IN THE LATE 1990s, hotel dining in the Twin Cities felt like an afterthought. Most establishments were content to set out a platter of commercial-grade pastries, an urn of coffee, a few packets of Sweet’N Low, and call it a meal. If the hotel did have an actual restaurant, it likely offered a timid menu meant to satisfy the masses. Hotel guests saw it as a last resort—and few, if any locals ate there. But when boutique hotels arrived after the turn of the millennium, upscale restaurants became a vital part of the package: Cosmos at the Graves 601, Chambers Kitchen at the Chambers, and now Bank at the new Westin.
While Cosmos and Chambers feel ultra-modern, almost futuristic, Bank looks back. It is located in the former lobby of the Farmers & Mechanics Savings Bank in downtown Minneapolis: a soaring, art-deco backdrop worthy of a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers tango. Bank recalls the days when restaurants at the Algonquin and the Waldorf-Astoria hotels entertained coteries of moneyed intellectuals. On my first visit, it seemed almost too perfect that a vintage Rolls-Royce, cherry red, with a license plate that read CACHET, was parked at the valet post.
The Westin renovation left most of the building’s historic elements intact, adding a gloss of 21st-century chic. The teak walls are lined with neoclassical bas-reliefs that pay homage to Minnesota’s fields and forests. The original light fixtures hang from the 34-foot ceiling and look like enormous bronzed feather plumes. At the counter where tellers once made transactions, diners watch chefs prepare meals. Bankers’ offices are party rooms; an old vault safeguards wine instead of cash.
While the crowd at the trendier hotel restaurants tends to be youthful, Bank’s patrons reflect the restaurant’s more classic interior. Most diners I saw were over 40, a good number of which were probably alive when the F&M Bank moved to this location in 1942. One day, at lunch, a group of Leonard, Street and Deinard lawyers gathered at a table while a middle-aged man escorted a white-haired matron—prim and dignified as a former First Lady—to another. Was he her financial advisor? A board member angling for a donation?
Choosing Bank for a business meeting says, “I’m classy. I’m traditional-yet-up-to-date.” It also says, “trust me,” which is why it’s already become a power lunch hot spot, sans the posturing and exclusivity of old boys’ clubs. The first drawback, though, with having lunch at Bank is that most companies now frown on employees tipping back multiple martinis over the noon hour, and Bank’s cocktail list is not to be missed. The watermelon margarita is made with fresh-squeezed juice; the titular tonic, the Bank, sparkles with flecks of gold leaf. The cosmopolitan may be a beverage that’s a bit past its prime—the cocktailian equivalent of Jennifer Aniston’s layered shag on Friends—but Bank’s hot-chili raspberry version gives enough edge to the pink drink to make it worth forgoing fashion.
Photo by David J. Turner
The second reason to eschew lunch at Bank is that executive chef Todd Stein, formerly of the trendy MK restaurant in Chicago, has more opportunity to show his range and depth with dinner entrées. Stein’s style is uncomplicated; he relies on good ingredients, rather than showy presentations, to convince stodgy steak-and-potatoes eaters to try a five-spice-rubbed duck breast with soy caramel sauce. While the soup, salad, and appetizer lists had some hits and misses, the entrées I tried were balanced in a way my checkbook has never been. One favorite was the roasted lamb in a stew of white beans, ratatouille, and rosemary-mint gremolata (a sort of fresh, herb-packed salsa) with a broth so rich we couldn’t help but sop up the excess with slices of bread. Stein’s preparation of a Copper River salmon was perfect for the season: The fish’s moist flesh and crackling skin paired naturally with meaty morel mushrooms.
Some of Stein’s simpler dishes are equally successful. An arugula salad riffs on sharp flavors, pairing peppery greens with a biting, raw-milk cheese, thin slices of spicy radish, and a tart lemon emulsion. The basic burger is topped with thick-cut, wood-smoked bacon, and layered with roasted tomatoes, which are far superior to plain old ketchup. Its stock kept rising with every bite.
Less successful dishes seemed hampered by flavor monotony. The bland, clingy dressing on a grilled-steak salad made conquering the mound of greens seem an arduous task instead of a pleasure. Bits of crab and mint weren’t enough to keep a chilled English pea soup from tasting like a bowlful of dreary weather. The deviled eggs looked attractive, topped with clutches of sturgeon and tobiko caviar, but the creamy yolk filling was too much.
So should you stay safe with your order, or take a risk? As with financial markets, the best bet is to diversify. Grazing some small plates, we found the crispy shrimp rolls—spiced with lemongrass, cilantro, and a fiery cabbage salad—packed amazing flavor into three or four bites. They were tiny, but totally worth it. On the other hand, two golf-ball-size lobster-risotto croquettes had lovely crunch, but the accompanying milquetoast black truffle butter couldn’t compensate for the too-high ratio of turf to surf.
The most consistent returns came from the bargain-priced mini dessert tray, created by pastry chef Liz Matheson, formerly of Levain. For $2.50 a pop, you can pick shot glasses filled with desserts precious enough to tuck into a Christmas stocking. There might be teeny, adorable churros, dunked in a spoonful of dark chocolate; or apricots stuffed with pistachios and mascarpone cheese; or ginger panna cotta topped with a heavenly nectarine gel. I ordered another round of sweets and declared “buy low, eat high” —my new investment strategy.
Rachel Hutton is associate editor at Minnesota Monthly.
88 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis, 612-656-3255
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily.
Reservations recommended but not necessary.
Parking is available from the valet or at ramps and meters nearby.
Prices for appetizers range from $6–$13, entrées $12–$32.