Mill Valley Kitchen offers Midwestern take on California cuisine

Day boat scallops and grass-fed beef anchor healthy entrees

Mill Valley Kitchen offers Midwestern take on California cuisine
Alma Guzman
Miso Glazed Seabass. See the slideshow.

Every shirt you throw on your back comes with a label telling you what material it's made from—legally, clothing manufacturers are obligated to disclose that information. But sit down for a restaurant meal, and most eateries haven't even calculated the nutritional contents of what you're about to put in your body. When they do, it's often not pretty. That fried macaroni and cheese at the Cheesecake Factory contains 63 grams of saturated fat, more than what's recommended in a three-day period.

The new Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park is spearheading the idea, locally anyway, of printing the number of calories, as well as the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in each dish, right on the menu. Hankering for a cup of vegan chili? That's 90 calories, with 5, 11, and 3 grams apiece of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Herb roasted chicken? At 670 calories, it's currently the kitchen's most fuel-rich dish. Sure, sometimes it's nice to dine unaware of such data, but since so many meals are being eaten at fast-food and table-service restaurants—one every other day, on average—if Americans don't want to become any more Supersized, every meal out can't come with a large order of fries.

Mill Valley Kitchen's name is meant to evoke Northern California, and its menu was inspired by the region's farm-fresh, healthful, produce-heavy cuisine. Craig Bentdahl, the former Excel Bank CEO, launched the restaurant with the help of Anoush Ansari of Hemisphere Companies, and was inspired by foods served at the health-focused Canyon Ranch Spas and Resorts. Chef Michael Rakun, formerly of the St. Paul Hotel and Ansari's Mission American Kitchen, says that he took the restaurant's mission as a challenge and retooled some of his original recipes to try to boost the good numbers and bring down the bad ones—without sacrificing flavor.

Light but full of flavor: Grilled Nantucket day boat scallops
Alma Guzman
Light but full of flavor: Grilled Nantucket day boat scallops

Location Info

Map

Mill Valley Kitchen

3906 Excelsior Blvd.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Louis Park

Details

Mill Valley Kitchen
3906 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park
952.358.2000; www.millvalleykitchen.com
appetizers $7-$10; entrées $10-$24

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The restaurant is located in the first floor of the new Eclipse apartment building at the corner of France and Excelsior Avenues, and the space feels more urban than pastoral, even with its palette of whites and spring greens and organic accent materials. The layout includes a bar and lounge area, a large dining room, a private wine room, and a small outdoor patio. The design, created by Shea, makes efficient use of the space. Too efficient, perhaps, in one spot: Shelving on the open kitchen's exterior wall displays stacks of plates and takeout containers that create unnecessary visual clutter.

On weekend nights, Mill Valley Kitchen quickly fills to capacity. The bar starts running out of both martini and champagne glasses, and diners are drinking French 77s like they're water. The staff usually keeps its cool, but can get a little flustered by the crush. One evening, the lack of effectiveness with which multiple young hostesses directed and seated guests was enough to make one wonder if she'd walked into one of those light-bulb jokes.

The Mill Valley crowd creates a vibe similar to those at suburban hotspots such as Redstone, BLVD Kitchen, and the restaurants at St. Louis Park's Shops at West End. It's casual enough that people wear hats in the bar, though moneyed enough that their jeans might cost as much as a junky car. If a guy whose pecs strain against his T-shirt comes up to the bar for a glass of Pinot, you'll likely smell him before you see him. Thankfully, all it takes is one loud CLAP from the bartender spanking mint leaves in the palm of his hand, and a nose-clearing aroma will trump the cologne.

But what are you drinking? A pint of kombucha, of course—so very California! Kombucha is a variant of the ancient Russian beverage kvass, which is made by fermenting rye bread in water. To create kombucha, sweetened tea is inoculated with a culture of bacteria and yeast, which imbues the brew with supposed health benefits, as well as a small amount of alcohol. The product served at Mill Valley, made in St. Paul by Deane's Kombucha, is the first local on-tap offering and a good introduction to the beverage. It's lighter on the acidity and effervescence than some blends, but with just enough of an edge to make it especially refreshing.

Mill Valley stocks a full bar, but it also has an attractive assortment of non-alcoholic refreshments made with health-food favorites like citrus juices, coconut water, and agave nectar. And there are smoothies, some of which could double as a meal—especially the Superfood, which packs 470 calories' worth of fruit, kale, broccoli, and nuts into a glass. The thick, bright-green sludge tastes a lot better than it looks.

Rakun's plates emphasize nutrient density and so-called "superfoods." While the menu includes several ingredients with strong hippie associations, even the bland-sounding Vegetable Plate with Brown Rice turns out to have a certain gracefulness and spunk, especially the fiery, chile-flecked kale. The list is approachable enough to include a health-focused take on such fast-food staples as pizza and hamburgers.

Mill Valley's burgers are offered with a choice of grass-feed beef, bison, or a wild-mushroom vegetarian patty. If the bison isn't overcooked, it's a slightly leaner approximation of beef that's still juicy enough to saturate its spongy, seed-flecked bun. (And don't expect French fries from a 320-calorie plate. You'll be getting a still-tasty side of lightly dressed salad greens.)

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