“Kim has vision for a space, injects an energy, and puts the right people in the right place like nobody I’ve ever seen before,” claims Lucas Almendinger. He’s the chef at the helm of Kim Bartmann’s newest project, The Third Bird, and the evidence is all around him.
During the first soft-open lunch last Wednesday, Tilia chef Steven Brown (below, left) hovers over plates in the kitchen. He’s pointing, tasting and suggesting. Front-of-house guru Bill Summerville steps in the kitchen to observe, before inquiring with diners about the food. The feedback, near as we can tell, is encouraging.
Only two months after the opening of Bartmann’s Tiny Diner, The Third Bird has begun service on the edge of Loring Park. It bears many of the classic Bartmann hallmarks: a reverence for farm-fresh ingredients and seasonal changes, a playful, quirky atmosphere, and a menu where comfortable fare meets chef-driven technique.
Almendinger (above, right) left Union downtown before its closing to spend more time with his infant daughter. A former sous chef at Tilia, he kept in touch with Brown who informed him of this new project. “I couldn’t be happier with the restaurant, working with Kim, and with Steven again,” says Almendinger. “And working with Bill Summerville has been a huge learning experience for me.”
The first word on Third Bird (sorry, the Bartmann rhyme scheme is rubbing off) suggested a special reliance on wine. Former La Belle Vie maestro di vino Summerville has created a prescient wine list. It promotes aperitifs (a trend that’s long overdue) and challenges mainstream wine attitudes (yes, chardonnay and merlot can both be damn good juice). A beautiful white ash bar radiates out from the kitchen. It’s a fine vantage point to sip a glass and watch the hive of activity in the kitchen.
“We’re going to be striving for perfection, but I want the ingredients and flavor profiles to be familiar and humble,” says Almendinger. “We have a roasted carrot dish I’m super proud of. It’s carrots glazed with carrot juice infused with coffee and buttermilk. It just tastes like a really awesome carrot, but it’s done really well.” And having his old mentor in the kitchen has helped bulletproof the menu in the last few weeks. “Steven has worked on the menu very closely,” says Almendinger. “He’s acted a kind of an editor and idea sounding board. Which, I mean, a four-time James Beard nominee, it’s ridiculous to have a guy like that to call up and ask what he thinks.”
The Bartmann formula, though, has always been contingent on its neighborhoods. It’s at home in South Minneapolis (Tiny Diner, Pat’s Tap), in quirky Northeast (Red Stag) and upscale Uptown (Barbette). But Loring Park dining is a bit more tricky. If there’s a complaint to be had about dining in the park, it’s either that you sacrifice quality for location, or you pay dearly for it. A roasted cauliflower dish falls prey to that problem. It’s no doubt fresh, bright and delicious. But at $11 for lettuce, cauliflower, tomatoes and croutons, it’s awfully dear for a side salad. We wouldn’t be surprised to see wrinkles like that ironed out before the full opening.
On the other hand, there are dishes that positively feel like a steal. Take the polenta ($12, pictured at top) – a creamy mound of it smothers a nest of tender, shredded ham hock. Topped with a beet-stained poached egg and some shaves of black truffle, the whole bed of richness is enlivened by a perimeter of pistou (like pesto, without the pine nuts). Whatever your entree, split this one for a fantastic starter.
“The food has to be able to stand up to the view,” says Almendinger. “Otherwise, we’re charging them $21 for a poorly cooked piece of salmon, and that doesn’t work for me.” He could easily get away with charging more than $16 for such a gorgeous roasted chicken half (above). Almendinger takes his chickens on a three-day journey of brining and drying before they hit the plate. Perfectly moist with an expert crisp on the skin, it’s a simple concept done exceptionally well. And kudos to the stuffing/bread pudding hybrid on the side.
The beer list is well divided between styles and not over deferent to local brews. They plan to keep at least one sour on tap at all times, leading off with the Rodenbach Grand Cru. Happy hour will also receive more effort than you might expect, with an array of bar snacks that won’t skimp on the whimsy (bacon cheeseburger popcorn, anyone?)
“I want this to be a challenging place for the cooks, in the right way,” Almendinger sums up. “To come in and be excited about pushing and experimenting, but not in a way that alienates people. If my parents come in here, I want them to be able to eat everything on the menu.”
The Third Bird, 1612 Harmon Place, Minneapolis, 612.767.9080. Open Tuesday, August 19th. Regular hours: M-F 11am-2am, Sat-Sun, 9am-2am.