Went to Chambers on Tuesday and LOVED it. Everything that came out from the kitchen was excellent. Tops were the short rib (entree), the bacon-wrapped shrimp (app) and the creme fraiche cheesecake. Also, an excellent walleye tempura. The ONE thing I would skip was the passion fruit cocktail -- it tasted like cough syrup and not at all like passion fruit. There is even the passion fruit souffle from Vong that was stupendous. I'd also highly endorse the scene for a new yorker, as a former one myself.
That was just a sampling. You should have heard him trying to guess what was on the plate he was serving me. ("That black stripe is just a decoration... no, wait, maybe, it's lentils. So, it's kind of like lentils three ways." Me: "Tastes like olive." "Oh, yeah, it's olives!")
Other reviews I've read of Levain (including Dara) have alluded to the service problems, as well.
La Belle Vie definitely has high-end service down. The staff knows the food; they are friendly without being chummy; and they do a great job of team service on a table.
In my opinion, not as good.
The food is excellent, no question. However, the room is very poor. Unlike most high-end dining places, the tables are packed in tightly. With the bare concrete walls and floor, it makes for a loud, unpleasant environment.
Also, the service is horrendous. The chef creates one of those minimalist, verb and conjunction-free menus that defy interpretation ("sockeye salmon (in triplicate)avocado calamansiradish basil"), and the front of the house staff is friendly but unpolished and unfamiliar with the menu items. Also, they act like they're afraid to talk to the kitchen! They'd be great at a Baker's Square, but they're completely inappropriate for the price you're paying. Here's a sample conversation with a Levain waiter:
Me: "What's in the cheese course tonight?"
Waiter: <long pause> <smile> "The chef picks out some excellent cheeses ... you should just trust the chef."
Me: "I'm sure the chef has done a great job. I'd still like to know what the cheeses are."
Waiter: "Well.... " <pause> "There's usually a goat cheese, and an aged cheese, and a cow's milk cheese."
Me: "Do you know which cheeses they are?"
Waiter: <uncomfortably> "I suppose I could go ask ... if you really want ... but I recommend just trusting the chef."
So... no... I wouldn't bring someone there I wanted to impress ... or be able to converse with without shouting.
Aaahh that is very helpful, Jordan.
I ate there in the early days when Michael Morse was maitre de. The food was terrific.
They were still in the get-the-logistics-worked-out stages: didn't yet have their liquor license and so were pouring complimentary wine that didn't necessarily complement the dishes, etc. I haven't had a chance to see whether the service has become more polished with time (not to mention turnover). It's good to know that the dishes are still good, but oh so regrettable to learn that service is lagging.
You're right that ambience counts more than a little. It wasn't crowded when I visited but yes, even a little bit more sound would likely bounce off the bare surfaces. The same thing happens at Chino Latino and Pano Vino Dolce, and it's really unpleasant.
And that conversation with the wait staff is just so ... unfortunate.
I endorse all of the suggestions above. If you can narrow down what kind of client, what kind of industry - I can narrow down the options.
But, short of that, let me try to help:
if client is a corporate type and a foodie, La Belle Vie and Chambers are the spots: LBV is amazing food; one of the best rooms in town but not crowded - so might be good b/c you have privacy to land the deal. Chambers is hotest seat in town right now: see comments on JG above. In a brand new boutique hotel that will likely feel familiar to you (Mpls version of Mercer), with Damian Hirst works in the lobby. Very chic. Very upscale. Very "now" for Mpls. Coming back from NYC only a few years ago and still in withdrawl, I'd recommend either of these two highly.
Cosmos is chic-looking; food is trendy and nothing special but inventive menu, usually.
D'Amica Cucina is the granddad of all of these: food is reliably good (has spawned many of Mpls' leading chefs - including that at Cosmos), room is wonderful, bar is oak and overstuffed seats w/ piano and bass in the corner some nights. GOod spot for a manhattan.
if client is a foodie, Alma and Auriga - of these Alma has better atmosphere.
if you want a quieter but consistently excellent meal - simply, go to Lucia's in Uptown.
Hope this is helpful.
La Belle Vie hands down. If you want to drop some major money that is not an object (or yours), it will more than do the job. Not to mention that the staff is easily some of the best in the city. Hell, it also number 30 in Gourmet Magazine's TOP 50 Restaurants in America. Also the dining room is easily the best if conversation is necessary for business. Most tables are about 10 ft apart.
Restaurant Alma is also top not notch.
Mark_r, please be aware that none of the usual posting folks from the Twin Cities has reported on a personal experience with Chambers. So if we're recommending it here, either we are going on the chef's reputation instead of an firsthand experience with the restaurant itself -- or we've been holding out. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
(Oh yes OF COURSE Jean-Georges V. has earned his terrific reputation and you can expect great things. And yes it would certainly impress the client that you were savvy enough to snag a reservation at JGV's newest outlet -- if that in fact is what matters to the client. Is it?)
Places that have been open long enough to work out the kinks, have won the national recognition for delivering on their menu promises and have been recommended on the chowhound board by people who've eaten there include La Belle Vie, Five Restaurant, 112 Eatery and Cosmos. Solera and Cue are also terrific, with or without the awards.
Your choice might reflect what you know about the client's comfort with the risk/reward of a new discovery. Those six, plus Chambers, make for a good selection.
Along the same lines, if what you know about the client is that perfect steak is his or her personal heaven, go to Manny's.
Although I too think that La Belle Vie is the best in town, I second Five based on the poster's request. I would like to add a few that havn't been mentioned.
The tried and true D'amico Cuccina. A little less hapening than others mentioned but the food is solid.
Cue is a great recent addition in the new Guthrie.
Another institutionally attached restaurant that has inovative food and ambiance is 20.21 by Wolfgang Puck in the recently renovated Walker.
I would love to hear from someone who went to the new Chambers' restaurant. Its on the top of my list for places to try.
Ps. We went to the Nicollet Island Inn a few months ago and while the food was good (but not memorable) the restaurant is tired looking and depressing.
Do you feel that the scene in the Dining Room at Five is "cool," (as requested by the original poster), or are you basing that on the bistro?
When we went to the Dining Room at Five, I felt it was pretty stuffy. Tables isolated in those round booths, very quiet, not a lot of "action" or people watching, etc. Very different feel than the Bistro.
I would actually second the recommendation of Lurcat. That place always seems to have a happening vibe, and while the food may not be as good as a La Belle Vie or Chambers, it has still been top-notch the few times we've been there. I've not yet been to LBV or Chambers, so I can't actually apples-to-apples compare. My understanding is that they are a notch above in terms of food and service, but I'm not sure if either is a cool scene.
re: Chris Mitra
The recommendation on Five was for the place as a whole, not necessarily just the table area. It's outside of the downtown suit-and-tie district, is a contemporary brick/brushed steel/glowingly lit renewal of an old police precinct building, and attracts a more scenic crowd. On busy nights the energy bleeds into the dining room although, like almost every other place in town, on a sleepy weeknight it can be "quiet". All with a potentially spectacular meal. I may be slanted a bit though -- I don't necessarily like the "scene" to be occurring right at my table (a la Chino Latino, etc.).
I haven't been to Chambers yet but for me personally, there's no doubt that LBV is the best restaurant in MSP. For a business occasion, it oozes victory -- if you're dining there with clients, you've made it to the top in whatever venue you're dealing. But again, it's more Capitol Hill than Midtown Manhattan.
I live a block from the place, and should know the answer to this, but I don't (shame on me): The Nicollet Island Inn changed hands last year, and I know they've been trying to reinvent their kitchen. I've seen the menus, and they were at the Taste Of sponsored by the Twin Cities Originals as part of aquatennial.
Are they any good yet, or is it just wishful thinking?
The above advice is all very good. There is one option that could be spectacular, but is a bit of an unknown: The new Jean Georges Vongerichten spot called Chambers Kitchen in the Chambers Hotel. ( http://www.chambersminneapolis.com/)
It has only been open a week or so, but it definately sounds like a place to impress, at least according to some of the early "reviews": http://www.citypages.com/databank/27/1346/article14726.asp
Manny's for Steakhouse.
Cosmos for upscale/inventive in a "hip" atmosphere. Lots of style but no sacrifice on substance.
La Belle Vie for absolutely the best cuisine in MSP. This may cross into your "stuffy French" definition but this isn't a pretender. If the client is serious about the cuisine, there's no risk here even if they do have to dine next to Walter Mondale.
If your client is from here, they will be well aware of all three places -- they are the downtown Minneapolis "heavy hitters". You can get a feel for each by looking at their websites. There are a few more, slightly more subtle places with excellent cuisine and vibe on the edges of downtown -- the degustation at the Dining Room at Five Restaurant would impress. Don't confuse this with the Bistro at Five, which is more pedestrian: www.fiverestaurant.com Cafe Lurcat on Loring Park is another good one: www.cafelurcat.com Restaurant Alma is a third: www.restaurantalma.com