[MSP] Quiet, relaxed, modestly-priced dinner spot for small group
Okay, I'm stumped. I need a spot to take about a half dozen people to dinner. I need to eschew ethnic foods as I don't want folks to be nervous about not knowing what they're eating or how to eat it. I'd like it to be quiet enough that people can converse comfortably. Entrees, ideally, in the $18-$22 range. And, ideally, I'd like it to be located in St. Paul or in one of the St. Paul burbs. OR, in Minneapolis but really easy to find if you're coming from St. Paul and don't want out-of-towners to get lost or harried. I'd like the atmosphere to be relaxed and not too fancy so people will be at ease.
I can't believe I am going to say this, but atmosphere is more important than exceptional cuisine.
I was thinking of one of those restaurants along Selby, but WA Frost is too expensive, I think. Is Heartland out of my price range? Also, I think both of these places might be a bit too formal. I can't think of anything along Grand either. I think something like Longfellow Grill would fit the bill, except that it's too loud. Surely there must be a pasta place that fits the bill, but I can't think of any. Any ideas?
How about Luci Ancora?
They are located at Cleveland and Randolph in St. Paul, have fresh, good Italian-based food that is not exotic, but is focused on seasonal ingredients. They have a nice, and fairly quiet dining room that is well suited for groups (I think it even has a fireplace). The staff are friendly, and the entrees are priced in your range. Even better, they take reservations on Open Table for groups over 5.
(Note: It is easy to get confused between Luci Ancora and their sister restaurant "Ristorante Luci" -- I do NOT recommend "Ristorante Luci" for your group as the dining room is very small and more suited for couples).
Heartland would be more $ (IMO)
What about Signature Cafe? (you would need to provide EXCELLENT directions)
Cafe Biaggio on Univ?
Or even Carmelos on Snelling (st Clair)? - which is a crowd pleaser. Plus they have a parking lot - if you end up with multi cars. and easy to find/get to.
La grolla is always a good pick - might end up being more per person.
Downtowner Woodfire might be a good choice as well? I recall many reasonable items on their menu.
Or Mancinis if you really want to show off St Paul. But I'm kinda on a Beef binge right now so don't listen to me. :)
Signature Cafe was one of my first thoughts... directions aren't too big of a deal, so long as your guests are prepared to end up in a residential neighborhood. The atmosphere is perfect for what you're talking about, and the menu has something for everyone. (http://www.signaturecafe.net)
The other one that popped into my head immediately was Muffuletta. ( http://www.muffuletta.com/)
Caffe Biaggio, Carmelos, and Luci Ancora would work. They're almost interchangable in my mind. (and a step below what you'd get at the other two above. But, if you want a pasta place, they're certainly that - and a bit nicer than the typical "red sauce" joint.)
My rec is Al Vento in the Nokomis neighborhood. It is such a great neighborhood place with really good pasta options.
Sorry this is not in St. Paul, but as per your request, its easy to find. Just take Ford Pkwy/46th west to 34th Ave, go south to 50th St.
They take reservations, and I would highly recommend making one, as there is not much room to wait. Ask for a table in the back for your larger group, there is more room back there.
What about the Heartland Wine Bar? Obviously it would depend upon your opinion of "quiet", but the food is excellent, and the small plates will be quite reasonable (imo).
If you're interested in sticking with St. Paul or the St. Paul side, how far is too far? In Stillwater I'd recommend Cesares or Luna Rossa. Both have excellent atmosphere and tend to be much more quiet in the winter and spring.
Great ideas. I thought about HWB, too, although, I kind of want to make reservations so I can cross it off my list of worries--I don't think HWB takes reservations, does it? (I realize I didn't mention that in my list of requirements.) I think Stillwater is a bit far for this particular outing, but, there will always be another one! Great suggestions, thank you!