Chic To Chic
411 Second Ave. N., Mpls.
THE WAREHOUSE DISTRICT: the last bastion of downtown Minneapolis that feels like it actually might be part of a downtown area and not a suburb of the Mall of America. At least, that's how it seems when you're walking around Hennepin Avenue, looking into the windows of restaurants finished in blue faux marbling and jeweled with televisions bracketed in the outside walls so that you can see all of the fun that's (not) going on inside. But what really makes me think Minneapolis might be turning into a blander version of L.A. is that half the people who prowl around downtown after 8 p.m. seem to have a cellular phone growing out of their ear. They probably aren't gossiping with the folks at The Lounge, who seem to have precious little time to dole out pleasantries over the phone. (When I called, my conversation went like this: "Hello, what kind of food do you serve there?" "Food." "Oh, um, thanks a lot.")
Despite the cool beauty and occasionally chilly attitude of those who inhabit The Lounge, the room temperature here allows you to strip off your bulky outer layers and show off your evening wear. The lighting is likewise intimate, with a few lamps tucked into the corners that cast a reddish glow over the entire area. Gilded mirrors and gilded pictures--everything here is gilded and cozy. A room of corners composed of mismatched couches, chairs, and coffee tables, The Lounge begs you to rest your head on the backs of furniture and slip your hand on your companion's knee.
The libations fit well with the prevailing atmosphere. A rack of glasses glimmers over the bartender's oval face, and the bar area is decorated sparingly with a few sprigs of greenery. Martinis, all the rage these days, are well represented ($5-$6); I could hardly think of a better way to calm the savage soul after a mind-numbing day at the office then to slip into the cave-like Lounge and order a smooth, icy martini (the glass itself a thing of beauty, and feels so elegant in the hand). Fancy martini drinkers should get a rise out of the iceberg, a glass glazed with Blue Curacao, filled with chilled Skyy vodka, and completed with a lemon twist; or from the licorice whip, Stoli vodka spiked with Sambuca and coffee beans. The menu provides other appropriately well-heeled selections for the cosmopolitan surroundings (scotch, single malts, cognac, liquors) in case you aren't up for or down with martinis.
Heaven forbid that you drink and seduce on an empty stomach. Let other bars supplement the process with powdered popcorn or cold, sauced up chicken wings; appetizers from The Lounge indicate the presence of an actual kitchen, providing a sophisticated opening to an intimate dinner.
Among the best that we tried were the vegetarian crepes ($6.50) and the fresh spinach topped with sliced tomatoes and broiled gorgonzola ($6.50). Both came on plates that could have doubled for serving platters, arranged by a very artistic eye. The crepes were very delicate, stuffed with sweet tomatoes, onions, fresh spinach, and stretchy ribbons of melted pepper jack cheese. The thick, creamy, roasted pepper sauce was nice too, if a little bland. No need to describe the thrill of the fresh spinach dish; with a few herbs and a light touch of olive oil, there's no way to go wrong, and adding the tomatoes and broiled gorgonzola only made it better. I wanted to order the salad of basil-marinated tomatoes, black olives, and red onion served on a bed of mixed greens with a white wine vinaigrette ($6.50). However such pleasure was not to be mine, or, to be less poetic, they were out. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed an immense portion of mixed greens ($6.50), merrily ringed with rounds French baguette and tossed with a fortune of gorgonzola, red onions, and fleshy walnuts before a light topping of balsamic vinaigrette completed this perfect salad.
My friend was a little saddened by his rather plain vegetarian sandwich; two pieces of bread clutching a pile of roasted bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, greens, sprouts, onions, and tomatoes, slapped with a bit of what we supposed was mayo ($6.50). Well, one small blow doesn't kill the cow, and all in all, we were duly impressed by our experience. Maybe next time, we'll order one of the individual pizzas on the menu (although I must say, there's something that seems a little embarrassing and petty about an individual pizza; shouldn't pizza be all about sharing?). The one with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, black olives, feta, and mozzarella ($7) sounded especially good.
A menu that lets you know its offerings include ingredients like bechamel sauce, anchovies, Grand marnier, and fresh basil is clearly no place for a stomach that craves things like gravy, ketchup, and chocolate cake. Dessert, which used to be offered, has fallen by the wayside; apparently, none of the serious lovelies who come here crave such frivolous, sweet stuff. Take heart though; even if you aren't feeling the coolest, you will still have a great time soaking in the thick atmosphere.
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