Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-858-9934
Review published September 2004
Expense-account diners often find themselves at high-end restaurants for the same glib reason Bill Clinton got tangled up with Monica Lewinsky. What did his book say? “Just because I could.”
On weekday evenings, Napa Valley Grille bustles with the business-casual sect: dozens of men in Polo shirts and Dockers. The dimly lit dining room seems fairly standard, with its white linens and power-broker booths—until you overhear a snippet of business speak (“The retailer’s making the checks and balances, but the distributor…”) and realize that hardly anyone in the restaurant is having a personal conversation. Put bluntly, Napa Valley Grille is one of the few fine-dining establishments where you can get away with plunking down a laptop and showing a PowerPoint presentation on the “Changing Demographics of LTC.” Practical, yes, but it can take some of the romance out of, say, an anniversary celebration.
The Grille’s skilled servers normalize the situation, bearing herbed focaccia topped with hunks of garlic and handfuls of Parmesan and fresh basil and unobtrusively pouring olive oil from silver-colored vessels. They are deft with the crumber, professional, and just friendly enough. The only lapse in proficiency involved the Spicy Sopressata, an Italian hard-salami appetizer, which was served without the accompanying Amish blue cheese. With just four toasts, four thin discs of salami, four smoked mushrooms, and a garnish of fresh herbs, the plate seemed sparse for $9.
The thick, tender round of filet mignon—cooked deep brown on the outside, magenta on the interior—left a similar impression of being almost, but not quite, right. It was paired with biting mustard greens, a bit of stewed tomato, portobello mushroom, and a crisp, crepe-like tube filled with garlicky mashed potatoes. Because the flavors of the meat and accoutrements were relatively mild, the dish seemed to beg for an accent: a port reduction, a mushroom demi-glace—something. It was good, but beef prices being stratospheric, it needed to be otherworldly to justify the $35 expense.
The ostrich had a better balance of textures and tastes. The mildly flavored meat resembles dry, lean beef, and a few wisely chosen associates offset its weaknesses: a microgreen salad and a piquant green salsa added a citrus-tinged freshness. A bed of poblano polenta, crisped on the edges, added moisture, creaminess, and subtle heat. Chef Royal Dahlstrom has an impressive pastry pedigree, so be sure to save room for dessert. A nicely conceived gourmet ice cream sandwich paired the darkish flavor of crumbled Oreo cookies with a tangy sour-cream ice cream, studded with individual red raspberry drupelets. Dipping each bite in the decadent pool of sweet crème anglaise duly sealed the deal.
By the end of the evening, the diners mixing business with pleasure emptied their wineglasses to just a few drops of crimson. Exiting the restaurant, they were absorbed into the mall’s masses—loitering teenagers and harried shoppers—and bid adieu by the paw of the giant inflatable Snoopy.