Safe as Banks

Minneapolis's new B.A.N.K. is monumental, breathtaking, awesome, historic—and disappointing

B.A.N.K., 88 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis, 612.656.3255, www.bankmpls.com

When I first graduated from college I worked as a temp downtown, and like any sensible temp, made sure that all my errands were conducted at a most leisurely pace. So I would often pause in the skyway above the Farmers and Mechanics Bank and goggle at the grand lobby: the acres of burnished teak, the grand, muscular friezes, the general air of Diego Rivera meets Thomas Hart Benton by way of a lot of protein shakes at the gym.

The place seemed to me, along with the Foshay Tower, to be Minneapolis's Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center, our rare examples of architecture from a time when American design was strong, but, because of the Depression, American building was rare. The lobby of the Farmers is such an exquisite temple of sensual machine-age luxury that just pausing in the skyway above it would make my young temp's heart beat faster, then slower, in the way that natural wonders will.

The grandeur of old money is open to the masses at this B.A.N.K.
Kris Drake
The grandeur of old money is open to the masses at this B.A.N.K.

Of course, times change. The old Farmers and Mechanics Bank was recently transformed into a Westin Hotel, and the old grand lobby has been turned into a reception area, bar, and a restaurant, B.A.N.K. The good news is that the new owners left the magnificent lobby essentially unchanged: The awe-inspiring teak, the friezes, the chunky sculptural glass panels, the cathedral-height ceilings, the connection to our grand civic heritage of workers' pride and workers' dreams, all of it remains for us, our children, our children's children. That is no small feat in a city that has a gruesome past of trashing our common architectural heritage as if it were last week's food on a stick. So, if you've got a granddaughter, consider the time ripe to take her downtown, buy her a burger, and unspool all the secrets you aren't going to take with you to the grave. You will never find a more momentous, stately, or impressive frame for your tale.

However, if you don't have Minneapolis memories to recount, I'm sad to say that B.A.N.K. will do little to help you create happy new ones. The restaurant the Westin has given us is safe, pleasant, good, but never great; it's a Midwestern hotel restaurant with the emphasis on Midwestern hotel restaurant. And I'd hoped for so much more.

If you really like American restaurant staples, you'll find plenty that's good enough about the food at B.A.N.K. The chef, Todd Stein, seems to have a particular flair for making the most basic American restaurant classics appealing. A roast tomato soup ($6) with little grilled-cheese sticks, for instance, was the best thing I had at this grand restaurant; the soup was roasty, tangy, and rich; the little grilled-cheese sticks, made with creamy fontina cheese, were a perfect room-service sort of comfort.

A Caesar salad ($7) was described on the menu in a way that I initially thought was a typo, as having "variable garnish"; however, when I received it I found that the variable is your own individual whim—order this thing and you receive a pile of nicely garlic-dressed romaine and croutons surrounded with a row of flat spoons each holding capers, bacon bits, minced marinated onion, grated egg, and minced anchovy, allowing you to add as much or as little of each as you want. The deviled eggs ($6) are pretty little treats—halved eggs filled with a creamier version of themselves and topped with a bit of sturgeon or flying-fish caviar. They're everything a deviled egg should be: lush, luxurious, and fun.

In keeping with the great American restaurant classics theme, B.A.N.K. does good work with beef and salmon. A light and elegant salmon fillet ($14 at lunch, $18 at dinner), served with spears of young asparagus, grilled ramps, trumpet royale mushrooms, and a parsley salsa verde, is elegantly prepared, with the herbal greens elegantly accenting the creamy fish. At dinner, the ribeye steak ($32) is good: just a decent cut of meat, seared hard till it gets a nice crust, paired with a simple heap of garlic-touched fresh spinach. At lunch, the Kobe beef burger ($12) is the safest bet. It's made with rosy, salty beef gilded with aged cheddar, a few slices of bacon, and an oven-roasted tomato. Too bad the fries that come with it, all three times I had them, were starchy and limp. And that's about it.

The rest of B.A.N.K.'s food ran the gamut from workmanlike and pedestrian to lackluster and disappointing. The lobster croquettes ($9), which I also tried three times, are really no more than rice balls, with the scantest lobster flavor hidden within overwhelmingly buttery risotto spheres. The five-spice duck breast ($13) is inadequate in several ways; first, the duck itself is strangely flavorless, so wan and lifeless that it could be anything—pork, chicken, tofu, clothing, who knows. As if to compensate for this quackless duck, the kitchen dusts it with acrid-tasting five-spice powder and swamps the plate with a piercingly sweet and salty "soy caramel" sauce that obliterates your ability to taste anything.

1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
 
Loading...