You have to give Hewing Hotel chef Nyle Flynn credit. When Minnesota restaurants were shut down before Thanksgiving, he saw his beautiful Tulibee restaurant in the North Loop abandoned, but decided he wasn’t just going to throw in the towel. Obviously a hotel restaurant doesn’t lend itself to takeout, so Flynn came up with an idea to give people a dining out experience that follows the COVID rules.
As far as we can tell, Hewing and Flynn were the first to develop this type of luxury room service locally. Called the “private dining experience,” dishes from the seven-course tasting menu are delivered to a table outside a room that you rent for three hours. So you’re not dining out at a restaurant, you’re renting a hotel room for three hours and getting room service! Brilliant! It’s an idea so good that dozens of hotels around the country, including some local hotels, have copied it.
The Hewing and the brand new Rand Tower Hotel invited me for behind-the-scenes looks at their upscale experiences. Note: Unlike our print restaurant reviews, Minnesota Monthly did not pay for these dinners—the hotels did. I still brought a critical eye, of course.
In both cases, it was an absolute joy for us to have beautifully plated courses served on actual plates that someone else brought to me. My wife and I found also both extremely COVID-safe, totally contactless, and friendly. (No beds in these rooms, and only a couple times that either hotel had guests that took a while to retrieve their food.)
The O.G.: Hewing Hotel’s Private Dining Experience
The food: Seven courses
Room rental: $65
Dinner cost: $110/person
Optional wine pairings: $65/person
Taxes & 20% service charge: not included
Total cost for a couple without wine: $380
The Hewing has transformed some of the rooms on its 5th floor into this private restaurant, if you will. The elves dropped a gorgeously composed new course at small tables outside the rooms about every 20 minutes.
I would describe this as more targeted towards the foodie diner: a roasted carrot with shaved smoked foie gras is my idea of a good time, but it may not be your father-in-law’s. The sweet potato tortellini (below) with brown butter, sage, and a glorious crunch of pecan was a hit.
As was the poached cod on a bed of root vegetables sitting on top of a riff on a crab cake with cod. Oh, and the frog legs! So beautiful, wrapped in speck, sitting on a shockingly bright green herby soup (below). Bright and meaty, what a combination.
Starting with oysters and finishing with roasted duck, it was an absolutely luxurious evening. Making it even more special are the artfully produced videos explaining and introducing each course, including Nyle’s the inspiration and ingredients. We just clicked on a video file on the hotel room TV.
In a time of COVID, when many of our high-end restaurants have either gone out of business or are closed for now, having a special occasion night like this truly felt special. I highly recommend it.
The Newcomer: Rand Tower Hotel’s In-Room Dining Escape
The food: Six courses
Room rental: $75
Dinner cost: $125/person
Optional wine/cocktails: purchase by the glass or bottle
Taxes & 25% service charge: not included
Total cost for a couple without wine: $450
In contrast to the warehouse feel of the North Loop Hewing, Rand Tower Hotel is pure art deco glam. Opened late 2020, we were among the first to go into a room here and spend some time. We dined with a view of the Foshay Tower, again, in pure luxury.
Chef Andy Vyskocil brings fine dining and hotel experience to Rand, with a background opening La Voya inside the InterContinental Hotel at MSP Airport, and as the chef at Bradstreet Crafthouse. Compared to the Hewing, this dining experience is more accessible and somehow felt more substantial. Perhaps that’s because I was full from the seven-course meal I had the night before, or perhaps because these were full servings. The soup was a bowl. The pork chop was a full chop. The meal is significantly more expensive than the Hewing experience, with a higher service charge and room rental fee leading to a $70 higher tab for a couple.
Like the Hewing, though, the execution of this meal and experience was absolutely perfect. The burrata salad (above) and oyster courses were set in the room upon arrival, and what a start! The cheese was fresh and had the ideal texture, the oysters (below) were served with this really clever and delicious frozen red wine mignonette.
About a half hour later, a very substantial bowl of crab corn chowder (above) arrived: creamy, crunchy, and crabby with a hint of smoked paprika and bacon.
And then a full pork chop, glazed with a sweet and salty honey and soy sauce. With the au gratin potatoes and broccolini, I was feeling on top of the world.
So is this for you? What an incredible birthday, anniversary, or special occasion event. Maybe to even celebrate an event that you downplayed during the time restaurants were closed, or you didn’t feel safe going out. Should this sort of dining stick around? Is it priced right? If you’ve tried one of these experiences, please give your impressions in the comments.