The New Restaurant Scene

What’s New?

Let’s review. September 2008—the month the investment bank Lehman Brothers tanked and the Dow plummeted 500 points in a day, thus ushering in the Great Recession—that month meant a lot of things to a lot of people. To this restaurant critic, it marked the day the music died. Sure, fine dining in Minneapolis–St. Paul had sputtered from the gung-ho days of just a few years ago, when it seemed like a new destination restaurant opened every week. Back then, you couldn’t possibly cover every single new restaurant. There simply weren’t enough pages, enough ink, enough time!

And then, in September 2008, everyone seemed to go from feeling rich to feeling poor, and the new pastime became not ordering tiny cups of saffron soup, but instead staring wide-eyed at newspapers and reading details of locals who lost their life’s savings to Bernard Madoff or Tom Petters. Suddenly, there seemed to be only restaurant closings: D’Amico Cucina, Bellanotte, Morton’s, Stone’s, the Times Bar & Cafe, and so many more. Overnight, $3 was the new $20, as proven by the hottest restaurant of last winter, Barrio Tequila Bar, which took one of our best white-tablecloth cooks, longtime La Belle Vie sous-chef Bill Fairbanks, and unleashed him on tacos. Wonderful tacos, but still: If $3 is the new $20, tacos are on the menu.

By the time spring came, there was such a famine of new restaurants to review that the local press (myself included) devoted a preposterous amount of attention to fast-food-chain debuts, like Smashburger. There’s one in St. Anthony. And now there’s one in Golden Valley! The parking lots have bright lines painted on the ground so you know just where to put your car! Marvelous. Capital was hard to come by all over, but nowhere so much as in the restaurant business. Only the strong survived.

But here’s the big news: The strong did survive! Some were reborn. Some even thrived, snagging hot chefs idled by the economy, and with them fresh cachet. Some even expanded. To wit: Alex Roberts and the Restaurant Alma crew have opened another Brasa, the nose-to-tail fast-casual spot, this time in St. Paul, and 112 Eatery is in the final throes of opening a Minneapolis North Loop pasta bar. Is your head spinning with all this news? I thought so. ¶ That’s why I present you with the issue I’ve been calling your Bunker Buster—as in, your key to bust out of your bunker and discover the glory of a Twin Cities restaurant scene that’s been remade in the last year. If you’ve been hunkered in your bunker hiding from bad news, it’s time to come out and notice that in your absence the world has been made anew. And it’s a delicious world indeed.
 

Hot Plates

What do the Cities’ newest restaurants have in common? Nothing. D’Amico Kitchen does Italian in the style of a modern Medici, Om is Indian with a nightclub’s flair, and the Kitchen is as local as wild rice. Here’s your guide to their delights, as well as those at Ginger Hop, Sea Change, the Loring Kitchen & Bar, and Northeast Social Club.
 

D’Amico Kitchen 

The new main-floor dining room at the
Chambers, stocked with tens of millions
of dollars in contemporary art, gives
Minneapolis something it’s never had before
—a place fit for visiting royalty.

 

If you ever took an art-history class you should have learned all about the Medicis, the wealthy Florentine family that just about single-handedly paid for the Italian Renaissance. We have them to thank for many of the great works of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Their various collections and commissions still form not only the basis of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, but much of Western art and culture. To be perfectly clear about my own biases, this is the kind of conspicuous consumption I can get behind. You want to spend your gold on a private jet and some wristwatches? I don’t much care. You want to pay for the intellectual and aesthetic ball to be carried forward in your time, and possibly for hundreds of years into the future? Now I care.

Ralph Burnet, the local real-estate mogul with the astonishing contemporary-art collection, laid claim to being our local Medici in 2006, when he opened the Chambers and attached a gallery to showcase his collection. However, when globe-trotting great chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten was in charge and the hotel’s main restaurant was in the cavernous, strangely echoing and thumping basement, one didn’t really get much contact with that art. Now that Jean-Georges is out and the D’Amico team is in, you do.

D’Amico’s new restaurant is about half the size of the old D’Amico Cucina space, its 30 or so indoor tables laid out in such a way that a good portion are beside one or another semi-priceless pieces of art. For instance, you can have dinner next to Will Cotton’s Candy Stick Forest, which depicts a semi-nude girl in a grove of hyper-real-looking candy trees. Is this pop art a knowing critique of the male gaze? An exploration of the intellect-obliterating appeal of gluttony of all sorts? Or mere porn?

Whatever the true reading of the painting—or rather, the true reading of the painting for you—just having a couple of hours with it to come to your own conclusion is an activity typically reserved for the Medicis of the world. Here, however, you can zip in any lunchtime, get the best meatball hoagie in town for a mere $10, and gaze at the candy painting or one of the many, many others until you feel at peace with it.

That meatball hoagie was the most surprising thing I found at D’Amico Kitchen. It’s in the “Panini” section of the lunch menu, which refers not to pressed panini sandwiches, but all kinds of sandwiches. Order this veal-meatball version and you get a standard Italian-American composition: a long, soft-but-crusty roll filled with a row of terrifically tender, pale meatballs robed in a zesty sauce and mellowed with a blanket of tangy provolone cheese. As soon as you take a bite, the various bold, comforting, sweet-and-spicy parts unite in perfect harmony. “My God,” I found myself murmuring to my lunch date. “It’s everything I like about watching a Jets game on television in New Jersey, plus fine art! Who saw this coming?”

The lunchtime chicken cacciatore, at $12, is another Italian-American triumph. Long-braised, tender chicken is paired with a mushroom-rich tomato sauce and a polenta as creamy as custard. It’s a simple bit of comfort food cooked as perfectly as possible.

Suckling pig with pickled onions
at D’Amico Kitchen.

 

At D’Amico Cucina, chef John Occhiato made his name by livening up the haute Italian menu with fresh local ingredients, and my one worry for the new restaurant is that in trying to broaden its appeal, the staff has made the menu too long.

I counted some 40 different options at dinner, and the level of excellence of the various dishes was not uniform. An appetizer of thinly sliced pork loin, for instance, was terrifically dry, though I could have eaten the accompanying tuna-caper sauce by the quart.

The best appetizer I tried was a delicate hamachi crudo made with tangerine oil and floral and dusky fennel pollen; each bite was flowery, sweet, and complex. Another good option was the spicy fried calamari, a fritto misto of big bunches of parsley, sweet segments of lemon, and squid made a touch fiery with chili flakes. It’s the perfect thing to pair with a glass of bubbly Prosecco or the bar’s excellent Negroni.

Some of the pastas are lovely, especially the tender ravioli filled with real buffalo-milk ricotta and garnished with curls of salty Speck ham. Overall, though, they aren’t as uniformly good as they were at D’Amico Cucina. For instance, the garganelli carbonara I tried one night had a carbonara sauce that was oily instead of rich and custard-like, as if it had broken after sitting for a long time. And black-squid-ink spaghetti with clams and sausage arrived at the table tasting strangely under-seasoned, as if it had gotten only half the sauce it needed.

Entrées like chicken under a brick and roast suckling pig are done simply but well, in a nice understated and competent way. That these dishes are whisked in and out by the legendarily attentive and decorous (and gratifyingly adult) Cucina wait staff, many of whom made the journey to the Kitchen, makes dining here particularly pleasant, as does the wine list, which is long on older vintages at reasonable prices. (When is a new restaurant not a new restaurant? When it opens with a seasoned staff and a back catalog of Brunello.)

Desserts by Leah Henderson are conservative but well-executed. A steamed chocolate spice cake is so lightly spiced and paired with an olive-oil gelato so tame that it would be easy to mistake the dish for a simple flourless chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. The one sweet that seems to relax and dare to be frivolous is the splendid gelato sandwich trio, made with tender, brightly colored Italian macaroons. I couldn’t tell you which I prefer more—the fresh and nutty-tasting bright- green pistachio one or the salty hazelnut-caramel one—but I feel sure that after six or 20 more visits I might narrow it down. Till then I say those macaroons and a cup of so-good-it-must-be-a-luxury-hotel coffee make the best date in town—especially if you need to impress a visiting Italian duke. D’Amico Kitchen, Chambers Hotel, 901 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-767-6960, chambersminneapolis.com
 

 

OM

The Indian- and Pakistani-expat communities in Minnesota have proved to be devoted restaurant-goers, so much so that the Twin Cities have been blessed by a number of Indian restaurants that cater almost exclusively to those homesick connoisseurs. However, these restaurants tend to be functional, not big-splash destination, see-and-be-seen nightclubs. Does that expat community want a big Indian-accented nightclub? Does anyone? That seems to be the question Om was designed to answer. It’s a multi-level space built inside the shell of the old Nate’s Clothing spot in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District, near the Central Library.

Walk in and you’re confronted with low couches, saffron- and lapis-colored accents, the general sense of dark wood and deep shadows, and the chance to order small plates and mango martinis. Trail down a giant open staircase arranged around an enormous crystal chandelier and you’ll find the main dining room—yes, in the basement, even after that idea failed at the Chambers and at Porter & Frye.

No matter. This deep dining room is prettily appointed in dark wood and features a menu that takes the typical Western way of building a fancy entrée (glamorous protein plus starch plus vegetable) and gives it an Indian twist. The generous fillet of wild-caught Alaskan salmon is seared with turmeric, rendering it a deep burnished orange, and then poached in a coconut milk and malt-vinegar sauce, all of it served with poached grape tomatoes and a pretty disk of spinach basmati rice. Instead of Tandoori chicken, Om serves Tandoori cornish game hen, with a roasted-cashew sauce and a crisp and cheerful side of two sorts of green beans.

The brains behind this creative cuisine is Raghavan Iyer, a Bombay native, longtime Minnesota resident, and one of America’s leading Indian-cookbook authors. And the food is fascinating stuff. I particularly liked the fenugreek lamb-chop appetizer, in which lamb chops were marinated with fragrant ginger, fennel, cardamom, and garlic, and then seared and served rare beneath an herbal and zesty sauce of fenugreek and cream. The green chili and potato naan bread was another must-try, while some of the vegetarian dishes, like the puff-pastry crowned casserole of layered vegetable curry and basmati rice, have never been seen in town before and are a welcome addition.

Sound good? It is, though if this sort of thing sounds appealing to you, my advice is to go sooner rather than later to ensure that Om thrives. People around here have gotten awfully accustomed to paying rock-bottom prices for Indian food, and since the place is smack-dab in the heart of the twentysomething nightclub zone, it’s hard to imagine the restaurant getting a lot of drop-in traffic. (Om does have valet parking, for those familiar with the parking difficulties in that neck of the woods.) When you go, be sure to save room for dessert. You may think you know everything there is to know about molten-chocolate cakes until you taste Om’s, infused as it is with a true cayenne kick and hauntingly fragrant spices. Om, 401 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-338-1510, omminneapolis.com

The Kitchen

No restaurant closing last year was more shocking than the shuttering of the Bayport Cookery. Chef Jim Kyndberg was a pioneer in transforming the St. Croix Valley into a fine-dining destination with his multi-course menus centered on a star ingredient (morels, chocolate, and garlic were the most famous themes). And a nice, nice, nice guy—one of those chefs young cooks clamor to work for for free and whose praises they go on to sing forevermore. So it was particularly thrilling when Kyndberg was quickly appointed chef of the Kitchen, the new restaurant that took over the former Stone’s space in Stillwater, the one with the exquisite, enormous back patio and the interior that seemed like a showroom for the most expensive wood and stone finishes known to contemporary design.

How is this new smash-up of esteemed cooking and richly cozy environment? Splendid. Neither too fancy—the $9 burger with classic Minnesota ice-box pickles is just right next to a tap beer after a long day antiquing—nor too plain. The cold-cut plate is actually an ambitious assemblage of house-made charcuterie of chicken-liver pâté enhanced with chopped bacon, slippery and silky headcheese, and ham to rival any artisan-made one from the South. Farm accents like creamed corn cut straight from a cob that came straight from the farm that morning give the place soul. And a daytime menu with easy-to-love options like homemade biscuits with sausage gravy and eggs give it a casual, village-center utility. Service is young, but eager and well-trained. In short, it’s a great restaurant for our times: Just foodie enough for the foodies, just non-foodie enough for everyone else, and a lovely excuse to head to Stillwater. The Kitchen, 324 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-342-1556, thekitchenstillwater.com

Ginger Hop

This new northeast Minneapolis restaurant, in the old Times Bar & Café space across from Nye’s Polonaise Room, is something new to Minnesota: date-destination, budget-friendly, beer-focused Asian fusion. If that sounds like a confused concept, the place actually comes across as remarkably unified. The main dining room is chic and trimmed out with big fans and gently aged shutters, as if you’ve stepped on to some French Colonial veranda in hot old Vietnam. Of course, there’s one other Minneapolis restaurant with French Colonial accents: Chiang Mai Thai. No surprise, then, that Ginger Hop (the ginger refers to the Asian influences, hop to the hops in the beer list) is the second restaurant from the Chiang Mai Thai crew.

They’ve really thought this one out. The beverage service offers a tipple for every palate, but especially for beer lovers. Check out all the spicy-food-friendly IPAs! With plenty of options under $10, the food is wallet-friendly and often quite good: Try the creamy green curry or the tangy Key lime pie (from the Birchwood Café). Oddly enough, Ginger Hop reminds this critic most of the great beer palaces of a hundred years ago: pleasantly escapist and classy to behold, easy to afford, with simple and appealing food, and plenty of beer for all. Ginger Hop, 201 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-746-0304, gingerhop.com

 

Loring Kitchen & Bar

If you live on Loring Park, the new Loring Kitchen & Bar is a godsend: Basic diner chow, with no need to sacrifice your precious parking spot! If you don’t live in the neighborhood the place is less of a draw, for it’s hard to imagine a more basic and conservative menu than the one on offer here. Calamari, pizzas, caesar salads, short ribs, ahi-tuna steaks, burgers, roast chicken, walleye with tartar sauce, waffles at breakfast, and chicken-noodle soup. It’s all very competently done. The hand-cut French fries, for instance, are sweetly, appropriately potato-like, brown and nubby, appropriately salty and appropriately yummy. The most craveable offering is their fried chicken, charmingly served with a little honey bear. The restaurant’s stark, angular granite and smoke-toned interior is elegant in an executive-office suite sort of way. Yet for everything this new restaurant does right, it’s hard to imagine it as a city-wide destination. Basic and conservative are all well and good, but they’re not qualities that inspire diners to travel great distances. Loring Kitchen & Bar, 1359 Willow St., Mpls., 612-843-0400, loringkitchen.com

Sea Change

If you spent the summer at your cabin and missed the big restaurant news, it was this: Cue, the all-local fine-dining restaurant at the Guthrie opened by chef Lenny Russo, is no more. In its place now stands Sea Change, a sustainable-seafood restaurant helmed by Tim McKee, Minneapolis’s white-tablecloth-cooking standard-bearer. The food is surprising and delicious. Your best bet is to simply order every single thing off the raw-bar menu: compressed cucumber with hand-harvested sushi-grade scallops, raw Santa Barbara spot prawns as tender as warm jelly, fat sections of sweet, briny Bristol Bay king crab leg, sashimi-like slices of pale albacore tuna paired with wafer-thin pressed watermelon and mint, and flawless oysters.

Pair it all with one of the unusual international white wines that the restaurant specializes in and enjoy the bounty of the seas guilt-free: Delicious as the food is here, the place’s real claim to fame is its pristine sourcing. McKee’s crew works with suppliers to ensure every bit of seafood served is from a healthy population and sustainably obtained.

A final tip: Sea Change is also the 11th-hour reservation-seeker’s best friend. While it’s often tough to get a table here before the show, once the crowd piles into the theater the place becomes a ghost town. If you think you can’t get a last-minute 7:30 reservation anywhere worth going to, think again. Sea Change, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-225-6499, seachangempls.com
 

Northeast Social Club

Minneapolis restaurant-hounds noticed a distinct trend over the spring and summer as three completely distinct meat-focused gastropubs sprung up around the city. North Minneapolis got Victory 44, a corner bar with a serious side in great local meats, and northeast Minneapolis received both Butcher Block, an upscale and Italian-inflected take on the protein side of the plate, as well as Northeast Social, which feels like a classic bar, not unlike Mayslacks’ around the corner, but sweetens the experience with more ambitious cooking.

Ambitious cooking like a rainbow trout stuffed with red chard wrapped in ham and seared until the whole bundle is crisp as a potato chip, a salty-savory inspiration that pairs beautifully with creamy fingerling potatoes and a peppery watercress salad. Still, while the food can be quite good it’s the spirit of Northeast Social that really impresses, the stately Victorian-inspired wooden bar beneath the ornate tin ceiling looks exactly the way a bar should, old-and-comforting yet fresh-and-lively, the bartenders are friendly, and there’s something interesting to drink for every palate. In a season with plenty new under the sun, it’s nice to find a place where one of the oldest restaurant virtues of all, conviviality, thrives. Northeast Social Club, 359 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-877-8111, northeastsocial.com
 

 

Fresh Entrées

The world of local restaurants has changed significantly since the Great Recession began. If you’ve been hunkered down in your bunker, here’s the best of what you missed.


âž» Barrio Tequila Bar

Fantastically good tequila drinks and $3 tacos from the previously fine-dining-oriented La Belle Vie crew. 925 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-333-9953; 235 E. Sixth St., St. Paul, 651-222-3250, barriotequila.com
 

âž» Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza

Local restaurant veteran Jordan Smith bought Minnesota’s first real coal-fired oven and started serving some of the area’s best no-frills New York–style pies, alongside cheap, good house wine and farmers’-market­-driven salads. 600 Washington Ave. N., Mpls., 612-342-2625, blacksheeppizza.com
 

âž» Blue Door Pub

2009 was the year of the stampede to safety, and the burger was king. The best of the new lot is this St. Paul spot that is fascinated with Juicy Lucys, which they call “Blucys.” Try the Cajun one stuffed with molten pepperjack. 1811 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-493-1865, thebluedoorpubmn.com
 

âž» Bradstreet Craftshouse

The fine-cooking team from Cosmos showcases small plates in the hottest new bar of the year, renowned for its unbelievably fancy cocktails. Be sure to try the pastries by Khanh Tran. 601 First Ave., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com
 

âž» Brasa Premium Rotisserie

A bigger, better version of chef Alex Roberts’s all-local, quick-serve Minneapolis spot. Better because the bigger kitchen and dining room allow more specials, some of which are stunningly good. 777 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-1302, brasa.us
 

âž» Cheeky Monkey Deli

Former Goodfellows cook Matt McArthur opened this counter-service spot with a strong suit in pot roast and sandwiches. Be sure to try the meatloaf. 525 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-6066, cheekymonkeydeli.com
 

âž» Crave

This past year saw the perfection of the ultra-upscale corner-diner: Crave. It boasts a wallet-friendly, something-for-everyone-menu: Greek salad? Sushi? Steak? Pizza? Yes, yes, yes, yes! While you dine, feast your eyes on $1 million worth of furniture. Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-854-5000; Galleria, Edina, 952-697-6000; 1605 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-933-6500; cravemn.com
 

âž» Domacin Restaurant & Wine Bar

The old Cesaré’s has a new name but maintains its winning, thoughtful combination of simple international slow food and brilliantly chosen wine. 102 Second St. S., Stillwater, 651-439-1352, domacinwinebar.com
 

âž» Restaurant Cru

Unfussy, farm-driven, budget-friendly fine dining in the northern suburbs as good as anything south of I-694. 10340 Baltimore St. NE, Blaine, 763-717-2235, restaurantcru.com
 

âž» Trattoria Tosca

Adam Vickerman, 24, is cooking his heart out in this temple of farm-driven simplicity, and the results are often truly breathtaking. His rib-eye steak, with a wild mushroom and balsamic-vinegar reduction, sings with harmony and thrums with unity. If he can keep this up, he’ll be our next homegrown superstar. 3415 W. 44th St., Mpls., 612-924-1900, trattoriatosca.com
 

âž» Victory 44

A corner bar in north Minneapolis with shockingly good salads, a homey Arts and Crafts vibe, and burgers worth pairing with a local pint. 2203 44th Ave. N., Mpls., 612-588-2228, victory-44.com
 

 

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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