Restaurant opening of the century, redux:
Drop whatever it is you're doing and get a divorce and marry a Cargill, or at the very least a Trump, ASAP. Because really, if I see any of you marrying for love, or even merely staying faithful for love this year, I am going to be exceptionally cross. Because people! Le Méridien has arrived!
You don't know about Le Méridien? Well, obviously you are again letting press kits pile up in your in-box in a way that makes all the other food editors laugh and point, aren't you? Oh, I know you are. Don't even try to deny it. I know all about your wily ways.
You thought you knew the deal on that vast tower that sprung up on Block E above the Hard Rock Café and that gorgeous, brand-spanking-new Applebee's. You looked at it and shrugged, and figured those 21 stories must be, probably, ah, probably, ah, that must be where they keep the, ah, fries. For the burger chains. No! You ninny! That is distinctly not where they keep the fries.
That tower is, in fact, the most prestigious and important multi-million-dollar new hotel in the whole entire history of the whole entire North Star State. It is called Le Méridien Minneapolis. And, as of the first week of May, it opened, and joined the vast Le Méridien "current portfolio of more than 140 hotels with a total of 38,000 rooms in 55 countries and territories." Territories! I know George W. has been in power for nearly three years and all, but when did the world go back to having territories? Are we going to have Manifest Destiny and Conestoga wagons too? Golly. And what is Minnesota, these days, anyway? I hope we're a territory. And hey, what is Vilnius? Is it contagious?
No, you goof, it's the capital of Lithuania, for one thing, and it's got its own Le Méridien, just like Chad, and Warsaw, and Barcelona, and Mumbai--which is the current name of Bombay, which you might know if your own parents had had a little forethought and had married a Cargill, instead of swanning around and marrying for love the way they did, or for hate, or whatever their motive was, a need to get that Chevy off the lawn or whatnot. And you ending up in the public schools and not knowing your Vilnius from your elbow.
Well watch out Vilnius, because not only does Minneapolis suddenly, inexplicably, have a topflight international luxury hotel, we have the universe's first "Art + Tech Hotel," designed by the design firm Yabu Pushelberg (not a joke), who have designed the W hotel in Times Square in New York. And what in the name of soybeans is an "Art + Tech" hotel? Well, it's "a distinctive Le Méridien communications experience," for one thing. Or so says the press kit: "Guestrooms include a wall-mounted, 42-inch plasma-screen TV. To ensure that guests don't miss a moment of a good movie or television show, every bathroom includes a 10-inch, LED flat screen TV. A wireless digital keyboard gives guests access to the Internet as well as to a vast library of movie and music selections that can be downloaded digitally."
And we all know what that means--no, not porn, get your mind out of the gutter. It obviously means you can much more cleanly research high-minded references for the "decadent sleep experience" and "power showers" you'll be enjoying in your room--because, back to the press release: "Le Méridien Minneapolis features shower rooms equipped with either rain showers, freestanding shower towers incorporating six body jets or whirlpool tubs with integrated freestanding showers." Pop out of there, and you'll land on a "top-of-line pillow-top mattress that provides a decadent sleep experience. Modern French-inspired wooden bed frames have been designed to add more support to the mattresses and produce a unique, floating effect." Unique? I'll say. Whenever my bed has a floating effect, I consider it a darn sight past unique, and I swear off the hard stuff for months.
A darn sight past unique is also what the new restaurant and lounge in Le Méridien look to be, too. The restaurant, Cosmos, is up on the fourth floor of the hotel--what you'll do is you'll valet your car in that semi-circular driveway directly across from the Target Center and take an elevator on up. You'll see some "sleek acrylic walls." Sleek acrylic walls! If we're not a territory, can we be an aquarium? Pretty please?
Anyhoo, between the sleek acrylic walls is where you'll sit yourself down and have a power breakfast, a power lunch, or a power wedding (the place has capacious banquet facilities). Or you can even have a dinner that should be able to make your head spin around magically in a display of mind-bending enchantment, and that enchantment will--get this!--soon be exported to all points Vilnius, because according to head chef Seth Bixby Daugherty, this Cosmos in Minneapolis is going to be the new flagship for the chain, and provide the inspiration for the remodeling and re-imagining of many Le Méridien restaurants worldwide, putting a little Minneapolis in Vilnius, as it were.
Of course Bixby Daugherty is the local darling known for his recent stint in the kitchen at D'Amico Cucina, though before that he got born in Colorado, went to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, headed out to the Four Seasons hotel in Washington DC, helped open the Four Seasons hotel in New York, worked at Le Bernardin, then went and opened a fancy hotel in Colorado, and in the process probably learned as much about hotel restaurant service as anyone.
Bixby Daugherty has had his hands full lately, imagining menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Cosmos, as well as room service for the snazzy hotel rooms, about a million elaborate banquet menus, and even a menu for the new nightclub down on the street level. (The nightclub is called Infinity, and should open at the end of the month.) Basically, Cosmos's food will be global, high-style international cuisine created from scrupulously sourced local ingredients. How's that? Well, for breakfast you can have your omelette ($11) made with Star Prairie trout. At lunch you could have a sandwich made from seared Hudson Valley foie gras on peppered brioche with a fig-chestnut purée, caramelized shallots, lettuce, and tomato ($17), or grilled Niman Ranch pork tenderloin with espresso baked beans made with Nueske's bacon in a balsamic brown butter sauce.
And at dinner, well at dinner the head fairly explodes. Here's a salad for you: sliced fresh porcini carpaccio with shaved Reggianno parmesan cheese, micro mizuna which has been FedEx'ed in from a special Ohio farm, for $13. And here's an entrée: Napoleon of hamachi and Iranian golden osetra caviar with a lemon, caper, egg, and parsley sauce ($65: it is real Iranian osetra caviar, after all). Grilled Summerfield Farms lamb chop, which Bixby Daugherty assures me is the best lamb in the world, is raised in the mountains of Colorado and presented here with a confit of its own shoulder, watercress, preserved lemon, currants, Humbolt Fog goat cheese, and Extra Vecchio Balsamico balsamic vinegar, for $30.
Yes, those are in fact local favorites-- Nueske's bacon and Star Prairie Farms trout--in with international stars like Iranian caviar. Bixby Daugherty is also working more local favorites into the rotation, like French Meadow bread and Wild Acres poultry.
"There are basically no limitations on what we can do here," the chef explained--simultaneously unloading $17,000 worth of dry goods into Cosmos's pantry--when I talked to him on the phone for this story. "As the new flagship for the chain, we got to think of what the best possible world would be, with global cooking, and the best ingredients we could find. I got to go down to the Chef's Garden in Ohio, and hand pick the new Cosmos lettuce blend, which is now a special proprietary blend. I also picked all kinds of microherbs and lettuces there, which are FedEx'ed here overnight. One little micro celery leaf from them, it's like taking a bite out of a whole stalk of celery.
"When we first open in May, we'll have baby eels on the menu. They're only in season for a month, and cost $70 a pound, but we're going to try them. Everything at Le Méridien is going to be bumped up a notch. We want to be the best hotel in Minneapolis, if not the entire Midwest. For the cheese service, we're doing a full cheese cart with tableside service from a $3,000 cheese cart; not that the price matters, but you need that cart to do things the right way. It's completely over the top. The art in here is gorgeous. All the china is real Rosenthal bone china. Everywhere you look people are going to go: What the...? It's unique and beautiful."
A restaurant defining super-upscale dining for the entire international jet-set community on the fourth floor of Block E? I'm already going, 'What the...?' And now I trust that you are too.
And now--that's it! I am going to go on vacation, and I don't want anyone opening up any more restaurants that I have to declare the Restaurant Opening of the Century for at least one solid month! I remember when you all just sat around on your porch swings agreeing on how much you liked Cafe Latté, those were the days. A girl could catch her breath now and then. So settle down out there already! I don't want any more staggeringly ambitious, bar-raising restaurants, not from a one of you!
Well, with the possible exception of Harvey McLain and the Turtle Bread crew. But that is my final offer. In the meantime, flood my e-mail box with your impressions of Cosmos, and I'll try to knock over some out-of-the-way bank so I can review the joint. For most of the summer Le Méridien will have special opening rates of $169-$219 a night for rooms, and after that, the regular rates will debut: $389 to $409. Is that a unique floating effect I feel? Cosmos should already be open when this hits the stands, at 601 First Avenue N., Minneapolis; 612.677.1100.
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