ON THE SATURDAY NIGHT we visited Canyon Grille in Coon Rapids, the waiting area was filled with teenagers in formal wear. The boutonnieres, taffeta gowns, and wrist corsages looked a bit out of place among the restaurant’s stone fireplaces and cozy booths, but we took their presence as a good sign: high schoolers, we’ve come to realize in recent years, are picky about restaurants.
Christian Ticarro, Canyon Grille’s executive chef, was recently invited to New York to cook at the James Beard House. The dinner was part of the organization’s Great Regional Chefs of America series, and Ticarro, by all accounts, didn’t play it safe—his menu featured nervy combinations of seemingly dissimilar items and influences, ranging from sashimi salad rolls and foie-gras fried rice to pan-fried walleye and osso bucco.
At Canyon Grille, however, this adventurousness takes the form of a sprawling, disparate menu that gives the impression Ticarro is trying to run the most ambitious Asian-Italian-Southwestern restaurant with game specials in the northern suburbs. If you’re out with a bunch of people and no one can agree on what they’re in the mood for, this is your place.
Of the appetizers we tried, our favorite was the “Texas Teasers”—essentially a bowl of chunky chili made with tenderloin tips and served with grilled pita wedges. The homemade egg rolls were bigger and slightly more flavorful than the ones you’ll find in your grocer’s freezer, but not particularly special. The seared ahi tuna was much better, served with crisped wontons and a blood-orange vinaigrette reduction that tasted pleasantly of toasted sesame oil.
With its cumbersome menu, Canyon Grille certainly seems eager to please. In fact, we were pleased by the well-priced, wide-ranging wine list. The offerings include 17 wines by the half-bottle and 30 wines by the glass. Feeling extravagant? Here, you’ll find Opus One cabernets from three different vintages.
The wine list was a tough act to follow, though, and our entrées didn’t measure up. The game special, pheasant Wellington, was heavy and bland. The wood-grilled top sirloin arrived medium rare, as ordered, but its Gorgonzola topping was dried out. The cedar-plank salmon fillet came swimming in citrus-infused butter.
The pork chops were tasty—but, alas, we had ordered the pork medallions. Our server was sweet in a daughterly way, but she was clearly no pro. An ambitious kitchen like Canyon Grille’s requires competent floor support.
The desserts we tried were pleasant, but they weren’t worth the calories. Served without the traditional pyrotechnics, the bananas Foster was little more than a dish of partially warmed bananas drizzled with caramel. The chocolate pyramid was attractively presented but its flavor didn’t match its looks.
Canyon Grille gets many things right: interesting appetizers, terrific wines, and an adventurous approach to cooking. So the shortcomings of an inexperienced server on a busy Saturday night were easy to overlook. Perhaps she had her mind on the satin frock she was planning to wear on the Big Night. Meantime, we took consolation in the restaurant’s wine list—and the knowledge that for us, the time for taffeta was long past.
3490 Northdale Blvd.