Travail: a labor of love or whatever
Last week Noko and I went to Travail for dinner. Travail’s tasting menus are iconic for local food obsessed and trend diners. Long wait times often sour reviews. Seems people either love the place or can’t figure what the fuss is about. On a cold January tuesday after 7pm we were seated immediately at the communal table. We ordered off the menu since the $60 8 course tasting menu seemed overkill so late on a school night. I was also curious how the place stacked up as a neighborhood restaurant since Robbinsdale seems to be leading the apogee making suburbs cool again.
Noko ordered pasta and a cheese plate. Travail accommodates vegetarians but it was slightly disappointing they didn’t fry up a mushroom or something to replace the pork on the two small pasta pillows. I ordered soup and salmon. The rutabaga soup was served with microgreens and a rutabaga chip and had a deft butter-cream balance with gentle sweetness. The salmon had gorgeously crisp skin and a warm pink center served with a lovely mess of sauces and purees. Portions are small but I felt sated. Everything was very good (well, the wilted slice of provolone on the cheese plate seemed a feeble attempt- a minor quibble overall,) but it didn’t blow anything out of the water. The Bowie mix blasting through the restaurant speakers, however, did. This was not a ‘best of’ from the store but from someone who knows well and deeply loves their Bowie and is going to school you during your dinner like it or not. I loved it.
And that’s what’s really great about Travail- the irreverence with which skillful food is prepared and presented. When the bread is done, someone in the kitchen yells “Who wants a roll?” and channeling Sandy Koufax launches the warm orbs directly at diners throughout the restaurant without leaving his post. The kitchen is packed shoulder to shoulder with staff whose focus is their station, which they rotate every few months. My sense is, while they are focused on executing excellent food, they really don’t care what you think. They are here to learn a craft and move on to work for a new master or open their own place.
As long as the history of Bowie was blasting I found it difficult to leave. So we split a Surly Abrasive and hung out in the lobby playing the rudimentary bean bag game installed to bide time for those waiting for tables. I mostly danced cuz I love dancing and Noko mostly sang cuz he’s good at that and the staff didn’t look at us twice (tho’ some diners shelling out serious cash for molecular gastronomy may have.)
As one cook headed across the foyer to the bathroom I tossed him a bean bag mid dance move which he backhanded without missing a beat into the farthest tiniest hole of the game and glanced back with a quick smile and a shrug. And that is exactly it: insouciance and skill makes this place great. So quit taking yourself so seriously. Go have some fun.