Restaurant review

Myriel restaurant review: Karyn Tomlinson makes hospitality delightful


To understand what makes Myriel in St. Paul such an alluring place to eat, you have to ask chef-owner Karyn Tomlinson about her youth in Minnesota, where Tomlinson spent time with her paternal grandparents in a farming town. named Dassel, which has 1,462 inhabitants. Tomlinson’s grandmother was the kind of cook who used to “take a meal out of the oven after church on Sundays”, often char-roasting enough to share with anyone her grandfather , an avid gardener, was inviting home. The chef’s memories of his crops include carrots, cucumbers, peas and beets, his favourites.

“I liked the connection between growing food and making people happy with a meal,” says Tomlinson. His intimate restaurant, introduced last year, follows a successful run as head chef at the late Corner Table in Minneapolis, a winter working at the famed Faviken in Sweden and as many cooking classes as possible at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris after a period in the associative world. Along the way, she has also won awards for her work with pastry and pork. In 2018, she was the first woman to win the Pig Grand Prize celebrating heritage breed pigs.

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One of the first dishes Tomlinson learned to make from his grandmother, of Swedish origin, was the apple pie, which is still talked about many years after the death of Jeanette Tomlinson. “There was always a pie in the oven. It was my grandmother’s love language. The lard was key to the pie’s success, but so was a light touch with the crust, says Tomlinson, whose grandmother’s arthritic hands likely explained the practice. The result was “an ugly, crumbly crust” but delicious, says the chef, who turns 37 this month. “It wasn’t basketry!”

With a few exceptions, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about Myriel either. Tomlinson simply channels old-fashioned cooking techniques and champions the cause of small-scale farmers to create a style that fuses his French training and minimalist approach to ingredients from the land of 10,000 lakes. Think of it as high farm food, untouched by tweezers.

Tomlinson says she learned her trade at a time when the restaurant kitchen “was a place for pirates,” but resisted the temptation to join the club. His skin is free of ink, for example. Surely one of the reasons she landed a non-paying gig at Fäviken was the way she endeared herself to the staff as a customer trying to secure a place in the famous hard-to-book dining destination: she thanked them at the door with a pie, she baked herself – in her Airbnb in Norway, then transported to the distant restaurant by train and taxi.

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Many of his peers subscribe to buy what’s local and seasonal from nearby sources. Tomlinson takes the philosophy one step further, relying on a handful of suppliers within a 50-mile radius. Some are such small businesses, the sources have other trades to keep their passion alive.

Take Clint and Amanda Scherping. He is a project manager for a construction company. She is an academic dean in a high school. The couple, parents of eight, find time to raise cattle, pigs, chickens and ducks on their 350-acre farm an hour outside the Twin Cities. “We don’t confine anything,” says Clint, who jokes that collecting eggs on their “micro-lot” plot is “an Easter egg hunt” that can lead all over the floor and into the attic at hay. Tomlinson spends a day or more every week picking up the ingredients herself. Driving to and from her suppliers, she also forages. Mother Nature provides the chef with mushrooms, flowers, wild grapes and plums that Tomlinson pickles or turns into vinegars. Cedars provide branches for burning and berries for cooking.

Myriel also makes a strong case for Midwestern hospitality, with service being an important part of a meal at her restaurant, which takes its name from the gracious bishop in “Les Miserables” who welcomes Jean Valjean into his home in the classic novel by Victor Hugo of 1862. Tomlinson says she aspires to “unpretentious excellence”, exemplified by such details as the table linen her mother sewed for her.

The chef says she was also inspired by the “business intentionality” at Fäviken, where lookouts identified customers as they approached the restaurant and could greet them by name in the language they spoke. There are no scouts in Myriel. But once the guests are seated, Tomlinson introduces himself to the attendees of Myriel’s $135 12-course tasting menu. (An à la carte menu is also available; duck breast, Parisian gnocchi and vegetable soup are typical dishes.)

“I love meeting everyone who dines here,” says the chef, who interacts with guests throughout the night. “What we do is tell stories”, connect with food and showcase “the hard work of a community”. She acknowledges that some details might seem”Portlandia”-preciousbut claims that “our beef really does come from happy cows,” raised by farmers who name them.

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QR codes have no place at Myriel. Tomlinson opts for a more personalized style, writing its menu in just a few words so customers have a chance to engage with servers. “Short spine tartare, wafer” translates to a ball of raw ground veal flanked by a single ridged potato chip and a dusting of herb ash made from last season’s dried bounty . Control freaks curious about what they’re going to eat at Myriel might be disappointed to learn that Tomlinson doesn’t publish a menu online, partly because it changes so much, she says, but also because “I’d rather that they come because they know what to eat”. expect in terms of experience.

A sense of Myriel’s handcrafted charm begins at the screen door and continues into the dining room, where candles flicker, cotton napkins have the feel of tea towels, and the modern equivalent of an old-fashioned relish platter. – marinated asparagus, green beans and celery root — signals the start of the tasting menu. The edible greeting recalls how the chef’s family received everyone who passed by – with a coffee and a snack, usually homemade – or what the Swedes call fika.

In Myriel’s case, there’s tea, poured from the pot into delicate cups: “Cassis and lemon verbena,” says a waiter, announcing the light but restorative infusion. Myriel delights in hygge (say hoo-ga), the Danish notion of cozy fun, appropriate given Minnesota’s northern associations. A curl of red wine-cured dairy cow bresaola and a tampon-sized cheddar cracker sprinkled with fermented tomatoes accompany the steaming tea.

The crash of the cymbals in the otherwise hushed concert is a two-part dish: creamy scrambled eggs served in a vase of buckwheat dough accompanied by a salad of carrots molded in a silver dish. The former tastes old world and scrumptious. The latter is a mound of brined cow’s milk cheese and creme fraiche smothered in sliced ​​carrots dressed in chive oil, all hidden behind a bright green carpet of chopped carrot leaves.

Tomlinson is kind to show Minnesota cuisine at its best. You will never see the food equivalent of “Fargo” on its menu. When asked if she might consider serving hot dish – imagine a bunch of basic ingredients, often including a can of cream soup, cooked in a saucepan – she says the closest approximation is “cassoulet, served in a gratin”.

The chef eschews sea fish for lake fish, including Lake Superior perch. “What Minnesotan didn’t grow up fishing?” One of the most elegant courses is a silken trout mousseline in a mounted butter basin, its surface brightened with dots of emerald ramp oil from ramps it has collected itself. The product is always treated with respect and restraint. The young hen, simply roasted with salt and butter, comes with bread and cultured butter to mop up what Tomlinson calls “bird’s broth” hit with wild plum vinegar. The homemade red winter wheat bread comes late in the meal; Tomlinson doesn’t want you to fill up.

While much of the food is obvious, as farmhouse cooking tends to be, the flavors are intense and true. The smooth flavor of Scherpings Irish Dexter beef comes from cattle fed on grass and hay. A blueberry sorbet captures the happiness of summer in every spoonful.

A dinner at Myriel prompts a question: why isn’t Midwestern cuisine more present? Tomlinson thinks it may be because the style is “hard to define. It’s more subtle. Much of what she does at Myriel has its roots in “pre-World War II techniques: canning, preserving, drying.” The restaurant’s basement is home to bouquets of dried flowers and herbs, including the hyssop used in the ethereal panna cotta with lemon thyme.

Farmer Clint Scherping says he sees Myriel as a way to “maintain an authentic connection to our rich agrarian culture,” but also a path to healing a divided country. “If we want to help people who don’t have the same opportunities,” he wrote after our phone conversation, “how or where do we start? Well, how about through our bellies? »

If Tomlinson doesn’t share a story, one of his collaborators takes his pulse. “How was your dinner companion tonight?” I look up from an extraordinary piece of veal tenderloin, accompanied by chicken with hazelnut mushrooms, to find a server watching me, a solo diner who joked earlier in the evening that the one of Myriel’s signature drinks should keep me company. Nodding to the Sazerac-like cocktail, the attendant joked, “Never let you down.”

A meal ends with the option of a Swedish egg coffee, which is exactly what it sounds like: a whole egg added to ground coffee before it’s brewed, resulting in a clear, velvety cup. It is not until the dessert is removed that a diner receives a list of what they have eaten; in a charming touch, a small map of Minnesota, showing the sources of Myriel’s farm, is hidden inside the envelope.

Diners celebrating a birthday or anniversary can also receive a slice of the pie Tomlinson baked that day. The chef thinks the pie is convenient, something a customer can wait to eat the next day.

More than that, she says, the pie “is the best expression of hospitality I can give in one thing. That’s how I knew I was loved by my grandmother.”

470 Cleveland Ave. S, St. Paul, Minnesota 651-340-3568. Open: Indoor and outdoor dining from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Price: tasting menu $135, a la carte dishes $6 to $28. Sound control: 79 decibels/must speak in a high voice. Accessibility: No barrier to entry; ADA compliant restrooms. Pandemic Protocols: Staff are not required to wear masks or be vaccinated.