Emma’s Restaurant & Lounge

2817 S. Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis, 612-879-5800

Review published September 2005

JUST A YEAR AGO, I was sitting outside 3 Muses on Lyndale Avenue, snacking on beet “tartare” and splitting a bottle of wine with a friend—having a moment of gourmet-but-unfussy glory. So when the seasonally inspired bistro was replaced by Emma’s Restaurant & Lounge this past May, the change felt bittersweet.

I’d always liked 3 Muses. It was a hip but low-key space, dimly lit and spare. It felt quirky and genuine, with good food and an even better wine list. But I wanted to like it even more, because 3 Muses was an underdog. Lacking Wall Street investors and a chic Shea design, its owner had rolled up her shirtsleeves and created a dining experience beloved by neighbors and critics alike out of nothing more than a nondescript Lyn-Lake storefront.

Over the years, things changed, as they always do. Economic downturn. Competition. Whatever. The kitchen door started revolving faster than an electric mixer, and the wait staff began mumbling about an impending close. Hoping to show a little support, I ate at 3 Muses last spring. But the once-delightful restaurant had really hit rock bottom. The dining room was practically empty, and our entrées were served lukewarm—cold, actually. The couscous was flavorless; the scallops were sour, metallic tasting, and rubbery; and the chocolate cake with rose petal jam went uneaten. Chocolate cake. Uneaten. Imagine that. So much for the little guy: it was David defeated, the Red Sox losing, and the prince turning back into a frog.

Then, shortly after The Worst Meal of 2005, I had one of the best. Emily Streeter, who began her career at Café Un Deux Trois and cooked most recently at Bakery on Grand, bought the old 3 Muses, repainted the walls, and fired up the stove. Could she return the space to its former glory?

Streeter’s muse was evident in the first spoonful of chilled melon soup: puréed honeydew with delicate hints of mint, green tea, and cream. It tasted so good that we dispensed with decorum and drank it straight from the cup. Similarly delicious was a creamy chicken liver paté. Its dark flavor, earthy as ore, was heightened by contrasting bits of cranberry chutney and salty/sour cornichon.

For entrées, we enjoyed a spicy saffron orzo, rich with bits of braised chicken and chorizo sausage, as well as the evening’s special: two large lamb chops with green beans and tomatoes cooked in a toasted mustard seed and red-wine reduction and dressed with buttery croutons. The seared halibut with spring vegetables was the evening’s only dud; the smoky tomato broth was tasty, but the English peas were mealy and the overall impression rather ho-hum.

Dessert, though, was inspired: a caramelized apple tart that would make a Frenchman gasp, “Oui.” Amazingly, the tart’s only the third best thing about Emma’s. The second is that nothing on the menu is more than $20. And the first is that Streeter’s just 24 years old, so the best may be yet to come.