Eat the Revolution

I spent much of the evening watching teens shriek and gossip in the alley that connects California Cafe's part of the mall with the food court. Then I spent a lot of time wondering about the muted quality of light in the mall's main dome, and what dim light coupled with rattling noise do to the human psyche. Entrees didn't do much to distract me: Neither the grilled New York Strip ($22.95)--a good but unspectacular piece of meat with decent but unthrilling potato croquettes--nor the grilled swordfish with a vegetable lo mein and a red-pepper Thai-curry-and-mango salsa ($17.95)--which was good and light and fresh--could compete with the screaming below. By the time desserts rolled around--a fine, rich tiramisu with Bailey's Irish Cream and espresso sauce ($5.50) and a mellow, creamy vanilla-bean crème brûlée ($4.95)--I was getting ready to renounce all my earthly possessions and join a mall-free cult.

I was also beginning to wonder about the revolution. If the New American Cuisine movement was based, as its acolytes profess, on a commitment to agriculture, the seasons, freshness, and a life spent stopping and smelling the roses, what would be farther from the ideal than a location in the temple of girders and mannequins?

But maybe that's the point. Maybe the rising tide has risen so high that top-quality food can now be had on the mad December dash between Baby Gap and Sears. Or maybe Steve Vranian is just good at spinning stories to Minnesota lasses. Looking at his tale of Bay Area fortune, I'm beginning to see there must be a flip side. Somewhere, there's a nice St. Joseph girl whose version goes like this: One day I fell in love, and somehow he talked me into moving cross-country with nothing but a Volkswagen Fox. Next thing I knew we were in Singapore...

Jana Freiband

Location Info


California Cafe

368 S. Blvd.
Bloomington, MN 55425

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Bloomington


Interested in learning more about the California/New American Cuisine movement? You've got three airfare-free options. Steve Vranian is teaching a class on "Cal-Asian Cuisine" through Byerly's Cooking School this fall (Tuesday evenings 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., starting October 27; registration is $40. Call Byerly's Cooking School, 929-2492, for more information).

If you'd rather study in the comfort of your own kitchen, local bookstores offer dozens of cookbooks spawned by the chefs mentioned above, for example, Alice Waters' wonderful Chez Panisse Vegetables (Harper Collins, $35). Vranian's mentor Mark Miller has written a handful of books including Coyote Cafe: Foods from the Great Southwest (Ten Speed Press, $29.95) and Coyote's Pantry: Southwest Seasonings and at Home Flavoring Techniques (Ten Speed Press, $25.95). Jeremiah Tower's latest cookbook is Stars Desserts (Harper Collins, $35). The Puck juggernaut continues with Wolfgang Puck's Modern French Cooking for the American Kitchen: Recipes from the Famed Beard Award-Winning Owner of Spago (Houghton Mifflin, $18).

And if reading cookbooks still seems like too much work, consider whiling away some time at the Chez Panisse Web site ( where you can order books and olive oil and, most critical, find out what they're serving: I wish I had been there September 2, when $58 would have gotten me green bean and lima bean salad with fresh and aged sheep's-milk cheeses, Ligurian-style sole and parsley sugo (sauce) with tomato estratto (essence), Libert0y Ranch duck with bread crumbs, olives, and ginger, flanked by grilled eggplant and summer squashes, and brandied raspberry soufflé. Sigh.

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