The best new Twin Cities restaurants of 2009
Are you one of those people who reads the Cliffs Notes instead of the book? Procrastinates about studying and then pulls an all-nighter cramming for the test? If you've missed the last year's worth of Dish columns for whatever reason—the recession slashed your dining budget, you've pulled a Tiger Woods and temporarily stepped away from the sport, or you've been stuck in a snow bank since this time last year—this will get you up to speed on the hottest restaurants of 2009.
At the decade's denouement, dining remained focused on value-oriented fare—I think we've seen just about every possible variation on burgers, pizza, and pasta. But while cost-cutting certainly put a damper on the culinary exuberance of a few years back, economizing can have its upsides, when chefs decide to, say, do more butchering in-house or rediscover unpopular foods and make them shine. The resurgence of simplicity means that, across the board, from curing meats to crafting cocktails, restaurants that emphasize good ingredients continue to reign.
601 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
The Twin Cities' handcrafted cocktail renaissance is now in full swing, with a new crop of bartenders—ahem, mixologists—treating drink-making as seriously as chefs treat food-making in high-end restaurant kitchens. Neon colors and high-fructose corn syrup have been banished from the bar, replaced by fresh-squeezed juices and house-made infusions.
The retro-modern Bradstreet Craftshouse in the Graves Hotel is the capstone of local cocktail culture, focused on a long list of original drinks that can involve five types of custom-made ice and seasonal bitters doled out with eyedroppers. Such attention to detail creates drinks that are perfectly balanced, like the titular Bradstreet Cocktail—Jim Beam rye, lemon juice, jasmine syrup, egg whites, and bitters—which is light, frothy, and aromatic, yet sophisticated enough to maintain interest long after you've finished off your glass and the accompanying sidecar.
The food menu has its hits and misses—Bradstreet is more a place for drinking than dining—but you won't go wrong if you start with the polenta fries, double-dipped in the roasted piquillo pepper pesto and gremolata, and finish with the Moscoto gelee float, a wine Jell-O shot topped with fruit, gelato, and soda.
3415 W. 44th St., Minneapolis
Linden Hills neighbors waited years—five of them, in fact—for Harvey McLain to open a restaurant in the space adjacent to his 44th Street Turtle Bread, but in the end their patience paid off. Chef Adam Vickerman, who previously ran McLain's Café Levain, creates a short, seasonal menu of Italy-meets-Minnesota fare in a way that makes the ambitious seem effortless. The cute, homey space accommodates cheap weeknight meals of a deceptively simple breadcrumb-topped bucatini with tomato, garlic, rosemary, and chili flake, as well as celebratory rib-eye steaks and reserve-list bottles of wine.
The menu changes often, but I'm hoping for a reprisal of the pasta version of vitello tonnato (a poached veal roast smothered in an anchovy-and-caper tuna sauce) and the Flavors of Spring Plate with chicken-liver pâté, just-picked radishes, and rhubarb-ramp compote.
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
The stark, glass-encased Guthrie restaurant reopened with a softer, seaside vibe. Vibrant green accents, marine-life upholstery patterns, and a chalkboard menu listing the day's fresh catch all give the place a more welcoming feel. To create the new Sea Change, the established, award-winning Tim McKee (La Belle Vie, Solera, Barrio, Smalley's) collaborated with up-and-comer Erik Anderson to take fresh, sustainably caught seafood and make it steal the show.
Some of Sea Change's dishes are utterly simple and spare—the raw bar's oysters and yellowfin tuna poke, for example—while others possess a more elaborate layering of flavors and textures, such as the Arctic char, served skin-crackling, with white-bean puree and an artichoke giardiniera, or, from the not-fish selections, duck breast with lentils, pistachio, blackened orange, and pickled cherries. As we've come to expect from a McKee-backed restaurant, Sea Change's cocktail and dessert lists are just as interesting as the main menus—so indulging in both is highly recommended.
901 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
D'Amico may have had a few kinks to work out when it first opened, but I'm inclined to think the tweaks are more or less cosmetic—it's a house, as they say, with good bones. That's because the D'Amico brothers have been providing Twin Citians with great restaurant experiences for decades, and their new D'Amico Kitchen more or less builds on the success of their recently shuttered Cucina, which was, for years, the most luxurious place to dine in Minneapolis.
D'Amico Kitchen is housed in the coveted Chambers Hotel restaurant space, which means that the gloriously wide-windowed, art-filled space can't help but exude a big-city buzz. The restaurant is a first-rate choice for a chic business breakfast (go with the bruschetta with honey butter, ricotta, pine nuts, currants, and prosciutto) lunch (the chicory and frisée salad with fresh figs, prosciutto, and buffalo-milk mozzarella) or happy hour (the raw hamachi with tangerine oil, lamb meatballs, and fried baby artichokes with a Bellini).
The ANCHOR FISH & CHIPS
302 13th Ave. NE, Minneapolis
While I like the mashed-potato-frosted Shepherd's Pie and the fried-egg-and-ham-topped Helicopter Burger at this jam-packed Northeast chippery, I prefer to spend a leisurely weekend at the Anchor with one of their authentic Irish breakfasts.
The plates are essentially hearty dinners that double as morning meals. For $12, the Full Whack is large enough to split if you have a modest appetite. It comes with eggs (order them based, which is like over easy except the yolk turns custard-like), grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, potato bread, and Heinz beans (a tomato-y, less-sweet version of American baked beans), plus several kinds of meat. There's the "banger" sausage link; the "rasher," or back bacon; and honest-to-goodness black-and-white pudding—soft, bready sausages that taste a lot like Thanksgiving stuffing. For it to be any more Irish, you'd have to cross the pond.
BAR LA GRASSA
800 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis
Nothing says hospitality like a gratis appetizer, especially one that tastes better than a lot of food you've bought and paid for with your hard-earned cash. The one at chef Isaac Becker's new Warehouse District bar hotspot, La Grassa, packs a more flavorful wallop than you'd expect for something served in kitschy floral-print dishes that look like they came from Grandma's: The much-maligned lima bean has never tasted so good, swimming in oil with cubes of Manchego and pickled vegetables.
While you're indulging in your snack, ask your server when the burrata came in, and if it's fresh, place your order: Italy's buffalo-milk mozzarella is one of the world's finest cheeses. Then prepare yourself for a bowl of Bar La Grassa's gnocchi, which may be the best preparation in the Cities. Its pillowy nubs melt on the tongue but perk up the taste buds with caramelized cauliflower and citrus. The pork ribs, marinated in garlic, rosemary, and chiles, are magically crusted on top, yet moist and fatty underneath. But don't eat too many or you won't have room for the caramel crepes or lemon lavender mousse.
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