When you go out to eat, do you order decisively or do you stare at the menu obsessively, as if it's your last meal? Here's a handy guide to what customers order most at some of the Twin Cities' most popular eateries, plus recommendations from the chefs at Oceanaire, Blue Door Pub, and more. Come back next week for more restaurants, or check out the series so far here.
OCEANAIRE Most popular: "By far I've sold more halibut [$32.95] than any other of the seafood dishes," says executive chef Rick Kimmes. One of most popular preparations, he says, is the "Black and Bleu" (an extra $4)--halibut blackened on the grill with Cajun seasonings, served on a bed of yellow onions caramelized in sherry and butter, and topped with blue cheese butter. The butter is a perfect foil for the spices, Kimmes says, complemented by the sweetness of the onions.
Chef's choice: When customers ask him his favorite thing on the menu, Kimmes says, he jokes that it's the Hashed Browns a la Oceanaire-a side dish of potatoes loaded with onions, bacon, and Tabasco ($9.85) that's "been on the menu since day one." For fish, however, Kimmes is partial to the grilled Taku River king salmon from Alaska. "We grill it real simple and then top it with a light salad of fresh nectarines tossed with prosecco, olive oil, salt, and pepper [$37.95]." The juice from the nectarines mixes with the dressing to create an elegant vinaigrette. "I love the combination of fresh fruit with salmon," Kimmes says.
CAFE LEVAIN: Most popular: The French onion soup ($8) and braised short ribs ($17) are big sellers, says head chef Matthew Carlyle. "The soup is made with our own beef stock, caramelized onions, burgundy wine, cave-aged Gruyere, and shallots," he says. The ribs are braised for nine hours and come with roasted carrots, red potatoes, and caramelized leeks.
Chef's choice: "Right now probably the pasta primavera [$14]," Carlyle says. He creates it with homemade noodles, free-range chicken eggs, and "whatever I can get from local-sourced farms." Right now, that means horseradish greens, mushrooms, fresh peas, and herbs.
Most popular: "There's a few," says owner Pat McDonough. "The Blucy [$6.50], that's our version of the Jucy Lucy with blue cheese and garlic stuffed in the middle. And for sure our Jiffy Burger [$7.75]. That's our peanut butter burger. It's awesome." Also, he says, "people really love our Spam Bites"-an appetizer of pickles and Spam stuffed inside a dollop of cream cheese and then battered, breaded, and deep-fried ($6.50).
Chef's choice: McDonough's favorite at the moment is the new Gatsby--another take on the Jucy Lucy concept. It's stuffed with spare rib meat slow-cooked in red wine, Gruyere cheese, and a reduction of the wine and meat juices ($9.50).
20.21 Most popular: Customers at 20.21 are big on the Hong Kong-style Atlantic salmon, says executive sous chef Corinne Sherbert. It's steamed on a bed of soy-seasoned bok choy, freshwater chestnuts, and shitake mushrooms ($26).
Chef's choice: Sherbert's personal favorite: Cantonese-style roasted duck, a traditional dry-aged duck served with plum-port wine reduction and stir-fried lo-mein noodles ($32).