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MSP:Good place to take group of non-CH relatives?

  • m

I originally invited a group of 6 relatives over for dinner this weekend. Somewhere in the midst of planning the dinner, my husband and I threw in the towel, and decided we'd like to surprise them with a trip out to dinner somewhere instead.

*said relatives are all very non-Chowhound types - i.e., all living in far outer suburbs they rarely leave, who think Papa John's is the best pizza and Culver's serves the best burger. However, I think they will be willing to try new things (and we will be plying them with alcohol at our place beforehand).

*this is a special occasion: we're moving away and we rarely have them to dinner "in the city," and would like to make this like a surprise adventure experience for them.

*we're ready to spend some money, but within some reason.

*it will be a party of 8 adults.

*we will want to stay in the inner city, Minneapolis or St. Paul is OK!

*no Chino Latino or Psycho Suzi's, please and thank you.

We originally thought of carting the group to the Midtown Global Market for a big ol' ethnic picnic, but we wouldn't get there until around 8PM - when most places there close.

We'd love to take 'em to a sushi joint for a big feast......but OMG $$$$$$!!!!

Any suggestions appreciated!

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  1. If you want great food, but keep the cost more reasonable, Tanpopo (downtown St. Paul) has one table that's good for groups. Still along the lines of good food that's affordable, Ngon Bistro (University Ave, St. Paul) does a decent job with groups.


    1. Your reasons for not wanting to go to Chino Latino and Psycho Suzi's would help steer people away from other suggestions you wouldn't like.

      I assume Fogo de Chao is too spendy. It might otherwise be a good choice.

      Rainbow Chinese does some family style stuff, as does Little Szechuan in St. Paul. They both have nice tables for accommodating groups.

      2 Replies
      1. re: pgokey

        As everyone knows, I love Little Szechuan, and I agree, they accomodate groups nicely, but I worry a little that it might be somewhat inaccessible to non-chowhounds...

        It just depends on how adventurous people are with dishes prepared with "fish flavor" and tofu and chili heat.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          They have their American menu. They have 2 menus - the authentic one and the American one. Something for everyone.

      2. How about like.. Cosetta's on 7 corners in St Paul? Lots of big spaces for groups if you go save seats. It's kinda fun b.c it's cafeteria style.. but it makes it kinda hard to pay for groups (although my husband & I managed to take a group of 15 there and they were very accomodating). I think any shows @ the xcel or theater's will be done by 8.

        Either that or Cafe Latte. Wow them with cake! =)

        Neither of those are fancy, but they're fun in my book. If you want to share food the suburbs already have Buca's, but they don't have Yarusso Bros (W 7th in St Paul).. or Loring Pasta Bar on campus (not great, but they have big tables & I have gone there w.groups a number of times, always works out really well for people from farther away).

        1. BTW Culvers probably is the best burger in the outer reaches. Far outer suburbs and chains, oh my. Far outer suburbs and chains, oh my....

          I think 112 Eatery and the 2 tier menu would be primo. Sea Salt would also be a good less expensive chowish direction (Surley on tap in a park - how excellent).

          7 Replies
          1. re: blowphishery

            I've had a group of 8 at 112 Eatery and you're right, they do a terrific job with a group that size. They are also infinitely patient in explaining the menu (it's part of their schtick, I think) and are delighted to split dishes or let people share so people can try several dishes, if they wish. They even do a fun burger and fries for the non-chowy folks. (Though, it's definitely a burger with a twist--served with brie cheese and on an English muffin.)

            Better get to Sea Salt while it's still the season! Fall is crashing down around us. My major caution against Sea Salt, as much as I adore it (I so crave their po boys, either oyster or catfish! ) is the long wait. My standard wait to order on evenings and weekends is half hour to 45 minutes, with another 25-35 minutes for food to be brought out. I've never been on a weekday for lunch, though; maybe it's better.


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              I just want to add a note that Sea Salt Eatery doesn't seem to have its normal long lines right now-perhaps the novelty of eating outdoors has worn off for "the season." I'm still not sure I'd take a group of 8 there, but, now's a good time to go to avoid the lines. Note, though, that they have switched to (shorter) "fall hours" in the evenings.


            2. re: blowphishery

              I agree with 112 Eatery. Something for everyone, wide price range, etc. Much has been said already.

              I'm also thinking smaller, neighborhood places like Corner Table, Signature Cafe, etc. Thoughts from others?

              On a side note, I strongly disagree with the Culvers comment. Granted, I don't like the thin-patty style of burger nearly as much as thick, juicy and medium rare, but even in the thin-patty category, Culvers is a yawner.

              I don't want to hijack the thread and can't speak for ALL of the "outer reaches" but in the outer reaches of my neck of the woods (south) you could start with Copper Bleu, House of Coates, Lion's Tap and King's Bar on your quest for a better-than-Culver's burger. Closer in (Bloomington, Eagan, etc.) would be even easier.

              1. re: MSPD

                on the corner table, signature, etc. i'd think that the craftsman would be an excellent choice. chowish types could eat venison and rabbit while the unadventurous can have a burger or salad, or get crazy and order a pasta special. the food is great-to-transcendently-great and the restaurant is beautiful. could be expensive if everyone orders a main in the $20-$29 range, but the burgers and other regular menu items are more like $10-$14. service is very good. imo food is better quality, better prepared, larger portion than corner table for comparable price. i just love this restaurant and am kicking myself for not getting over there sooner! the craftsman might be my new fave, in fact. do consider it!

                1. re: soupkitten

                  soupkitten, you just beat me to it! I had a really good dinner there a couple of weeks back, and you're right -- there are interesting preparations on the menu along with non-threatening (heh) burgers, etc. I think chowhounds and non-chowhounds alike would be very comfortable there. And the 112 will be an impossible reservation for the coming weekend; they book up weeks and weeks in advance. So, two votes for the Craftsman.

                  1. re: mcgeary

                    Oh, I missed the "this weekend" part.

                    It's a lot easier to get a reservation at 112 Eatery since they added the upstairs--and you have a lot better luck if you try for one of the super early slots, like 5pm, (I can almost always wriggle my way into 112 Eatery at 5pm on Sunday, but that's awfully early for most people...) but, still, some of those options like Craftsman and Signature Cafe and Corner Table are really good recommendations.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I was able to get a Friday reservation for two at 8pm with a three week notice for 112 - It is definately not as impossible as it used to be.

            3. Maybe Thai food? It seems like most of our non-Foodie friends are starting to eat Thai. We've actually been happy lately with Amazing Thai in Uptown with the added bonus that you don't have to wait long like at Tum Rup Thai and it's a bit nicer inside than True Thai.

              Last year we brought my parents and in laws to Al Vento and it was a huge success. The menu/Italian isn't intimidating but it was different enough from Buca or Olive Garden to be special.

              1. What about Grand Cafe - the food isn't scary for those without far-reaching palates but it is delicious and, if I remember correctly, they have a great big table in the middle of the room that would seat everybody perfectly. A nice slightly upscale, but neighborhood casual environment too. The last thing you want is for your out of city relatives to feel uncomfortable.

                1. First and foremost, thank you to everyone for responding and making some fabulous suggestions!

                  But maybe I didn't make it clear enough in my OP:

                  "would like to make this like a surprise adventure experience for them".

                  The whole point of this is that I *do* want to take them some place where they *can't* necessarily fall back on a burger and fries..........but that isn't too extremely exotic and scary.

                  I WANT to make them "uncomfortable," per se, not in a rude way - but in a way that will challenge their palates at least a LITTLE bit. I'm not about to shove fermented mackerel roe or foie gras foam down their throats, but after all the times I've been made "uncomfortable" at their highway Perkins dinners out in the sticks, I think for this rare occasion *they're* coming to my neck of the woods for a dinner, I want it to be somewhat memorable for them. Keep in mind the few times we've had them to dinner at our house we always accommodate their 'bland' food preferences for them in the interest of keeping them "comfortable." Well......not this time!!!

                  The fact that I originally wanted to take them to MGM should tell you I'm interested in taking them somewhere that's maybe non-American. (But I'm open to any and all suggestions!) Again, I'm not looking to shock them into choking down braised duck webs, tripe soup or offal - just somewhere they might have options other than than what they're used to.

                  And I said no to Chino Latino and Psycho Suzi's because despite them both having great food, A) they're both pretty cliched places that suburbanites flock to for the novelty B) especially on weekends. No thanks.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Mellu

                    I still think Ngon Bistro (chef-driven Vietnamese, leaning more towards French influences), Tanpopo (local and frequently organic Japanese cuisine), and 112 Eatery fit your requirements, except for the fact that 112 Eatery happens to have an exotic burger on its menu. There's so much more on 112 Eatery's menu that isn't a burger, including a couple of fois gras dishes.

                    Good luck! Let us know where you end up and how it goes.

                    EDIT: the nice thing about Ngon Bistro and Tanpopo is that the settings are lovely, but casual enough to not be super intimidating. Ngon Bistro is still easy to sneak a big group into at the last minute. I don't know how hard it is to reserve that table at Tanpopo; they really only have one table that's suitable for a group.

                    I still love Little Szechuan, but I do think it's a hard menu to navigate for those who are pretty sensitive to either hot chili oil or unusual cuts of meat. Maybe that can be a round II place.

                    By the way, I hate to recommend it, but all of the non-chowhounds I've taken to Mai Village seem to love it. I think it's showing some wear and the food is so average that I really think you'd all be better off at Ngon Bistro.


                    1. re: Mellu

                      I still think the Craftsman is a good choice. One of the pizzas on offer is: pork sausage, sweet corn, bacon, hot Hungarian wax pepper, and provolone. And the burgers are nonstandard as well, e.g., the venison burger stuffed with bacon and served with arugula-walnut pesto and chili ketchup. It's a far cry from Perkins, y'know? And introducing your family to the wonders of locally sourced ingredients vs. eating whatever falls off the Sysco truck would be a cool thing to do.

                      If you want to try ethnic cuisine, Ngon Bistro would be a great spot.

                      1. re: Mellu

                        Saffron. Solera. Alma (reserve upstairs for 8).

                        No burgers (usually; though Solera has a mini lamb-type burger). Challenging. All have small plates so you can make people try things, but they can play it safer-er with their entrees. Everyone wins.

                      2. Another place that handles groups quite well (and where you'll have no problem getting a last-minute reservation) is Jun Bo. I think their dim sum ranges from average to pretty good, depending on a myriad of factors, but the fun thing about dim sum is people can try lots of different things. Also, it's usually surprisingly affordable.

                        EDIT--oh, shoot. Jun Bo isn't "inner city", as per your requirements--it's in Richfield. Probably why no one else recommended it!


                        1. Mellu-

                          I also feel your pain! My sf's family also lives in the exurbs and thinks Red Lobster is fine dining. A few times a year, they come into the city and we'll take them out to a someplace new. The rules are that it can't be a chain and we all have to try a little of whatever someone else orders. So far, we've taken them to:

                          1. Jersualem's Cafe -The food was pretty average, but we also went for the belly dancing. On Fri and Sat nights, there's belly dancing.

                          2. jP Bistro. They didn't know what they were ordering (the menu mainly in french), but they liked it.

                          3. al Vento. Didn't know what they were ordering, but loved the different courses.

                          4. Morelos Mexican - next to Azia. Pretty good food, reasonable for the fam.

                          5. The King and I. They loved this place, and the fact that they could request the dishes with 'Minnesota' spiciness.

                          6. The former Levain. They do have burgers, though.

                          7. Saigon, off Dale and University. Probably the least popular of the places we took them. The fam was a little freaked out by all the strange surrounding. They did like the food, but the atmosphere is not necessarily fine dining.

                          8. West indies Soul Food. Again, not much atmosphere but the food was good.

                          Good luck! Let us know where you end up going....we could end up taking the fam next time.

                          1. You're lucky to have family who will try new things - and who can be plied with alcohol! My in-laws don't drink and have very rigid culinary boundaries. So I take them to places like Jax or the Lexington or Carol's in Blaine for safe yet good food. I'd like to try The Sample Room, but that would be pushing it - many of the foods are familiar, but the upscale treatment and small plates would scare them.

                            For your "willing to try when plied" family, how about El Meson for Latin-American food?


                            Or Mairin's Table for American and Moroccan food? Note that Mairin's Table has many "safe" choices on the menu, which you might be trying to avoid.


                            Or, for another affordable Japanese place, try Obento Ya. It's tiny, so a group of eight will fill a third of the place. But the service is very friendly and the food is great.


                            Have fun!

                            1. If you want to eat in a group I think Restaurant Alma might be an interesting choice in the way you put your four course dinner together. It is almost like eating a sampler plate in that my wife and I shared our choices and it could make for some lively discussion over some very good food.

                              BTW, we are exurbanites in Tonka Bay and have no problem venturing into the city. For those in the "city" there are excellent choices in the burbs other than Culvers. It's too bad many in the city have no sense of venture. Come to Excelsior and find a concentration and variety of restaurants that would rival anything in the metro area in one small neighborhood. Same with Wayzata.

                              1. How about Peninsula? It's a fun atmosphere, can certainly handle large groups, and has a range of safe and non-safe options. Lots of meat heavy dishes, but lots of noodles or rice or vegetarian options too. I would like to recommend various things on the menu, but I always get the same two things ('cause I love them): their roti canai and spicy golden tofu.

                                Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine
                                2608 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55408

                                1. I love, love, love Al Vento! Or maybe Campiello in Uptown? Not nearly as good as Al Vento but I've always had good meals there.
                                  Punch Pizza--I know some people on the boards think this place is nothing exciting, but this is authentic Italian pizza. And if your family really does adore Papa John's, maybe this is a chance to introduce them to something that's different, but still really tasty. (Or maybe it will totally backfire because they have a rigid idea of what pizza should be.)
                                  Town Talk--they seem to do the old favorites--cheese curds, hamburgers, fried egg sandwiches--with just a little gourmet spin. Not sure how accommodating they are for groups though, and it is loud.
                                  I tried Margeaux in St. Paul a couple months ago and loved it.

                                  1. I thought I'd report back. We ended up going to the Happy Gnome, and initially I was a bit disappointed we didn't go somewhere a little more adventurous than what I thought was basically a neighborhood burgers-n-beer bar. I mean, that was always my impression of the place, and while it's totally decent, I never really thought it had much more to offer than some fancified bar food.

                                    Turns out it's way more than that! At the end of the day we agreed our order of the braised venison special with potatoes and veggies was some of the best venison we'd ever had. Yes, my in-laws tried to order white zinfandel and refused to try the fish taco appetizers we ordered, so maybe it was a good thing we didn't go somewhere more unusual.

                                    I want to say thanks to all the Hounds that responded, it was a great discussion!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Mellu

                                      Braised venison? Sounds wonderful! Also, your report sounds like they may have improved the quality of their offerings from the previous reports from Chowhound. I guess that just goes to show that places can and do change.