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The New Restaurant Scene

The New Restaurant Scene
Photo by Todd Buchanan (3)

(page 5 of 5)

Season to Taste

When is a new restaurant not a new restaurant? When fresh talent makes over the menu.

A restaurant’s chef can typically be compared to a nation’s president: The direction for everything flows from the top, from the biggest details (steak house or Indian?) to the littlest (will the salad greens be microscopic, medium, or large?). Of course, there are restaurants where that top slot is filled by an owner or a corporation, but at chef-driven restaurants, the chefs drive everything. So what happens when a chef-driven restaurant gets a new chef? Sometimes miracles. The following is your guide to the brand-new Twin Cities restaurants hiding inside the old favorites.
 

SOLERA

Who’s New? Chef J. P. Samuelson
Inside scoop: When J. P. took over the well-regarded tapas bar, he introduced an all-American accent that’s made the place fresh again.

When J. P. Samuelson’s eponymous American Bistro closed, legions of fans were bereft. J.P. couldn’t leave town could he? So when it was announced that Samuelson was taking over the kitchen at Solera, local restaurant hounds greeted the news with excitement.

Little did they know their taste buds would be as pleased as their wallets. Thrifty gourmets are directed to the $29 nine-course tasting menu of tapas nuevas (new tapas). You’ll start with a chilled oxtail terrine with bits of fried preserved lemon and move on to a signature Samuelson preparation of wild-caught roasted sea bass—the fillet spoon-tender, the crust seared crisp as a potato chip. Next come planked scallops, trembling and fresh but nicely smoky from the cedar plank and a bit of saffron. Then coriander-crusted pork, as subtly spiced as a veil. Followed by three more courses.

Die-hard Samuelson fans will, of course, recommend his famous calamari, here served with a hot-pepper-and-tomato aioli, and perhaps even his smoked black cod, each silky bite so tasty it’s almost emotionally difficult to consume: Must this ever end? That the restaurant has one of the biggest bargain wine lists in the city only adds to the thrifty pleasure. Solera, 900 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-0062, solera-restaurant.com
 

CAFE LEVAIN

Who’s New? Chef Remle Colestock
Inside scoop: Colestock and his young team have transformed Café Levain from dull, by-the-book French to something local and inspired.

Café Levain opened to respectful yawns: Yes, classic French bistro fare competently done, but is good roast chicken really enough? When young Remle Colestock, 31, was handed this conservative underperformer, his first act was to make the restaurant scrupulously local. His second was to hire a team of young cooks eager to make their names and set them to transforming simple ingredients into dishes worth a second visit.

The results have been lovely, especially during the restaurant’s prix-fixe Sunday suppers, where $20 gets you a vegetarian meal and $25 a meat-based one. You’ll receive dishes like a fabulously fresh and creamy zucchini soup artfully plated around an island of thinly sliced zucchini, fresh carrot, and ripe tomato with a spoonful of sweet ratatouille relish on top. Each bite is as buoyant as a sunbeam, with various herbal flavors uniting in a particularly elegant and sweet way that the palate reads as fruity.

Colestock, who trained as a painter, sends out plates that look almost as pretty as the pricey ones that the restaurant’s former tenant, five-star special-occasion Restaurant Levain, used to deliver, but at everyday prices. That’s how you turn respectful yawns into a thrilling destination. Café Levain, 4762 Chicago Ave. S., Mpls., 612-823-7111, cafelevain.com
 

RED STAG SUPPERCLUB

Who’s New? Chef Brian Hauke
Inside scoop:
Red Stag used to be strictly for steak-seekers, but Hauke’s talents with vegetables have given the place much broader appeal.

When Brian Hauke replaced Bill Baskin, Red Stag’s original chef, the restaurant’s core clientele of cute northeast Minneapolis hipster ladies, (who tend to be disproportionately vegetarian,) had to be hoping for a less meat-centric menu.

They got their wish! Hauke immediately created an ambitious menu accomplishing two great things: One, he gave this supper club the missing surf to its turf with seafood dishes like buttery linguini with fat clumps of king crab and poached lobster tails with chive spoon bread. (Hauke has a background in sustainable seafood, so order with a clear conscience.) Two, he debuted a number of vegetarian options; now there are a whopping three vegetarian entrées, including a nutty cauliflower ravioli in brown-butter sauce, paired with Swiss chard.

If you’re like most of the vegetarians in Minnesota and bored to tears with the usual suspects, run, don’t walk, to Red Stag, and check out what a difference a chef makes. And if you’re a steak-lover who happened to fall in love with a vegetarian, welcome to paradise. Red Stag Supper Club, 509 First Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-767-7766, redstagsupperclub.com
 

NICK AND EDDIE

Who’s New? Chef Derik Moran
Inside scoop:
Now a bar-bar with serious food, thanks to a 23-year-old wunderkind Derik Moran, who makes his own hot dogs to serve on buns by famed baker Jessica Anderson.

Loring Park restaurant Nick and Eddie had a near-death experience last summer. They got behind with their taxes and, trying to survive, ended up as a whole different place. Chef Steve Vranian sold his interest to the sole remaining proprietor, Jessica Anderson, who made her name as the pastry chef at Lucia’s and is one of the best bakers in town. Anderson appointed a 23-year-old head chef, Derik Moran who specializes in butchering. He makes the restaurant’s Irish bacon for its all-day and all-night breakfast, hot dogs (from a beef and pork mixture with a natural casing), pâté, terrines, headcheese, and even difficult items like Italian cappicola salami. This house-made charcuterie is the centerpiece of the restaurant’s new menu, which I’ll call haute bar food. There’s a BLT made with house-cured bacon and house-made brioche, fried on the grill in butter, and piled high with local specialty greens. Bigger appetites will be satiated by dishes like steak frites and pork loin with squash and fresh Mission figs.

Looks like Nick and Eddie’s near-death experience finally answered a question I never could: Is it a bar with good food, or a fine-dining restaurant with a bar? It’s a bar, people, a delicious bar. Nick and Eddie, 1612 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5800, nickandeddie.com
 

SANCTUARY

Who’s New? Chef Patrick Atanalian
Inside scoop: So stupid for a restaurant to appoint a big-name chef after all the opening reviews roll in, but Atanalian’s fans don’t mind.

A few years ago, Marseille-born Patrick Atanalian was one of hottest chefs in Minnesota, thanks to stints leading the New French Café, the Vintage, and the Loring Café. He also was roundly mocked by certain critics for amusing ideas like serving a chipotle pork tenderloin with a Gummi Bear garnish. In retrospect, he was just ahead of his time. Today, all sorts of chefs use frivolous candy ingredients: Jose Andres of Café Atlantico in Washington, D.C., for instance, is famous for sprinkling desserts with Pop Rocks.

Still, there’s a certain ring of hell for people who dare to be too ahead of their time, and Atanalian disappeared after the Loring Café closed. Until now, with his appointment as head chef of Sanctuary, three months after its opening. Since then Atanalian’s fans have beaten a path to his door for sweet-and-savory foods prepared with his signature blend of whimsy (lemon-daiquiri marinade for the chicken) and serious French technique (a lobster polenta cake beside the steak). Sanctuary, 903 Washington Ave. S., Mpls., 612-339-5058, sanctuaryminneapolis.com
 

RESTAURANT MAX

Who’s New? Chef Kevin Kathmann
Inside scoop: Kathmann’s star-studded resumé raises hopes he can rescue this terminally odd restaurant.

Restaurant Max opened oddly: The dining room itself was grand, a majestic Edwardian bank lobby appointed with charming post-modern glass bits that made it seem futuristic and hip. But the food was truly peculiar—did anyone in town really want vanilla teriyaki duck with huckleberry? Or a fine-dining chopped salad topped with ramen noodles? Nope, so this summer Morrissey Hospitality brought in a big gun to undo the opening mess.

That big gun is Kevin Kathmann, a St. Joseph native. Kathmann returned to the North Star State after a decade cooking for some of the most significant restaurants in history of international haute cuisine. He spent three straight years cooking under Thomas Keller at French Laundry, did a long stint at Gordon Ramsey in London as it scrambled to rise from one to three Michelin stars, and cooked briefly at Paris’s L’Arpège and at New York City’s Daniel and Gramercy Tavern. Phew!

Kathmann has brought home a passion for minutely conceived comfort foods. His cedar-planked salmon, for instance, is simple, but comes beside fingerling potatoes cooked with a black-truffle emulsion and a ragout of Granny Smith apples and turnips. His version of pot roast involves a whole short plate tied and braised in such a way that you receive not a chunk of beef but a tender circle as rich as short ribs but as beefy as a roast. Can Kathmann’s talent persuade diners to forgive Restaurant Max? Only time will tell. But insiders who’d rather be dining at French Laundry are advised to get inside there sooner rather than later. Restaurant Max, Hotel Minneapolis, 215 S. Fourth St., Mpls., 612-340-0303, therestaurantmax.com


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