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24 Hours in St. Paul
By: | Posted: 04/11/2013
All of Minneapolis is giddy about Burch, the magnificently airy and urban bistro and steakhouse, and basement pizza grotto, which is also the third, and largest restaurant, from Isaac Becker, the James Beard Award winner for best chef Midwest in 2011. His first two restaurants, of course, were 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa, each of which opened and became, in the months after their respective openings, some of the hardest reservations in town, and so it is for Burch.
As of this writing has only 9:30 and after reservations available this weekend, which I imagine will continue to be the case in perpetuity. Why? It’s so fun to be there! The busy city bustle, the golden light and black and white style, all of which come together to feel like thrumming New York’s Balthazar, which is to say, Parisian, but friendlier and more efficient. The food is, so far, rather fantastic too. The different steak prices and finishes seem very right for today, (the prices range from $11 to $75, depending on size, and finish, and so on—$11 gets you a grass-fed six-ounce hanger steak, $75 gets you a corn-finished on-the-bone ribeye sized to feed two.) The dumplings like the kinkhali, veal, and pork stuffed little darlings from the Georgian mountains, are buttery and tender, and Becker has always had a way with all things raw, the salmon tartare with lemon oil is particularly delicate. Stephanie March has a full review in the May issue of Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Subscribe! Or my kid doesn’t get health insurance. Seriously. Subscribe!
But let’s get to the questions everyone really wants answered: How is it that Isaac Becker manages to get along with his wife?
His wife, of course, is Nancy St. Pierre, who Becker met when he was a mere sous chef at D’Amico Cucina and she was a mere server; they went on to open 112 when they had a toddler in arms, and St. Pierre didn’t quit her server shift at first, to be sure of supporting the newborn restaurant and toddler child. When things got busy she did quit her other night job, and since then the two have neatly divided the roles of the restaurant, with one in charge of food, and the other in charge of being nice and helping people and managing others, or as it’s called in restaurant circles, the front of the house.
“Nancy’s integral to my success, without question,” Becker told me, in a phone interview. “She worked at Cucina for maybe 15 years before we opened 112, and she had a lot of fine dining ingrained in her personality, which added to the fact that she’s just nice. She projects her personality, and people just respond. Which is nice, because I can be a pessimist by nature.”
In other words: he plans for the worst, and she plans for the best, and that way, as a team, they’re over-prepared across the whole spectrum of possibilities.
“One of the things I learned from D’Amico about opening restaurants,” Becker says, “is that you have to overdo everything when you open, and then trim as you go. If you underdo anything, the customer sees that, the hardest part of the job can be not spending all the money, and not running out of chicken.”
While also not believing your own PR firm about that chicken.
“Before we opened 112 I was really apprehensive about working together,” Becker told me. “But having someone you trust, who has insight into what’s selling, what the guests like, who’s honest—it’s everything. I can say ‘How do you think this tastes?’ to someone who works with me, and they might be honest with me. But I know she will be. The reason I was apprehensive about working together was, in so many restaurants, the chef hates the [general manager]. The kitchen hates the front of the house, that’s just how it goes. But it ended up being great, because of how she is. She’s nice, but I also can’t have a cook be rude or short with Nancy, that’s not okay, or her staff. And so I’d say that our kitchen staff gets along better with the front of the house staff because of how we are. It’s a less hostile work environment, because Nancy and I are both on each other’s side.”
Does Becker feel like this more comradely work environment enhances the diner’s experience?
“I think it has to,” he said. “I’ve worked in kitchens where a cook will decide to make a server’s life difficult, if a cook is refusing to split something, or every time [a server] asks for a special order, they get yelled at, it’s got to affect the diner.”
And that’s how you succeed, with your wife.
Burch Restaurant, 1933 Colfax Ave. S.
, Mpls., 612-843-1515,
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a senior editor at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.See bio
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