Birthdays have never been a big deal for me. The last couple of years, they’ve actually been pretty disappointing, if not terrible. Starting with Derek’s birthday last year, we wanted to make a change for the better. We decided that going forward, we would celebrate with the two things we love the most – awesome food and each other.
As we started talking about potential eateries for my special day, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Travail has been on my radar for the last year or so, but we haven’t had a reason to spend the big bucks on a single dinner until now. Derek did a little research and found that they have an eight-course tasting menu (regularly $70) that drops down to $60 on Tuesdays & Wednesdays – SCORE. Over the past few years, Travail has been featured in numerous local and national publications, so we knew that their cheap date night would be busy. We scanned a couple reviews and talked with a few people who’ve been to get the scoop on timing. It all came down to getting there early — the earlier, the better. They open their doors at 5 pm everyday. Most days, there is a line of people already waiting to get in. We ended up getting there around 6:30pm on a Wednesday night.
We had to meet at Travail since Derek was coming from work, and I got there first. I was a little nervous to walk right in, but I mustered up my courage and took the plunge. Let me give you the heads up now — if you ever decide to visit Travail, don’t falter when you walk in and there isn’t a host to greet you. Simply walk up to the bar and get your name put on the “Wait At Your Own Risk List.” It’s that simple. When I walked in, I had no idea what to expect. I looked around a bit helplessly at the bustling chefs and the packed tables and was at a loss. Thankfully, one of the dessert chefs was busily plating some delicious-looking morsels on a windowsill near the door and was able to direct me. I put my name in and was told that it would be a one-to-two hour wait. (It seems daunting when you read it, but we knew coming into it that the wait would be long. Besides, what better reason to grab a glass of wine and hunker down for awhile?) As we sat, we watched the multitudes swarming in, some leaving discouraged by the long wait, others putting their name down on the ever-changing list and waiting in the packed bar area.
Finally, after some wine and excellent conversation, our wait was over and we were quickly led to some of the best seats in the house – the bar-style seating that runs right along the kitchen where you can see the chefs working. We got the only seats that had a clear view of the actual plates they were preparing — it was so cool!
There are many neat features about Travail — the open kitchen, the banquet table seating, the ingredients that line the counters and walls — but here’s one that sticks out — the chefs serve you. Instead of a server who may not know much about the menu, you get a first-hand take from someone who has actually created your meal. With chefs this creative, engaging, and innovative, the menu is constantly changing. That being said, I won’t talk too much about the food — I can honestly say that every single bit of all eight courses was delicious. More than delicious; it was exquisite! We started off with the salad course, moved from that to soup, then onto four entrees — pasta, scallops, steak, and chicken. The last two courses of the meal were desserts. Between most, they also brought around little bites. My favorite courses were the tomato soup and the scallops.
I couldn’t get enough of the Heirloom Tomato Soup. The texture was creamy and thick with chunks of tomato. It was salted to perfection. There was a wonderful tiny tidbit of cheese-stuffed bread floating in it. I imagined the tomatoes used in this dish coming from a local farm where they had basked in the summer sun and were picked at prime ripeness, only to be used immediately in this mouth-watering soup. Even if my daydreams don’t align with reality, who cares? It was divine!
The other big stand-out? The scallops. You can see in the photo above the tube of mashed potato that contained them and the chowder bath. The scallops were tender and flavorful and the chowder was the perfect counterpart.
The pre-dessert palate cleanser — an iced tea with lemon sorbet — went down easy, but wasn’t my favorite. The real dessert was so tasty that we had finished the entire plate before we remembered to snap a picture. Whoops.
After eight courses, we were both pleasantly full and all-in-all, we had an amazing experience. Our bill came out to around $100 after tip (our glasses of wine were $10 each). Not terrible for a special occasion, but if we go back again, I’ll probably opt for a cheaper beverage. You can order delightful dishes a la carte, but I would highly suggest getting to Travail on a Tuesday or Wednesday night for their eight-course tasting menu.
Bustling! Beautiful! Brag-worthy! It’s not the place for an intimate date — there is a large banquet table that is used for some seating — but it was perfect for a casual birthday dinner.
Even with the busy chefs as servers, they were very attentive and engaging.
Breathtaking. Plus, we got to watch the plating of many of the courses which was so intriguing! It truly is an art.
Unbelievable! Every single bite was delicious. We practically licked our plates clean.
Value for Dollars
For a special occasion, Travail is an excellent choice. $60 for an eight-course tasting menu is a fantastic deal.
But don’t take my word for it:
Travail Kitchen and Amusements
4154 West Broadway
Robbinsdale, MN 55422