A Very Big Year

2003: The year everything got Big, in both ambition and execution, but pandering lurked darkly in the background

None of us will ever know why you stole that Shriner's miniature car, drove through the jewelry store window, peeled off covered with diamonds, and subsequently gained international notoriety with that soft-headed cream cheese-icing defense, blaming it all on too many of Aunt Lil's cinnamon rolls. But while you may remember 2003 like that, for me, 2003 will forever be the year that Minneapolis got Big, in terms of ambition, execution, and plain old numerosity.

Yeah, I said numerosity. I mean, even three years ago restaurants used to open in this town more or less sequentially, and a girl could keep track of what was going on in the restaurant community pretty much on one hand. Now, all through 2003, things have happened in threes, and all at the same time.

First, consider the three biggest restaurant openings of the year: Cosmos (in the new Le Meridien Hotel, across from the Target Center), Levain (in the new Turtle Bread complex down on 47th and Chicago), and Solera (in the newly rescued Hennepin Avenue space on theater row, at Ninth Street). Any of these three would have been the biggest news of the year on its own, but all of a sudden we got three multi-million-dollar restaurants, with three name-brand chefs, all at once.

Location Info


Le Meridien Minneapolis

601 First Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Meanwhile, we also got three brand-new, million-dollar big Grown-Up Beach Party restaurants: Tiburón, Babalu, and Mojito. The hullaballoo surrounding the Big restaurants nearly eclipsed three local, much-awaited, long-anticipated, chef-driven restaurants: jP American Bistro, Bakery on Grand, and Pane Vino Dolce. Restaurants even started closing in trios: Aquavit, café un deux trois, and Rockstar.

Do you remember how much ink was generated by the closing of the (still missed) New French Café? There's no time for that kind of lingering memorializing nowadays; everything's happening way too fast. I mean, we even had three new soul food restaurants open on Nicollet this year: Nardie's, Big E's, and the Soul City Supper Club. We had three Asian fusion restaurants establish themselves this year: Azia, Rice Paper, and Singapore! That exclamation point is theirs, but it may as well be mine. Where do we live these days, the future as envisioned by the Food Network?

It's been a great year to be eating out in the Twin Cities. And so, without further ado, I give you the best restaurants of the year!

Oh, you didn't fall for that old gag, did you? From Li'l Baby Numerosity? Please, you've got at least a dozen paragraphs between you and sweet release. I mean, there were definitely some problems in 2003, and I think we should talk about them. You weren't planning on going anywhere, were you?

For one thing, downtown Minneapolis was overrun, absolutely overrun and infested with chains. That fondue monstrosity. That Applebee's monstrosity. The horror show about the olives and the gardens. And that horrible place that one is forced to observe when one is innocently drinking at First Avenue--oh, what do they call it? The one where people mate according to the belief system specified upon their T-shirt? Limp Rock, Lard Sock...something.

Well, anyhoo, it's not just the chain-infestation that is so seriously depressing, but the critical pandering that has accompanied it. If I have to read one more review in a daily paper that runs, "This crap-fest chain pretty much sucks, but y'all might like it, 'cuz y'all really like big portions and you're kinda stupid," I am going to nail marshmallows to the walls. I am serious. That's just how mad I am.

For those of you tired of all the running to the dictionary, I will explain. Pandering is encouraging someone in their crappy taste, for personal gain. And I feel like it has just been the dark sub-theme to 2003, in everything from the speeches of George W. to the smarminess of the Democratic party to the magazine covers with Limp Bizkit and X-tina to my own damn review of Fhima. With the benefit of hindsight, I really wonder if I pulled punches from my Fhima review because, you know, it was in downtown St. Paul, and they're not really up to speed down there, and you have to be nice. How did I benefit? By not coming off as a bully, or a closed-minded jerk. From now on everyone is on notice: I am on a pandering-extermination campaign, as of now. Pander no more in 2004!

Someone make a T-shirt.


So, what's the big problem with crappy, lackluster chains, and the people who like them? Why don't I just let them alone, and quit being such a bossy buttinski? Because they provide a net public harm. First of all, crap chain restaurants feed you giant plates of salt and fat that they get from corporate factory farms. This a) makes you fat, b) ruins your palate, and c) gives you no nutrients or energy with which to lead your life, which d) makes you depressed, and e) leads to divorce and the dissolution of the family, while simultaneously f) allowing corporate farms to f-2) drive family farms out of business and f-3) contribute to the evisceration of the heartland and f-4) proliferation of rural drug use. This g) fills up local prisons and thus increases your taxes.

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