Minneapolis on the Hudson

Jean Georges sets up shop across from Solera while Soho hipsters attempt recapture of Loring Park

Gosh golly, Minneapolis is a-changing. Seems like just yesterday we had two expense account restaurants in the whole state, and now, badda bing, badda bang, you can't go three months without a major, major, major restaurant opening. Major Major Major you say, wasn't that a character in Catch 22? Yes, but stop being the most literate city in America for a moment, men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses. Okay, yes, that is a second literary quote, you caught me, yes, by Dorothy Parker. But the point I'm trying to make is that the grand dame is wrong: It might take a while, but gosh darn it if this little spectacles-wearing burg isn't getting hit on left and right by New York men hoping to score big, and....

Jean Georges is coming! Jean Georges is coming! Or rather, Jean Georges is here. Who's Jean Georges? Oh, come out of your books, ye bookworms, for Jean Georges Vongerichten is only the best chef in America—or one of the top three, anyway, it's either him or Daniel Boulud or Thomas Keller, depending on whom you ask. Or maybe four, with Alain Ducasse. It doesn't matter, only one of them is coming here: the Alsatian wonder with the New York empire, Jean Georges. Yes, empire: For the last couple of decades, Mr. Vongerichten has been a top-of-the-heap presence in New York, with many, many restaurants including the best-restaurant-in-America-contender Jean Georges, and also Perry Street, JoJo, Mercer Kitchen, Vong, Spice Market, and lots, lots more. So many more, really, that all a person in restaurant circles has to see is the letter J or the letter V anywhere in a restaurant name to assume it's got something to do with Jean Georges—like V Steakhouse, for instance.

Am I making the big deal of this clear? The man owns fully 13 percent of the alphabet in restaurant-world. What, you thought Wolfgang Puck was big? Wolfgang Puck is mini-golf compared to Jean Georges. Yes, I said mini-golf. With windmills and giant plaster chickens. Jean Georges is serious.

What to expect, then, from his new restaurant, bar, and lounge in the paint-is-still-drying-new Chambers Hotel that's opening on the corner of 9th and Hennepin, joining Solera, the Saloon, and Rock Bottom and thus creating the most diverse corner in the known universe? (Have there ever been stranger bedfellows? Break into groups and discuss: So, a gay raver, a tapas chef, Joe Six-Pack, and a millionaire Brit brat art collector walk into a bar...I said it first: Gosh golly Minneapolis is a-changing!)

What to expect from Chambers Kitchen by Jean Georges? For the life of me I can't quite tell. I've been to quite a few of Mr. Vongerichten's restaurants. A meal I had at his three-Michelin-starred New York flagship restaurant, called Jean Georges, was the best I've had in all my fork-lifting days. I can still see a little circle of green pistachio-crusted foie gras torchon with an offset lid made of glasslike pink sugar beside a little mound of pickled dried cherries...oh, it was a marvelous thing. The service was the best I've ever encountered, the servers seemed to have magical powers and floated weightlessly on mind-reading beams of helpfulness. And the petit fours—like dollhouse treasures made for fairy princesses! The pastry sous chef from the real, big, flagship New York restaurant, Christopher Szczeniowski is moving here, so I think I can say we are in for some pastry joy.

Still, outside of the flagship I've had some less than thrilling Jean Georges moments, like when I convinced a bunch of my fairly broke New York junior media friends to come with me to his then-new Chinese restaurant, 66. It all ended afterward in mutiny at a bar with my friends demanding their money and time back. That got ugly. This restaurant in the Chambers hotel has had rumors swirling about it for years, ever since La Belle Vie was supposed to go in there, and then got booted for a bigger name.

Those rumors initially were that our restaurant would be a Spice Market, which is Jean Georges's slick and fun Vietnamese party restaurant. And so I spent a happy meal at that restaurant, deciding it was kind of like a cross between Chino Latino and Mai Village, if those restaurants' dishes were run through a machine that made them into incredibly tasty, elegant, spa food. And if, when you looked to the table next to you, you didn't see a cute Juut hairstylist from Minnetrista, but instead were confronted with the bottomless baby blues of movie star Clive Owen. Yes, Clive Owen! He was right next to me. And I didn't fall over or put a fork through my leg or anything.

I do think that the lesser Jean Georges restaurants depend somewhat on that Clive Owen factor. Hunger may be the greatest seasoning, but movie stars do quite a bit to make a plain old stick of pork satay seem pretty special. Will there be a Clive Owen factor at the Chambers Kitchen by Jean Georges in Minneapolis? We'll see, but I'm guessing not so much, unless Target flies him in to consult on some Clive Owen-branded pocket-packs of Kleenex. (Which I would totally buy. Have a cry with Clive Owen! I'm so trademarking that...)

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