Nine Miles High
Nine Mile Grill
Mall of America Grand Hotel
7901 24th Avenue S., Bloomington 851-6330
EATING OUT IN or around malls usually isn't pretty--because of the surroundings, and because of the commercial pressures that attend the start-up of any restaurant in such a setting. So it was doubly surprising to find a genuinely interesting dining spot just across the way from the biggest mall of them all.
You might get chills walking through the Mall of America Grand Hotel lobby; you're supposed to, anyway, what with its sunken lounge area complete with fireplace and its chandelier, which could wipe out a small village were it to come unhinged. And where do all these well-heeled people come from anyway, the ones laughing gently into their cognacs and looking so elegant in their overstuffed chairs?
The Nine Mile Grill, which services this bizarre settlement peopled with mall tourists and businessmen/women, is in perfect keeping with the hotel atmosphere. That is to say, the grandness that you'll find here is painted on thick. There are tables inlaid with blonde and mahogany woods to match the inlaid floors, gilded mirrors, gigantic nouvelle floral arrangements, stylized lighting fixtures burning softly, and a view of the indoor pool. All of this might seem sort of nice--after all, sometimes a fellow needs to have a bit of class shoved down his gullet--if it weren't for the dreary, loud elevator music that courses through the dining room. If you can shut this blight out, you'll have it made; the food here is actually quite good.
For those with little time for studying wine appreciation, the Nine Mile Grill has prepared its menus with wines listed on the lower portion of each page best suited to the foods above it. Beware before you leap: The cheapest bottle runs $24 (for a Buena Vista Pinot Noir, Carneros), and most average over $30. You may be better off using the regular wine list, where a few bargains were in evidence.
The fare here is gentrified Minnesotan cooking, with lots of wild game, wild rice, and fresh vegetables. The greens are quite lovely and the portions are large; by the time I had navigated my way through my Grill salad ($3.25), a splendid blend of organic greens that included spinach tossed with soy nuts and sorrel and chive buttermilk dressing, I was practically full. Same with my auntie and her Caesar ($3.95), which, though less exciting than mine and topped with some unfortunately bland croutons, was just as substantial.
Such being our state, we had to pass on other appetizers, including the duck quesadilla ($5.25), smoked pheasant gumbo ($3.95), and Minnesota wild rice soup ($3.50). This sacrifice was fine, though, for we could now proceed to the main course with clear hearts. If you savor meat, then you've come to the right place. The New York Strip steak ($17.95) that my aunt ordered was magnificent, broiled perfectly rare as per her specifications. Topped with a heap of sautéed mushrooms, it was a lovely thing to behold.
I was equally delighted with the special of the evening, Spanish chicken ($15.95), which to my relief involved not one bit of paprika; the sautéed breast was glazed with white wine and artichoke sauce. Sided with this lovely old bird was a heap of mushrooms dusted with lemon pepper, a wild rice pilaf, and some crunchy steamed green beans with carrot shreds. The artichoke hearts were a bit like candy; at first, I was delighted to have so many of them, buttery and drenched in the wine sauce, but after the seventh or eighth, I began to find them a bit rich and daunting. Other options on the menu include fresh-grilled walleye ($15.95), scallops wrapped in bacon ($16.95; I never will understand people's obsession with bacon--why would you want to strangle a poor little scallop with it?), and chicken cornucopia ($16.95), described rather unfortunately on the menu as chicken "cups" overflowing with sun-dried blueberry salsa with asparagus. No one should be able to make cups (or any other plateware) out of meat, but that's just one person's opinion.
The dessert selections here are opulent. Aside from ice cream hailing from Sebastian Joe's ($1.95), freshly baked fruit pie stuffed with strawberry, rhubarb, apple, raspberry, and blackberries ($3.95), and a nine-layer chocolate terrine served with caramel and chocolate sauce ($3.95), they serve some delicious, cool "liquid desserts" made with various blends of frothed milk, mocha ice cream, and liqueurs ($5 each). The service we received was flawless, and our waitress made us feel quite at ease in our setting. Between the service and the fare, we were able to tune out the cheesy music with ease.
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