Fancy Setting, Finer Food
Basil's/Marq VII Lounge
710 Marquette Ave., Mpls.; 376-7404
A COUPLE OF weeks ago while wandering blindly downtown through snow, hordes of shoppers, and a daze incurred by too much cold medicine, my friend and I walked into what we thought was a furniture store. "How much for that flashy cow print armchair in the window?" was the question on our minds when a serious-looking gentleman in a bow-tie approached us with a silver coffee urn and menus. Our mistake was grave, but not unforgivable. After all, the Marq VII would be the perfect display room, its large glass windows exchanging privacy for a shopper's view of assorted bodies folded over fashionable couches, armchairs, and tables high above Marquette Avenue.
Too embarrassed to leave (not to mention famished), we acted as though we had planned on eating at the Marq VII Lounge all along. Inoffensively awash in cream colors, with poinsettias and green shrubs done up in small lights to accent the season, the lounge is a place where laptops, cigarettes, and martinis clutter the table tops and where you can prop your feet up on an overstuffed couch and watch the bell boys roll in racks stuffed with fur coats and suits. Once you soak up enough of this atmosphere, you can either decide to fit in and order up a gourmet pizza (ranging from $7.95 for an artichoke with tomato, spinach, and feta cheese to $8.25 for a classic with pepperoni, green pepper and mushrooms), or a shrimp and crabmeat salad ($11.50) with your Remy Martin V.S.O.P., or you can run away to the Marquette's other feeding hole, Basil's, which is what we did.
"Floor 3, Basil's restaurant," chirped the electronic voice that was still speaking long after we had vacated the elevator. Basil's is like an overwrapped present, designed and decorated to the hilt with pink walls, gray couches, and a geometric pattern on the carpet that matches both. You can escape this claustrophobic ambiance by sitting out on the deck overlooking the IDS Crystal Court. While quite pleasant, the deck culls its outdoor feel more from the wicker and wrought-iron chairs and tables than from the view of the instant cash machines and shops down below. When the menu arrives, however, you are bound to find yourself transported (in spirit anyway) to the rustic countryside.
If you are watching your waistline disappear after a couple of weeks of holiday office parties and whatnot, note that Basil's keeps a menu filled with items (including teriyaki salmon steak, smoked pheasant, and fettuccine primavera) designated low in fat and calories which look as appetizing as anything else listed. Equally unique and wonderful is Basil's seasonal menu, from which we selected a huge starter of carpaccio of venison ($8.50), consisting of thin billows of pink venison marinated in a walnut oil and sherry vinaigrette and garnished with a center of sun-dried fig chutney. It was delicious and distinctive, the tangy vinaigrette and deep flavor of the venison melding wonderfully with the sweet, spicy chutney.
Abetted by the complimentary, caraway-seed dinner rolls and the vegetable and herb cream cheese pâte, this should have been enough sustenance to go with our bottomless cups of lusty coffee. But of course, we plunged bravely on to order lunch. I ordered the lemon linguini with smoked range hen, lemon thyme, olive oil, and parmesan cheese ($8.50). It was a masterpiece, with the hen set on the bright yellow pasta and speared with, what else?, a fresh sprig of flowery basil. Considering the main ingredients (pasta and poultry), the dish had an incredibly light touch.
Similar raves were occurring across the table, as my friend feasted on broiled scallops on endive and radicchio with cucumber and wild mushrooms ($12.95). The crisp leaves of radicchio, wetted by a warm chive vinaigrette, proved a perfect counterpoint to the scallops my friend was popping down his mouth, one by one. We were completely happy, especially as our meals were big enough to leave leftovers for lunch for the next day.
Our only regret, as usually happens in such cases, was that we enjoyed our lunch too much to give dessert any serious consideration. Too bad, because Basil's sweet enticements include fresh fruit with Devonshire cream ($4.25), crème brûlée with the traditional caramel crust ($4.25), and, as a specialty of the season, "chestnut roulade on star anise buttermilk sauce enhanced with macadamia brittle ice cream" ($4.95).
Amid all the frills and foppery manifested in the decor at Basil's and Marq VII, the food is neither frivolous nor overwrought. Indeed, I'm adding Basil's to my list of places whose meals never fail to enchant.
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