Purple Sandpiper and BLVD Kitchen bring culinary ambition to suburbs

Big city not required for big taste

Generally, the most innovative, food-forward restaurants tend to spring up in the urban core, leaving suburbanites to settle for sustenance as bland as their Levittown architecture. Good luck trying to find sweetbreads or pancetta within a soccer field's distance of a Wal-Mart.

But two new restaurants in Bloomington and Minnetonka have swapped the typical tabletop shakers for French sea salt—a signal that their kitchens have higher ambitions than most of their neighbors. Purple Sandpiper and BLVD Kitchen & Bar are spreading the foodie gospel to mainstream markets as they introduce new ingredients and flavor pairings to more conservative diners. Depending on how well they execute, they have the potential to turn skeptics into more adventurous eaters—or scare them right back into their old comfort zones.

AT FIRST WE THOUGHT it was a joke: a carnivorous chef's kiss-off to the vegetarians. The Cauliflower Soba Noodles might have been mistaken for day-old cat vomit, had they been discovered behind the couch, soaked into the carpet, instead of presented on a plate.

At BLVD, steer toward the ribs
Sasha Landskov
At BLVD, steer toward the ribs

Location Info

Map

Purple Sandpiper

8405 Lyndale Ave. S.
Bloomington, MN 55420

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Bloomington

BLVD Kitchen and Bar

11544 Wayzata Blvd.
Hopkins, MN 55305

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minnetonka

Details

BLVD Kitchen & Bar
11544 Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka
763.398.3200; www.blvdkitchen.com
appetizers $5-$14; entrees $11-$30

Purple Sandpiper
8405 Lyndale Ave. S., Bloomington
952.888.1429; www.purplesandpiper.com
appetizers $5-$9; entrees $13-$18

Only Oliver Twist's workhouse might get away with serving such wet, gray slop—not a restaurant hoping to make income from paying customers. But perhaps this was the dish's secret: The only way a kitchen would offer something so visually repulsive would be if it tasted mind-blowing, right?

But one bite of the noodles—angel-hair thin, blended with bleu cheese béchamel and roasted cauliflower—proved otherwise. The dish tasted like vaguely vegetal, slightly molded wallpaper paste. Its pickled cauliflower garnish, I decided, was the best thing about the worst dish I'd eaten all year.

Purple Sandpiper, which opened September 1 on South Lyndale Avenue, aims to bring creative, chef-driven fare to a staid, chain-restaurant dining scene, while keeping prices competitive (all entrées are less than $20). But the opening chef, Ryan Aberle, who showed impressive spark at NorthCoast and, briefly, at Ringo, parted ways with the restaurant less than two months after its launch. And visits just before his departure found Purple Sandpiper struggling to hone and execute its menu.

The restaurant should be commended for its ability to sell veal glands to the Caesar salad and Chardonnay crowd. The sweetbread nachos—crisp pasta chips with spicy, livery meat chunks, spiked with roasted jalapeños, pickled onion, balsamic vinegar, and blue cheese—were far tastier than the sum of their ingredients suggested. I also liked a salad of poached turnips and turnip greens with cheddar cheese (minus the apples, whose sweetness was at odds with the other sharp-bitter elements). The butter burger is certainly an easier sell, being fat, juicy, and served with a side of sweet potato fries and cinnamon-flavored aioli.

But most of Purple Sandpiper's more experimental flavor pairings weren't as good as the classics. Matching Au Bon Canard duck confit with pumpkin sounded sensible, but it didn't have the merit of a more conventional choice, like white beans. Chocolate "Black 'n' Tan" cake was another interesting idea, but the stout flavor was just too bitter for mainstream tastes. Plain chocolate would have been preferable.

One of the most unusual dishes I tried, a lake trout lox "sundae," was inspired—brown-sugar-cured Lake Superior fish with a scoop of "everything bagel" ice cream that was literally studded with seed-flecked bits of bread—but the ice cream resembled a dense, cold butter. Its texture and temperature paired oddly with the cured fish and would have worked better, frankly, on a bagel.

The post-Aberle menu has scaled back, axing several of the dishes that seemed to be trying too hard: weird simply for the sake of being weird. The lox "sundae," the "Black 'n' Tan" cake, and the turnips are now gone, but also, sadly, are the sweetbreads. Their replacements are the more commonplace PEI mussels, lobster mac and cheese, and chocolate flourless torte.

While the menu is being reworked, the dining room, too, could use a few tweaks. It has some pretty elements—large windows and a couple of roomy booths covered in mod, polka-dot upholstery—but food court-grade tables, generic wood paneling, and bad Muzak detract from the ambiance. Service is friendly and comfortable but at times a little too casual. One night, some friends and I were seated at a four-top so tiny our knees practically touched, while one of the spacious booths was sloppily strewn with papers and a crumpled apron, as if the remnants of a staff meeting gone wrong hadn't been cleared before dinner service.

The restaurant is in the process of bringing on a new executive chef, so until that transition is made and things stabilize, breakfast and beer may be Purple Sandpiper's most reliable offerings—they're certainly far more interesting than what's available at the Perkins down the block. Lobster Benedict features briny claw meat on an English muffin with poached eggs and a lemony hollandaise. Pumpkin ricotta hotcakes were a moist, delicately spiced alternative to the standard flapjack. The French toast, though a little dry, arrived with fresh strawberries, real maple syrup, and a glassy maple brittle. All three would have been even better had the plates not arrived lukewarm. On the plus side, Purple Sandpiper's beer inventory reads like that of a craft beer shop. It's surely among the best beer bars in the south metro, stocking everything from Tyranena Hop Whore, an intense Imperial India Pale Ale, to bottles of the Flemish sour ale Rodenbach Grand Cru. You won't find those at IHOP.

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