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Travail, The wonder child of Robbinsdale?

Last spring, we were having dinner at Victory 44. Our waiter was touting this new restaurant concept of which he would be a part.  The name would be Travail.  I had some idea what the word travail meant, but looking it up in the dictionary confirmed my suspicions — travail: work, especially of a painful or laborious nature; toil.  (That sounds like restaurant work to me.)  The waiter went on to say that those cooking on the line would also be serving the food.  Forget the front of the house staff.  Who would know better what would be served than those cooking it?  I thought it seemed like an interesting concept.

Now the restaurant is open:  Travail Kitchen & Amusements and it’s been getting rave reviews.  I’ve seen it written, “best restaurant of the decade,” “ranked number 3 of restaurants in the Twin Cities, ” and “I’ve never had a better meal.”  With these accolades, I wondered why it had taken us so long to get up to Robbinsdale to check out this new wonder child of a place.  Four of us, finally made it and arrived on a recent Wednesday evening about 6:30 PM.  We had called ahead, but they don’t take reservations.  It’s come one, come all!

The half hour wait passed quickly as we were chatting amongst ourselves as well as conversing with two lovely ladies sitting near the door who were just finishing their dinner.  They live in the neighborhood and eat there quite often.  We finally made it to the top of the wait list and a high-top opened up.   We were escorted to the back of the dining room where we found several bean-bag toss games and what looked like a table-top shuffleboard game.  I guess that is the “Amusements” part of the name.

We pondered the menu on the chalkboard and my head was saying, “Okay get the fish and chips and a beer and get the heck out of here.”  Somehow my mouth spurted out, “let’s get the 10 course tasting menu!”  The other couple in our party decided on the tasting menu as well, so twenty plates were about to come out of the kitchen.  I would come to regret  that decision.  Once again I should have trusted my gut!

Unfortunately, our experience quickly plummeted, and it wasn’t necessarily due to what came out of the kitchen – well except for the 9th course.  The line cook/server was very good explaining to us in detail what we would be served.  When he finished giving us all the details, I asked him if he would mind repeating it as I couldn’t hear a word he said as the noise level was so loud.  Asking if the music could be turned down, he said, “Well not much as that is part of the shtick!”  I was about to spend upwards of $50 for a dinner that was going to make my stomach churn because of the noise.

For about half of the courses, the previous plates were not cleared before the new course came out.  Therefore the “waiter” would be holding the “new” course in one hand and would clear the dirty plates with the other hand.  It made for a very interesting juggling act.

The courses preceded, some faster than others.  As we were waiting between course eight and nine, I was watching the line and mentioned to Jon, that only one of the cooks is wearing a hat.  Shouldn’t every cook being wearing something on their head?   It was a fleeting thought and I let it go.

Course No. 9 arrived which was their version of steak and potatoes.  It was tasty enough, but as I was finishing the last bite — yes you guessed it, a strand of black hair was staring back me.  With my silver mane and Jon’s head being shaved, I knew it wasn’t ours.  When mentioning it to our server, his response was, “Well it’s not mine either ‘cause I’m not cooking this evening.”

In a nutshell, here’s my take on Travail Restaurants & Amusements.  If one, you like lot’s of noise with patrons yelling at each other to carry on a conversation and if one doesn’t mind having the back of the house, doing the job of the front of the house and if one wants to potentially drop a lot of dough for the experience, by all means check out Travail.  If I was to go back, I’d order the fish and chips and a beer, spend 45 minutes and be on my way.

If I want a to enjoy a relaxing tasting menu, whether it be 3 courses or 10, I’ll go to Saffron Restaurant & Lounge [1], Vincent’s, a Restaurant [2], or the Corner Table [3]. The reason is because the experience is also part of why I enjoy dining out.  As good as the food was at Travail, that  2½ hour experience is not one I’d want to repeat.