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Dinner in St. Paul for a group - help!

e
emilyb Jul 17, 2006 04:03 PM

Help! I'm responsible for planning a laid back bachelorette party in St. Paul in August, and I live in NY. It's hard to get a real sense of a place via the internet - chow hound to the rescue.
I'd like to find a restaurant that is inexpensive, yet hip and interesting. It's not your typical bachelorette party bunch, so nothing too girly or chichi. A good cocktail menu is also a plus. It will probably be a group of 10, so somewhere that takes reservations would be ideal. Any suggestions would be much appreciated - I'm open to absolutely anything!

  1. The Dairy Queen Jul 25, 2006 06:38 PM

    Where is a person to go? You wouldn't send anyone to the Loring pasta bar, someone else wouldn't send them to Mai Village, and I wouldn't send them to the Happy Gnome (mediocre food, soggy pre-made desserts, smelly patio)... Sometimes, you have to add up the pros and cons and make a choice. If you want something at a certain "inexpensive" price point including drinks, that accomodates a group, that is walkable, that has a fun environment but isn't too girlie, and has good chow, it doesn't leave a lot of choice.

    When you have so many constraints, maybe you can recommend the one or two best things on the menu in a place where the food is otherwise just okay? In fact, I think it's a rare restaurant where all of the food shines. I think you're doing great if you can seek out the best items on the menu.

    ~TDQ

    2 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen
      mcgeary Jul 25, 2006 06:53 PM

      Hey, I think we did a pretty good job of coming up with a list of choices for Emily & Co.! Her request wasn't completely chowhound-centric, so the Loring may well be a good choice for that group. I'm just sayin' that if I knew I were dealing with somebody to whom the food is the most important part of the going-out experience, I woudn't recommend the Loring. Or Mai Village. Or the Happy Gnome. :)

      1. re: mcgeary
        The Dairy Queen Jul 25, 2006 07:11 PM

        Fair enough! :)

        I wish I could remember which chowhound developed this theorum, but they said, "The quality of the chow is inversely proportional to the spectacularness of the view."

        ~TDQ

    2. chompchomp Jul 25, 2006 04:37 PM

      I have found the food at Loring Pasta Bar to be way sub-par, but the ambiance is so lovely. And the Kitty Kat Klub is really fun, almost surreal.

      2 Replies
      1. re: chompchomp
        mcgeary Jul 25, 2006 05:31 PM

        Doesn't that just torque you? The room is gorgeous and the food is beyond mediocre. I'd never send a fellow chowhound there. I do like having a drink at the Kitty Kat, though.

        1. re: mcgeary
          chompchomp Jul 25, 2006 06:15 PM

          yeah, when that happens it very much breaks my heart. I am usually rather forgiving, but last time we went, the storebought noodles were positively rubbery and drenched with pesto. maybe if we ignore the food, have a glass of wine and enjoy the atmosphere, we'd never know the difference? :)

      2. diesel Jul 21, 2006 10:38 PM

        I think you are spot on with the Dinkytowner and the Kitty Kat Klub (which, by the way, is attached to the Loring Pasta Bar).

        Other then those two places, I think you really run the risk of encountering the frat party vibe you talked about.

        Unless there's a new place in Dinkytown I'm not aware of - anyone?

        1. e
          emilyb Jul 20, 2006 04:20 PM

          Thank you to all of you for your great suggestions and for stepping up to the St. Paul challenge...I didn't realize it was such a challenge. I feel bad we're going with Mpls after all that. Fortunately, I'll be staying in St. Paul for a week between the bachelorette party and the wedding, so I'll have time to give a few of them a try.
          Thanks again!
          Emily

          1. AliceS Jul 18, 2006 06:42 PM

            I just found a website called mplshappyhour.com which lists several bars in the area: Blarney, Dinkytowner, Kitty Kat Klub, Library Bar and Grill and the Loring. The URL is below:

            http://www.mplshappyhour.com/bars_bro...

            1. e
              emilyb Jul 18, 2006 04:47 PM

              That's honestly what I'm leaning towards - pending permission from the bride, of course. Again, it's always tricky judging a place by their website, but it looks really cool from the site. Are there lots of bars in the area?

              1. AliceS Jul 18, 2006 03:34 PM

                The more I think about it, the more I think Loring Pasta Bar is the way to go, what does everyone else think?

                3 Replies
                1. re: AliceS
                  The Dairy Queen Jul 19, 2006 02:02 PM

                  Alice, except for the non-St. Paulness of it, it's perfect. And given that we were struggling to come up with an otherwise "perfect" place in St. Paul for her, I think it's a good suggestion. And, Emily, there really is a small distance between the two cities. Four miles? Nine miles? I can never remember the exact number, but really, each of the Twins is convenient to the other, so, I think it's an easy thing to compromise on.

                  One note to EmilyB--Dinkytown the UofM neighborhood. Loring Pasta Bar is a haven from the typical college student joints, but I just wanted to give you a heads up about the neighborhood so you know what to expect when you get there. Lots of fun little bars, etc. packed with college students.

                  ~TDQ

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                    e
                    emilyb Jul 20, 2006 02:35 PM

                    Hmmm...It's summer though, so hopefully they wont be too packed with students. I spoke with the bride and she loves the idea of Loring. I think we'll go with that. If you know of any chill bars around there let me know. College bars are fine and all, as long as I don't feel like I'm at a frat party. Based on the link from Alice, both the Dinkytowner and the Kitty Kat Club look like good bets.

                    1. re: emilyb
                      AliceS Jul 20, 2006 03:36 PM

                      I feel so cool right now, a sensation I have not experienced since my own bachelorette party 8 yrs ago. I feel like I won a contest! Please report back on the event so we can direct others, and to rekindle my feelings of coolness.

                2. e
                  emilyb Jul 18, 2006 02:43 PM

                  Wow, so many suggestions and they all look promising. I'll run the list by the bride-to-be. She just moved to the area, but may have some opinion. I guess either Minneapolis or the Selby area of St. Paul look like the best bets for keeping our drinking and dining in close proximity. Thank you all so much!
                  -Emily

                  1. mcgeary Jul 18, 2006 02:25 AM

                    I think that Zander could put tables together for a party of 10, but I also think they're out of the budget range that Emily requested. Their Web domain seems to have lapsed, so I can't check the current menu, but the last time I was there most entrees were in the $22-$24 range.

                    1. diesel Jul 17, 2006 10:34 PM

                      Being a recent bachelorette and one who attends lots of bachelorette parties like the one you're trying to plan (you know - penis-less, at least a modicum of class), I'd recommend going to Selby Ave. (from Dale to Western). If you're not familiar with the area, let me describe it to you briefly: The neighborhood is full of recently restored victorian storefronts and homes, and has attracted lots of independent businesses. You will not find chains or huge stores - just a nice walkable street filling up with fun places.

                      Start at one of the many great restaurants (I can safely recommend Zander Cafe or LaGrolla, but I've heard many good things about the other above-mentioned places in the area). Then walk to either the Happy Gnome or the Muddy Pig (at Selby and Dale).

                      I would recommend against Mai Village - it was really beautiful when they first remodeled, but it's getting dingy already, and the food's just not that great. It WOULD be a lot cheaper than most of the places on Selby, but you WOULD be sacrificing in the areas you said you wouldn't want to. I think your budget can handle a better place, and you'd have a better experience elsewhere.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: diesel
                        The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 11:08 PM

                        Mai Village is getting dingy already? Wow. I haven't been there super recently, but I supposed it's been 9-10 months. It wasn't dingy then. :( I'm sorry to hear it.

                        I do really like Zander Cafe, but can they seat 10?

                        ~TDQ

                        EDIT, 7/24/06: Concerned about the above report that Mai Village is getting "dingy," I went out of my way to dine there this weekend with a small group. The restaurant is obviously no longer brand spanking new, but it certainly continues to have an elegant ambiance, with its imported wood carvings and lovely little koi pond. I did notice a small stain or two (tea?) on the carpet in the front lobby, and in the back dining room a spot on the wall that had been banged and repainted (rather than re-textured and repainted) and another nickel-sized spot on the wall, that had chipped off and hadn't been repainted. These spots are more noticable because the walls are painted in dark earthtones, which emphasize texture more than walls painted light colors. I'm not sure I would have noticed these things if I hadn't been scrutinezing the floors and walls for signs of dingyness.

                        The womens' restroom was spotless.

                        While I would say that the restaurant has shown some small signs of wear and tear, I would not call it dingy or any of the words of uncleanliness that word connotes. And it's certainly less dingy than many other Asian restaurants I've been in along University Avenue, including a couple of chowhound favorites (for the chow, anyway, not the ambiance) within a block or two of Mai Village.

                        As far as the food is concerned, I still think it's not exceptional. Your best choices, in my opinion, are still the Mai Village specialties at the back of the menu. I ordered a mock duck dish that was fine--I thought they'd exercised a lot of care with the texturing, which I appreciated.

                        The service felt a little rushed to me, but I'm assuming that the group I was with, most of whom arrived me, mentioned to the waitstaff that one of our party had somewhere to be later in the day.

                        My dining companions, not chowhounds necessarily, thought the place was terrific. While the chow in this restaurant may not be at the exceptional level sought by some 'hounds, since these are people's livelihoods we're fooling with, I wanted to update the record with my recent impressions.

                      2. b
                        Belly DuJour Jul 17, 2006 10:06 PM

                        Au Rabours, St. Paul Hotel are modestly fancy right in DT St. Paul. and The news neighborhood place is called the Happy Gnome. Lots a great micro brewed beers and I think they have a party room you can rent. Good luck!

                        1. The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 10:02 PM

                          http://www.moscowonthehill.com/

                          http://citypages.com/databank/25/1215/article11990.asp
                          http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincit...

                          1. k
                            KTFoley Jul 17, 2006 09:43 PM

                            I've had a couple of good gatherings on the patio at Moscow on the Hill (Selby Ave), whose menu can please a lot of different people and should fit the budget. They have a full bar and a pretty interesting drink menu.

                            Also, La Grolla (Selby Ave.) has a nice patio & a dining room that will accommodate a group of ten, but one would need to order carefully to keep to the budget. They also have a full bar.

                            1. mcgeary Jul 17, 2006 08:13 PM

                              The food really isn't very good at Mai Village, I have to tell you. It's also not near Hamline (which isn't a very chowish neighborhood, either).

                              I'd steer you toward Selby Avenue. There's the Vintage, which is a restaurant and wine bar in an old converted mansion. If you eat from the appetizers/sandwiches/salads/pizza part of the menu (which you can do in the bar) instead of ordering entreés, it should fit your budget. The bar space is comfortable, and there's also a nice patio.
                              http://www.thevintagerestaurant.com/menu_dinner.html

                              You could also try the Happy Gnome, which has a wonderful patio, too (the inside space is fine as well; not at all divey), and surprisingly good food.
                              http://twincities.citysearch.com/prof...

                              And if the weather's nice, you can walk down to W.A. Frost for after-dinner drinks.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mcgeary
                                The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 08:23 PM

                                I was at the Happy Gnome a couple of weeks ago on the patio and it was filled with lots of young people having a nice, leisurely time of their meals. The desserts come from a place across the street? (down the block?) called A Piece of Cake which is a local favorite. I thought the food was fine--nothing exceptional, but good for the price--pretty good range of choices on the menu.

                                I will warn you though, I found the patio to be smelly. My dining companion thought it was the exhaust coming from the kitchen. We were on the South West corner of the patio. Try to get a spot on the patio away from the kitchen and you'll probably be fine.

                                I'm not familiar with the Vintage on Selby! I will have to put that on my list of places to try.

                                I think Grand Avenue is more walkable than Selby, but both are infinitely more walkable than University (where Mai Village is).

                                ~TDQ

                              2. e
                                emilyb Jul 17, 2006 07:59 PM

                                I think Mai Village is quite close to where we'll be starting out - near Hamline...I think that's close. I know the walking business is a hefty request. I realize it's likely we'll have to get in a car at some point, but if it works out that would be great.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: emilyb
                                  The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 08:06 PM

                                  I'm sure the hostess at Mai Village would order you a couple of cabs when you are ready to move on to the next portion of the evening... But, please, don't plan to walk to or from there.

                                  If you really wanted to walk around and bar hop for the evening, maybe some place along Grand Avenue would suit you. There's Dixie's, which is Southern. I don't think the food is exceptional-- pretty average really-- but it's a fun atmosphere and has a bar and is very walkable to lots of places. Would be safe for a group of women, certainly.

                                  http://www.dixiesongrand.com/

                                  I'm trying to think of other places along Grand Ave that would take a group but am drawing a blank. Caffe Latte on Grand at Victoria would be fun for dessert and coffee, but hard for dinner for a group I think.

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                    c
                                    cooknKate Jul 17, 2006 09:26 PM

                                    Bonfire would take a party of that size, decent menu plus a full drink complement- it's right across the hall from Caffe Latte. There are a lot of places over on Selby Ave. too, Fabulous Ferns, The Vintage is good, plus there are other very nice restaurants whose names are slipping my mind right now.

                                2. e
                                  emilyb Jul 17, 2006 07:43 PM

                                  .

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: emilyb
                                    The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 07:45 PM

                                    Definitely don't walk from Mai Village to anywhere in the evening...

                                    ~TDQ

                                  2. The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 06:12 PM

                                    Alice is spot on, that this is a tall order for St. Paul. Minneapolis would be easier.

                                    I was thinking W.A. Frost on Selby could be nice, but it wouldn't be inexpensive.

                                    Maybe Mai Village on University Avenue in St. Paul? They can certainly accommodate groups and I'm sure they take reservations. The neighborhood is not that pretty, but once you're in the door, the atmosphere's nice (they have an indoor koi pond, which is kind of neat), and it's affordable. The food's pretty good, too. It won't blow you away, but it's certainly above average, I think. (You can do a search on "Mai Village" on the Midwest board here and get a pretty good sense of where Chowhounds would place the food.) I've always wanted to try the seven course beef menu... I can't speak for the cocktails, either, as I've only ordered wine there, I think.

                                    Here's a review (oldish) from Dara Moscowitz, who's a critic from the free weekly and a two-time winner of the James Beard award for food writing.

                                    http://www.citypages.com/databank/25/...

                                    She says they have a full bar...

                                    ~TDQ

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                      The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 06:34 PM

                                      Another place that occurs to me that has a full bar and would be affordable would be Longfellow Grill. It's also a fun place, I think, with a fair amount of innovation on the menu for what it is; some hits, some misses.

                                      http://www.longfellowgrill.com/index.htm

                                      I don't know if they take reservations, but you'd need them for a group as large as ten, because it's a neighborhood favorite and gets pretty packed. I wouldn't say it's the best place for a group, but I've seen groups that big there.

                                      It's in Minneapolis, but just across the river from St. Paul (the river is usually the boundary that divides the two cities), so, it might be within bounds for you. August will probably be scorching hot, otherwise, you could dine on the patio.

                                      I have to say "hip" doesn't really describe St. Paul as a general rule. No slight to St. Paul--I love it-- but, I think "comfortable" describes it better. Maybe that's where we're struggling.

                                      Of these two I've recommended, I think Mai Village would better--it's just more able to handle groups--but, I'm just trying to come up with options for you.

                                      ~TDQ

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                        k
                                        KTFoley Jul 17, 2006 09:48 PM

                                        Two reactions to Longfellow Grill:
                                        1. Aside from their small patio, most of the indoor seating is in booths. They may be hard-pressed to promptly seat a party of 10 together without a reservation.
                                        2. I eat there when I want a burger or a breakfast at the bar, but beyond that I wouldn't really rave about their food. Like you said, some hits & some misses.

                                        1. re: KTFoley
                                          The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 09:56 PM

                                          Yep, I agree with all your points, although, on the topic of the food, I think it offers good vegetarian options alongside non-vegetarian options (although, that was not a criterion!)--sometimes it's hard to find a place that does both comfortably. Also, I can't help it, but I'm addicted to their sweet potato fries. :) Also, while I do think they are a good place for a burger or breakfast, I think the do a good job with their daily specials, which are more adventurous and usually chow-worthy.

                                          I was trying to think of a place with a full bar that was affordable and "fun." I think some other places subsequently mentioned fit better than Longfellow.

                                          ~TDQ

                                      2. re: The Dairy Queen
                                        e
                                        emilyb Jul 17, 2006 07:52 PM

                                        Yeah, I wish we had enough dough for WA Frost. I've been there a number of times and it's lovely. We have a wide range of budgets in the group and I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable. Mai Village sounds good - any place that has a seven course beef menu for $16.95 is alright in my book. Cocktails aren't a must either...as long as they serve some sort of alcohol. Wine will definitely do. Thanks a lot. It's hard party planning from out of town.

                                      3. diesel Jul 17, 2006 06:11 PM

                                        could you provide a little more info? it would help me zone in on what you're looking for...

                                        will this be the only place you'll be (are you looking for a place to spend many hours, or will you be dining and moving on to another location)?

                                        what does "inexpensive" mean to you?

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: diesel
                                          e
                                          emilyb Jul 17, 2006 07:52 PM

                                          In response to Diesel's post:
                                          We're planning on having dinner/drinks then moving onto a bar afterwards for the rest of the evening. Ideally I'd like to walk, or take a short cab ride, from dinner to a bar where we could hang out at until late.
                                          As far as being 'inexpensive', I was hoping to find somewhere where dinner and drinks were $30-40 per person. Less would be welcome, but not at the expense of ambiance and a good meal.

                                        2. e
                                          emilyb Jul 17, 2006 04:20 PM

                                          Hey thanks!! I'll check those out.
                                          St. Paul is definitely more convenient, but I understand Minneapolis has more options.

                                          1. AliceS Jul 17, 2006 04:14 PM

                                            First and most important question: does it have to be St. Paul? The first places I thought of were in Minneapolis, though I am probably spacing on some good St. Paul options. In any case, if you can get over to Minneapolis, there is Solera, Sample Room and Loring Pasta Bar. Solera is a tapas place that I have never been to but which everyone loves. Sample Room offers sample plates and flights of wines and scotches. Loring is a hip place near the U.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: AliceS
                                              c
                                              cooknKate Jul 17, 2006 09:21 PM

                                              Even though you said nothing girlie or chichi, I think that Mel's Beauty Bar would be a great place for after dinner drinks and fun. You can get pedicures and manicures if you want to while you sit your drinks, a great place for a group of fun loving gals. It's in the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis

                                              1. re: cooknKate
                                                The Dairy Queen Jul 17, 2006 09:40 PM

                                                That sounds really fun!

                                                ~TDQ

                                                1. re: cooknKate
                                                  bob s Jul 17, 2006 09:57 PM

                                                  I think that Mell's is closed - at least according to this MNSpeak post:

                                                  http://www.mnspeak.com/mnspeak/archiv...

                                                  1. re: bob s
                                                    e
                                                    emilyb Jul 17, 2006 10:15 PM

                                                    Rats! I've actually heard lots of good things about that place.

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