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There's eel on the menu at Bûcheron. Though marketed as a tartine, it may not charm you enough to order it. Slippery, muddy and riddled with bones, eel can be tricky to cook and a disaster to serve. There is no such disaster at Bûcheron. The tartine served here is, in fact, a revelation — not just because of the dish's interplay between smoke and sweetness, which will haunt you, but also because of how referential it is.

"A Reuben," one dining companion said. "Ca kho," said another, referring to the Vietnamese classic, a braised and caramelized catfish. The smoked eel sandwich I savored at a clubby, modern British restaurant in London — so wildly delicious I can remember it nearly a decade later. This one comes close. But will it get Minnesotans to try eel on toast at a neighborhood bistro?

It should. Bûcheron, it turns out, is a neighborhood restaurant inasmuch as someone covertly dressed in rags woven from baby alpaca. The technical word to describe it is bistronomy, a Parisian restaurant movement that inspired Bûcheron. And to truly appreciate what this means, consider the pommes dauphine, which may resemble spherical Tater Tots accompanied by accoutrements (celery sticks joined by a pale, sunny cheese dip) typically reserved for the fluorescent wings you — and I, semi-regularly — would order, by the bucket, at a sports bar. It's so much more than that, though. These pommes are choux-pastry and mashed potato, deep fried until the exterior is crisp and golden but thin enough to yield to an interior that's creamy yet weightless.

The technically driven dishes are prepared so you don't need to appreciate detail to enjoy a meal here. For those who do, the Skrei cod isn't just reminiscent of a good, crusty supper-club walleye; it's about how beautifully the cod flakes, how triumphantly complex the beurre blanc is; the way radish cuts through all the butter.

Bûcheron is the right vessel for this veil of nonchalance. You can spend dearly for a meal for which you've planned weeks in advance, bookending it with $28 foie gras and a $25 glass of G. Richomme Champagne. Or, you could walk in, sit at the bar, split a chicory salad and those pommes, while nursing a $45 bottle of Finger Lakes riesling. Both would offer compelling experiences, rendered by a front-of-house team that genuinely means well.

Bûcheron's smoked eel tartine, with cabbage and habanada pepperoncini, is a "revelation."
Bûcheron's smoked eel tartine, with cabbage and habanada pepperoncini, is a "revelation."

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

On any given night, you may find co-owner Jeanie Janas Ritter and general manager Tyler McLeod making the rounds, asking if you live in the neighborhood and dispensing tips for getting reservations. You'll probably meet a chef who emerges from the kitchen to serve a plate or two, like they would at modest but chef-driven bistros in Paris' iconic 11th arrondissement, eager to tell you why the dishes they've toiled over are worth the explanation (they are).

You could leave happy if you had just the heady, cassoulet-esque garbure soup, accompanied by an excellent miche bread; a quiet little gem salad with lobster (crisp, sweet, bright), bound by an old-school sherry-mayo dressing. There's probably much more to it, but that exquisite foie gras is maddeningly simple, too: it's thick and gratifyingly rich like crème brûlée and tastes pristine, without traces of the phantom livery, alcoholic tang you'd get with inferior product. And it spreads like cold butter on a very hot day over a warm scone that tastes like something (lovingly) baked by a Midwesterner residing in the Loire Valley.

Foie gras isn't new to Bûcheron's chef and co-owner Adam Ritter. An alum of the four-star Demi, Ritter likely prepared hundreds of iterations of the dish, a recurring course on the contemporary French-Midwestern tasting menu. The restaurant that he left to start along with his partner, Jeanie, forgoes some of the ceremonious trimmings associated with fine dining while charting its own course.

Yes, you can cobble a four-star meal within Bûcheron, but that isn't the point. The restaurant captures the right aesthetic befitting its name, which is French for lumberjack: wood-paneled, cozy, comfortably cramped, filled with diners who range from a young couple bent over a bottle of chardonnay, celebrating a career milestone, to an elderly one squabbling over proper stemware usage for their Sauternes.

They're all here to enjoy food that tastefully orchestrates the midpoint between plebeian and prosaic. If it means anything, Bûcheron's kitchen is nearly as big as the dining room, as it should be to reward a serious team filled with talent, including Cory Western, another Demi alum.

The chefs' stealthy masquerades will reward those who value, say, the clarity and temperature of acorn consommé (clean yet indulgent) pooled around silky celery root tortellini, which had our table in rapture. Those same masquerades will court antagonists of dated, syrupy reductions, because the Bordelaise here, which accompanies a steak, has an appealing heft. They'll also find fans of a sauce that Ritter fashions from morcilla, a blood sausage, which lends depth and just enough funk to add nuance to the moist, commendably cooked pork loin it accompanies.

And they'll give reasons for us all to pine for pommes purée, too. The one here, a "mousse" as airy and alluring as an Italian meringue, nearly upstages the steak, which on one night was culotte from the local Feller's Ranch: tender, fatty in a way that reconciles the best of wagyu and the tenderness of sirloin. The whole dish is as triumphant as any steak from the top chophouses in town.

There may not be anything novel about steak and potatoes, but who needs to reinvent the wheel? That cod does so, slightly — swapping wild-rice furikake for plain breadcrumbs and roasted sunchokes in place of potatoes — and I'd order it again if it were cooked as flawlessly as it was during one of my visits.

Jeanie Janas Ritter and Adam Ritter inside their new restaurant, Bûcheron, in Minneapolis' King Field neighborhood.
Jeanie Janas Ritter and Adam Ritter inside their new restaurant, Bûcheron, in Minneapolis' King Field neighborhood.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune

The creativity goes astray with the octopus Bolognese. Select pieces of the octopus were fishy and mushy, while the peppers knotted within the ragu were too bracing. But the kitchen's ingenuity worked wonders for the two vegetable-forward entrees on the menu. One, a lion's mane mushroom the size of a miniature pompom, is minimally dusted in cornstarch and fried until it takes on the texture of something you'd find in revered tempura restaurants in Kyoto — feather-thin, cracking outside; supple within — cleverly paired with polenta, charred spring onions, and a mushroom jus. Another, the turnips, were prepared in three ways (cut into matchsticks, shaved raw or in soft wedges) and sat on a pool of ginger and pear purée, split with a velvety bone-marrow sauce. It made a compelling case for why turnips could be the star on any menu.

It's telling, of a kitchen team so dialed in, that Bûcheron's transgressions are infrequent and minor. The fried kale that crowned beef was overdone and salty one night; the mushroom needed an acidic counterpoint, but raw apples were too stark of a contrast; the turnip greens — vibrant as they were — were stringy, while the turnips themselves were well-cooked one night but too al dente on another. At times, a few dishes were undersalted.

It's also telling, of a menu so populist, that every one of my dining companions had a different favorite dessert. The lemon tart had the right verve but ate cloy after a few bites — no matter for true fans of lemon desserts — but it won one diner over. The sticky toffee cake is a faultless, if slightly uninspired, rendition of a British classic; the "cookies and cream" antagonized another one but left me speechless. There's nothing better to remind you, fondly, of a gluttonous childhood than a cloudy vanilla custard constructed in a way that resembles a melted Pillsbury doughboy, atop milk sorbet and pelted with shards of cocoa macaron. I could snack on this all day.

The Ritters worked at top-flight kitchens and dining rooms across the United States (Sonoma County, Las Vegas, Chicago) and Southeast Asia (Singapore) before joining Gavin Kaysen and striking out on their own earlier this year, in January, when Bûcheron opened. Knowing their pedigrees, the cold shellfish "plateau" may seem like an easy, expensive afterthought. It isn't. The disc of lemon-oil-cured kampachi has a fresh, floral undertone; the shrimp are so fat and sweet that it could crown a tall platter in a desert mirage; and the oysters are gloriously briny.

How about the warm, liquefied butter spiked with espelette pepper? Or the black garlic aioli, dark and gratifyingly pungent? They adorn the shellfish like a dream, reminding you that the deepest pleasures in life, like Bûcheron, come when you least expect it.

Inside the Minneapolis neighborhood restaurant Bûcheron is a team working to create a destination eatery.
Inside the Minneapolis neighborhood restaurant Bûcheron is a team working to create a destination eatery.

Alex Kormann, Star Tribune


⋆⋆⋆ ½

Location: 4257 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-255-5632,

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.

Recommended dishes: Smoked eel tartine, foie gras terrine, celery root tortellini, Berkshire pork chop, Feller's Ranch Steak, "cookies and cream."

Prices: At Bûcheron, sharing is caring. Starters range from $10 to $48 for the petit plateau; main plates are $22-$42; desserts $13-$14.

Beverages: Craft cocktails ($15) include a house and Wisconsin old fashioned, and a well-curated list of beer, cider and NA drinks. Lengthy wine list with a wide range of tastes and price points.

Tip or no tip: A 21% hospitality charge is added to all checks.

Noise level: Slightly elevated, but comfortable given the size of the dining room and your proximity to neighboring tables.

What the stars mean:

⋆⋆⋆⋆ Exceptional

⋆⋆⋆ Highly recommended

⋆⋆ Recommended

⋆ Satisfactory

Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.