By Adam Estrem
Let’s face it Twin Cities. We are a picky, maybe even passive aggressive, bunch of people. If we have even the slightest hint of a possibility that a waitress is looking at us the wrong way — or if onions came on our burger after we said, “no onions!” — we pass the restaurant off, never to return again.
I think it’s in our thick Midwest blood to never actually say anything to the restaurant we are in attendance of, and just simply walk out with a smile, thank them for our meal and then bash the place on our selfish blogs or rip them a new one with our friends. Thus perpetuating a culture of never giving a great chef a fair chance.
I am guilty of it. Sea Change was one of those places for me. I admit I was in the wrong mood, years back when Sea Change first opened. I went there, the food was pretty good, really expensive and the waiter was, for a lack of a better term, less than cordial. But, as the name suggests, Sea Change has changed.
The décor is the same, almost an art deco representation of what it might feel like to be under the salty blue, green water of where the food you are about to eat came from. But, the service has dramatically improved, and the food? The food is excellent.
Jamie Malone, the new chef de cuisine is not a new hire from some New York restaurant, or imported from China to improve the overall feeling of the place. Malone is one of us.
Chef Malone has been with Chef Tim McKee for a long time. McKee is the creator of such restaurants as La Belle Vie, Masu and the late Il Gatto. McKee who, before I met him, I thought was this intensely private, “shut-the-media-world-out,” type of guy, turns out to be the opposite.
People mistake his humbleness and often shyness for being cocky, but let me assure you nothing could be farther from the truth. He met me for lunch, so the guy can’t be half bad.
I was tipped off about Malone’s new position, as many of my tips come from, sitting at a bar and striking up a conversation with a good-looking woman. This good-looking woman, who shall remain nameless, happened to be a server at Sea Change. She spoke with some eagerness behind her words about Malone, adding that with the promotion of Malone, the restaurant is now run by women at every high level of management.
An interesting fact but was the food any different? For me, I am more interested in how the food tastes, than the background of the any restaurant. I don’t care if the chef is a convicted assassin that sold secrets to the Russians and initiated nuclear warfare. If the chef can cook, I’m in.
Chef Malone has that promising quality to her cooking, that greatness just around the next corner lurking in the darkness of an alley ready to strike at any moment. The lunch menu at Sea Change is somewhat unsurprisingly dominated by yes, seafood. The raw oysters, which previously had not been on the lunch menu, now sit at the top. Along with an ahi tuna poke served with scallions and a very punchy sriracha aioli, delicate clams with walnuts lemon and chervil, a smoked trout salad, there was the fresh catch of the day, all of it sustainably caught.
The surprising menu item to me was a confit duck leg that was very rich and had the wonderful deep and salty fatness that made me smile. I can also say with the utmost confidence that the deserts made by pastry chef Niki Francioli are borderline genius.
Sea Change is trying to cater to more lunch goers than it used to, broadening its horizons from just upscale seafood to a more, shall we say, reachable audience. You can find a simple fish sandwich, or fried cod tacos, even a burger is now on the lunch menu.
I did get a little twitter-pated when I saw the beloved classic bologna sandwich topped with a fried egg on wonder bread. What is going on here? Though the burgers and sandwiches are a bit confusing, I am in the strong belief that a successful restaurant caters to everyone, making great food readily accessible.
Watching Malone cook makes it obvious to me that she is in love with food. Every move she makes in the kitchen is carefully calculated and practiced, but possesses the fluidity of a great painter or artist. One can be a great technical chef, but Malone puts her heart into it and that my friends, is what makes her food great.
Adam Estrem is a writer, photographer, foodie and cook. After traveling the world and tasting the cuisines and wines of Mexico, Spain, France and much of Europe and the middle east, he has gone local and focused on restaurants and food producers of Minnesota. When he isn’t working you can find him in his kitchen, creating recipes and entertaining friends. You can follow him on Twitter (@mspfoodie) or email him (email@example.com).