Crave, Cooper, and Icon bring convenience to St. Louis Park

Taste is often lost in the strip-mall dining experience

Back in the day—before Twitter, before 30 Rock, before voice mail—the only sustenance found within a shopping mall's walls was the occasional baggie of Cheerios stuffed into Mom's purse, or something from the food court, where teenagers fueled endless hours of loitering by carbo-loading on fried rice and cinnamon rolls. (Did teens burn more calories back when they talked with their mouths instead of their thumbs?)

The Mall of America was the first local mall to wager that shoppers buying clothes or electronics or wedding chapel services would also be willing to spend money on a decent dinner. While the Galleria's Ediner was still serving burgers and malts, the MOA's Napa Valley Grill upgraded to chardonnay and ostrich.

Today it seems restaurants may be taking over department stores' role as the anchors of new retail complexes: Dining is the destination, and shopping the afterthought. The new West End development in St. Louis Park follows that model, with three major dining spots already in place, and more on the way. Here's what to expect at Crave, Cooper, and the ShowPlace Icon movie theater.

Applebee's for yuppies: The sushi bar at Crave
Jana Freiband
Applebee's for yuppies: The sushi bar at Crave

Location Info

Map

Crave - West End

1603 W. End Blvd.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Golden Valley

Details

Crave
1603 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park
952.933.6500; www.cravemn.com
appetizers $8-$13; entrées $19-$37

Cooper
1607 Park Place Blvd., St. Louis Park
952.698.2000; www.cooperpub.com
appetizers $6-$10; entrées $9-$17

Kerasotes ShowPlace Icon
1625 West End Blvd., St. Louis Park
612.568.0375; www.kerasotes.com
$3-$12; entrées $8-$13

WITH CRAVE RESTAURANTS already in the Galleria and the Mall of America, a West End location was a natural choice for owners Kam and Keyvan Talebi. The brothers were investors in the former Bellanotte and also own the View, and the new Crave is positioned somewhere between those two concepts, infusing a little nightlife glam into a relaxed dining experience.

Crave's menu combines upscale but accessible American fare with a large selection of sushi, which cultivates reasonably expensive check averages for dinners, at least. A casual ambiance positions Crave as a weekday sort of place, even though its entrée prices mirror those of special-occasion restaurants. It first strikes one as being likeable and popular: Applebee's for yuppies.

The space is a looker, with lots of big windows and a warm color palette of ruddy, coppery hues. There's a pretty bar—with a booming bar scene—a giant glass wine cube, an open kitchen and sushi counter, and a cool private table shrouded in red velvet curtains.

To most people this will register as lovely. To others it arouses suspicion. "Is this just another American restaurant trying to justify its price point with decor?" my friend asked as he gazed toward a chandelier filled with colorful glass baubles. I'm all for ambiance—even if the beaded glass wallpaper in the restroom might cost as much as a used car—as long as it feels like it's not making up for disappointing food. At Crave, this can sometimes be a problem.

Not with the sushi, though. The standard sushi rolls are competent, and Crave offers all sorts of the elaborate, experimental ones too. Though the Minnesota roll, stuffed with smoked walleye and green onions, will never displace the California roll as a national standard, I did love Crave's crispy rice bars, which are basically a rice cake piled with spicy tuna and sweet roe. The unctuous fish tames the aggressive crunch and heat in a way that reminded me of that delightful seared tuna with puffed rice appetizer they used to serve at the old Chambers Kitchen. I could have eaten several more, had the coin-purse-size cakes not cost $5 apiece.

Entrée selections include several steak and seafood options, among them the Tuscan New York strip that I ordered. It was served with a mushroom and tomato ragout that was pungent with capers and garlic and a risotto cake that almost tasted more like warmed blue cheese with salt and pepper. The steak had a grana padano cheese "crust," which was a thick-ish, melted skin with a Parmesan-like sharpness that overwhelmed the underwhelming meat. Overall, the dish felt heavy-handed, and if that had been what I was looking for, I would have spent my $35 on four cheesesteaks at the Uptown Savoy.

Among the seafood entrées, the $29 miso-glazed sea bass I tried also seemed a little overwrought. The fish had a nice, buttery flesh with a salty ocean tang, but it was oddly paired with highly peppered bok choy, an earthy ponzu sauce, and sweet pickles. And while I'm happy to see Crave bringing a philosophy of "fresh, local, and organic" to a broader audience, it seemed a little hypocritical to tout the restaurant's sustainability efforts and then serve Atlantic salmon, which has spent many years on the Monterey Aquarium's "avoid" list.

There are much better places to drop $100 for dinner, but I do think Crave is a nice lunch spot. The bento box I sampled wasn't as good as ones I've had at local Japanese restaurants, but it wasn't a bad value at $10. (On the plus side, a hot, moist towel preceded the box; on the minus side, I found a strawberry with a big brown mushy spot in the fresh-fruit compartment.) Among the soup-and-half-sandwich combos, the New York pastrami piles rich, pepper-trimmed meat onto griddled caraway rye, and the chicken and wild rice soup tastes light and fresh. Pair those with a shot glass of lemon-mascarpone trifle and you'll be perfectly happy—and set back only about $15 with tax and tip.

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