Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Is Art?

Chambers Kitchen Restaurant
901 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Is it art to place a horse's head in a black-framed glass box of formaldehyde? Is it art to pose people in a cafe and then film them holding as still as possible for the amount of time it takes for a cigarette to burn down to a pile of ash? Is a lifelike bust of an elderly gentleman, so real it seems like you could feel his pulse below the "skin", art? How about garbage bags cast in bronze and painted to look like, well, garbage bags? Is that art? Is your definition of art broad enough to include a dirty Target-brand towel taped to a pillar with the end of a roll of packing tape?

Or, are you like me, and do you prefer your art to come molded out a good old American spud, crisped to perfection and either shaped like a fry or a breakfast potato and served with a vat of ketchup? Would you like your art to come arranged on a plate of lox and cream cheese with a bagel, or would you like it folded carefully into a Gruyere omelet?

If your definition of art includes any of these things, then you will find it on display at the Chambers, a posh modern hotel/restaurant/art gallery in downtown Minneapolis.

We arrived at 9:30, hungry, after a failed attempt to eat at the Mill City Cafe. The Mill Citians are on vacation, perhaps avoiding Republican hoards, or perhaps just enjoying the summer's last hurrah, but either way, their doors are chained shut, and the decision to eat at the Chambers came, after a short emergency conference in the street, from our birthday girl, Judy, who showed unusual decisiveness - only suggesting three places before landing upon this downtown restaurant. Judy's kind of a high-class breakfast person, so I wasn't surprised to walk in and find a clean white modern room complete with well-dressed waiters waiting to pull out our chairs for us. I was surprised to find the place completely devoid of Republicans. The Chambers seems like a great place to spend your untaxed capital gains, but we were the only people in the room when we arrived. Maybe the horse's head scared them away. It is pretty frightening. Look at me, empathizing with Republicans.

Anyway, the Chambers experience is about more than the food, but the food is high end stuff. It costs more than I would pay for myself ($14 for eggs benedict), but I wasn't paying, so it doesn't feel real to complain about the value of my meal. Still, you have been warned. This is the kind of place where you should con your corporate boss or your rich parents into buying you a meal. It's not the kind of place where you want to spend your own hard-earned Democrat cash.

So, here's the breakdown...

Jimmy ~ bagel, cream cheese and smoked salmon ~ B ~ his food was good, but there was a certain Disaster in which his order was lost. When you're in the middle of a food panic, it's hard to take such a Disaster with grace. Jimmy did his best, but the grade suffered because he had to watch us all eat while he had nothing.

Perley ~ standard breakfast and sausage links ~ A ~ he can't complain about the quality of the food.

Rachael ~ garlic and chili noodles ~ B+ ~ She liked her food and leaned towards an A- had the Disaster not occurred. She also described the Chambers as the Walker with food, which took a little bit of the sting out of the price of the meal. Think of it as cost of admission.

Judy ~ yogurt and granola ~ A- ~ I'm still mystified about how Judy can grade such a mundane breakfast, but she described it as "perfect". The minus is Disaster-related. We're an empathetic lot.

Sarah ~ cheeseburger ~ B ~ she didn't finish the burger, and I'm not sure whether that affected her grade.

Alex ~ gruyere omelet ~ A- ~ I wanted more cheese in my omelet, but, come on, people, these potatoes are beautifully crispy and delicious. Can't we stop focusing on the Disaster for a minute, and see the artestry behind their creation? Aren't perfect potatoes what brings this family together? Of course, maybe it's my own fault that the potatoes didn't get more play. After all, it's not like I was willing to share them.

Feel free to add half a grade to our grades if, like me, you think a Disaster is unlikely to strike twice in the same place.

Uh, sorry, New Orleans.


rachael said...

Great Post Al. I belive that I can have the audacity to hope that the red states and blue states can come together over a steaming tankard of coffee.

I was impressed that the Chambers kitchen could pull off the entire gamut(plus) of breakfast offerings - from lox and bagel to fresh spicy noodles.

I think I can emphathize with yours "no seafood for breakfast" rule - I was initially put off by the strong fish sauce smell of my dish which definitely had potential to push weaker stomachs over the edge. Otherwise my dish was great - springy fresh noodles and sweet and spicy sauce. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, but the star-anise coating should have been ground a little more finely - it had a mouth-feel akin to sawdust.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your reviews and I have to recommend that you try Victor's Cuban Cafe on 38th Street in South Minneapolis.

Thanks for the reviews!

rachael said...

La Reina -

I love Victor's. It often gets vetoed by the group. I'll keep trying though! I wish plantains were used more in midwestern cooking....