Despite the glow of fluorescent lights from the lobby of the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront Hotel, the space at Citizen Supper Club manages a reasonable semblance of the supper club vibe they advertise.
Super pro servers of a certain age ferry cocktails with the ease and skillful small talk of a restaurant lifer. The sleek space glows with hot pinks and lime greens and starburst light fixtures appealing to the mid-century modern enthusiast. For a hotel restaurant in downtown St. Paul, it's reasonably charming and by happy hour, the lounge is filled with cheery imbibers.
Citizen Supper Club opened so quietly back in October few people even realize it's there. Formerly home to the Crowne Plaza St. Paul-Riverfront, the hotel was recently acquired by Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures, as was the nearby Double Tree by Hilton which houses Rival House pizzeria. Graves Hospitality (Bradstreet) is overseeing the food and drink program at both establishments.
People who have been paying attention to food for a long time in the Twin Cities will recognize the name John Occhiato. The chef led the kitchen at D'Amico Cucina between 2003 and 2009. The place was long heralded as one of the finest restaurants the Twin Cities had ever seen. He later moved on to Cosmos at the Graves Hotel.
The menu at Citizen is a compendium of throwback American comfort foods, including chicken and dumplings, steak with mushrooms Diane, and even Baked Alaska. While the offerings are grounded in classic cookery, they still manage to tempt with inventive twists and turns. A beer cheese fondue comes with pickled ramps; a foie gras is served "liver and onions style."
Their take on a Caesar served with shaved cauliflower, olive, and arugula was packed with high-quality product handled with care. But it had major salt issues from the caper, garlic vinaigrette, anchovy breadcrumbs, and Manchego, and the lack of fat or citrus to balance things. Still, it was an inventive attempt at freshening up a Caesar and we salute the sentiment.
Given Occhiato's pedigree as a master of Italian cuisine, we were excited to sample the tight pasta selection which includes a duck a l'orange pappardelle and cavatelli with rabbit. While the goat cheese ravioli we sampled were beautifully hand-prepared in delicate little pouches, they were not given proper attention at the cooking station and were overly al dente at the edges. That blunder was offset by the simple but good combination of smoked prosciutto, fresh basil, and quality Parmesan.
Burgers in this burger-crazy town have to be spot-on to make a calling card of themselves. Chefs all over town are taking them as seriously as their most ambitious dishes. The easygoing spirit of this one — Velveeta, Heinz, shiny bun — are all appealing, but the cold cheese and somewhat dry patty put us off. Fries didn't show any signs of hand-cutting or freshness.
Price points hover around the mid-20s for entrees, and the low-teens for small plates. It's not exactly expensive, but not exactly St. Paul prices either. It can be tough to swallow with the many new and nearby Lowertown places that offer a more competitive value, including Saint Dinette, Big River Pizza, Dark Horse, and Ox Cart Ale House.
Hotel restaurants have always had the singular problem of needing to appeal to the masses. Serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night room service requests of a peanut butter sandwich for someone's kid is a relentless business. Those that ultimately thrive tend to be steakhouses, where reliable systems for cranking out meat and potatoes can be established with certain assuredness. Places reaching for higher margins rarely survive locally. See: Jean George in the Chambers Hotel, D'Amico in the Chambers Hotel, Porter & Frye in the Ivy, the more ambitious Restaurant Max in the Hotel Minneapolis under Nick O'Leary (it's now a steakhouse). The only hotel restaurant currently coloring outside beefy lines and thriving is Monello in the Hotel Ivy.
We'd love to see Citizen survive if for no other reason than to prove that downtown St. Paul is growing up, even beyond the confines of trendy Lowertown.
For now, it's worth a look for a decent craft cocktail ($10-$11), like a "reimagined" Old Fashioned with orange marmalade syrup, orange bitters and the effervescence of soda, or a usually bitter Aperol spritz that here gets softened with floral St. Germain and fruity Prosecco.
Daily lunchtime blue plate specials including an N/A drink go for $8.97 Monday through Friday (11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) if you want to give the menu a spin without too much financial risk. They've got comforting faves like pot roast, meatloaf, and open-faced turkey sandwiches.
Citizen Supper Club in the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront Hotel
11 Kellogg Blvd E., St. Paul