in Minnesota. Even so the salad itself was refreshing and light. The apple chips were crunchy and I far preferred them to what most salads include–croutons–to gain the same effect. The entire thing worked very well and reminded me of many of the summer salads I’ve had over the years and I was almost transported to a locale which was not -10F with a light dusting of snow.
I was looking forward to the soup course as I haven’t had a true consomme in years and I assumed that a culinary school which carries the Cordon Bleu trademark would work diligently with their students to create one properly. Unfortunately even if the broth had been created with painstaking care it was impossible to tell as the vegetables stuffed in it, instead of accompanying it, overpowered the entire thing. The Wife didn’t care for this one at all and let me finish hers as well. It was a fine beef broth soup with vegetables but it certainly wasn’t a consomme. Bummer.
The first of the actual protein courses, I was quite excited to try the salmon. This dish would not have been one I would have selected as I prefer to keep my meals to steaks when presented with a reasonably priced opportunity to do so. The salmon itself was nicely cooked but I would have preferred a little more searing on the edges instead of a lump of soft flesh. What was missed on the fish itself was made up for in the crispy asparagus tips. The pea puree and dill butter sauces were both quite mild and did not take anything away at all from the star of the dish. While the menu promised baby red potatoes we received only a single red potato crisp adorning the top of the dish. Either they were playfully experimenting or simply forgot but I believe it worked just as well without the starch.
The fifth course was a beautifully presented pork loin with a fruit salsa over pasta. The pork loin had been rolled in an extremely spicy dry rub and while it was even hot for me and The Wife couldn’t tolerate it at all, I found that it was quite nice especially when coupled with the sweet fruit salsa. I’m really unsure of the point of the tasteless and limp parpadelle underneath and I wasn’t really a fan of the slightly dry and overcooked pork but I gobbled mine and The Wife’s up without much complaint. Definitely not something for the general public due to the heat but certainly a beautiful dish for a heat lover if they didn’t cook it as long next time.
The Beef Strip was the final protein prior to the dessert course. I ordered mine blue and while I ordered a similar steak at Cafe Lurcat two weeks prior and received my first heading more towards medium-rare than extremely rare, I was honestly quite surprised when it came out cooked exactly as I had asked especially when this was such a small piece of beef. The sides were nothing to speak about however and Technique’s fairly lame Bordelaise was not even 1/100th the one we sampled at Cafe Lurcat. Even so I was impressed with the grill work of the students at Technique and I was pleased with the end to our main courses.
Being that I am not a big dessert fan, the Technique Trio Dessert Plate wasn’t a big deal to me. They provided a spoonful of a fruit crumble and a miniature cupcake sized portion of a “lava cake” and their cheesecake which The Heavy Table described as being “sublime” back in November.
The crumble wasn’t anything special and was definitely no better or worse than any I’ve made in my own kitchen. However the fruit was tart and the portion, even though small, was surprisingly satisfying. The “lava cake” is in quotes because instead of a liquid center, this little dessert had more of an underdone cake center instead. I felt like I was eating a poorly made chocolate cupcake from a “Not-so Easy Bake Oven” with an underpowered lightbulb inside. Finally the “sublime” cheesecake was fine. While we didn’t receive the delectable treat that The Heavy Table did, I clearly could see how in its full glory this would have come off as light and as pleasant as was described.
While the food was good, our server–also a student–was unsure of himself and the menu. Our questions were usually greeted with blank stares towards the kitchen and a lot of hemming and hawing. I realize that the students are going to school to learn to cook but a basic knowledge of the items on the menu and what they include as well as a background on the general operation of the restaurant would have been nice. In addition to the server’s lack of knowledge, the speed at which we were served is worthy of mention. Our 5:30 dinner reservation turned into a 1.5+ hour ordeal with varying lengths of time between courses, seemingly at the whim of our friendly but absentminded server. If you’re looking for a quick and cheap meal, you’re only going to get 50% of it at Technique.
Overall, while I was fairly critical, I was quite impressed with what we had at Le Cordon Bleu’s Technique in Mendota Heights on Friday night. While it’s definitely no match for the more refined dining experiences you’re likely to find around town, I noted to The Wife after our meal that we have eaten at other restaurants purporting to be of higher pedigree which served us far less worthy items for a lot more money. If you’re looking for a great night out which will keep you under $40 (we didn’t order wine but they do have a wine list which appeared to run around $20-25/bottle) then I highly recommend you check out Technique in Mendota Heights!
Have you ever eaten at The Minnesota Room or Technique in Minnesota (or any of their locations nationwide)? If so what did you think? Did you get to order from their regular menu or did you also receive a tasting menu as we did? Have you ordered from their wine list? Being that I’m not a wine person I can’t provide much information; perhaps you might be able to shed some light on their selection instead? Do you know of any other culinary schools around town which offer similar dining experiences for the money (AI in Minneapolis, MnSCU schools, etc?) Whatever you have to say about Technique in Mendota Heights go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.
1440 Northland Dr
Mendota Heights, MN 55120
Tuesday to Friday: 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM and 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM
See all the pictures from Technique in Mendota Heights on Flickr here.