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Nov 13, 2007 01:02 PM

MSP - Herd Mentality?

I've mentioned this before, and it may be time to bring it up again, but why is it that we seem to focus on only one resto at a time?

What prompts this is that chowspouse and I decided to grab a bite of Thai and catch a movie at Lagoon (Wristcutters, A Love Story - hilarious, highly recommended, but I digress). So we swung by Tum Rup to be greeted by what was easily a one-hour wait for a table. C'mon. This is Tum Rup Thai. Good, but no Thai in this town is worth a one-hour wait. So we strolled around the corner to Amazing Thai. Half empty. No wait. Better selection of tap beers and wines. More creative Thai-style dishes on offer. We had duck curry and haw moak kai. All-in-all, we thought it a better place than Tum Rup. So what is it about this town that we seem fixated on one resto at a time at the expense others that may be equal or better? Why is Amazing empty so we can all queue up at Tum Rup? And this is true to some extent at all the usual suspects in town. Is Little Szechuan really the only Chinese in town? Is 112 really the only place like it in town? Is Manny's the only place in town to get a torta?

Don't get me wrong. I love these places. But are they worth their hype? Or their fan-base? Or something? I'm not sure what. And shouldn't we, as 'hounds, be doing a better job of finding other options?

Anyway, that's my philosophical question for the month. Thanks for listening.

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  1. I know what you furstrates me that Aquavit went out of business, but lesser restaurants do well here. Last year I was at Cosmos on a Thursday night...maybe six tables occupied. But BANK was mobbed at lunch a few months ago. Go figger!

    24 Replies
    1. re: elrushbo

      elrushbo, just curious, but how many times a year do you think the average Twin Cities family can afford to dine at the "elite" level? (Leaving business entertainment out of the equation.) For my household, I'm guessing 3-5 a year: 1) his birthday, 2) my birthday, 3) our anniversary, 4) and/or 5) perhaps one or two other ad hoc "special" occasions likely while out of town on vacation. So, for our 3-5 elite meals a year, 1 or 2 of which are likely spent out of town, and the other three are divided between old favorites and "that new restaurant," whatever it happens to be this year. Afterall, if there's a new place in town, you want to try it for yourself instead of simply relying on the raves of others, right?

      I Iike eating out (hence the reason I hang around this forum) and have a reasonable amount of disposable income, but, still, I probably couldn't have justified eating at Aquavit more than once a year had I been been around when it was open because there are other places I would have wanted to at least try. It's true that I eat about about twice a week--but, not at that price point. I suppose I could skip all those meals at the, Khyber Passes, Little Szechuans, Tea Houses, Ngon Bistros, Craftsmans, Tanpopos, Midtown Global Markets etc. and save up all of my dining dollars to dine out at ONLY the elite level, but that's just not my style. Frankly, I prefer the smaller, casual, family-owned type places. So, if I were here then, I suppose I would have been one of the contributed to letting Aquavit go out of business. In a metro area of this mid-tier size, I think places like that have to work on attracting business crowds and tourist business to stay afloat. I just don't think the locals alone can support it. This is one reason why restaurants in places like San Francisco and Chicago and New York stay afloat--business people and tourists.

      So, it doesn't surprise me that Bank is mobbed because it's new. Plus, I'm sure it gets much more of a business lunch crowd, so, I'm not sure comparing the lunch crowd at one place is necessarily comparable to dinner at the other.


      1. re: elrushbo

        I'm not sure what "elite" means in terms of a restaurant (where is the line drawn?), but for many of the larger restaurants downtown, their bread and butter are business diners/dinners and parties. Rest assured they appreciate the average consumer, however the business diner is not necessarily a refined gourmand, hence the reason the restaurant with fancy looking grilled cheese sandwiches and tomoto soup is packed while the place with pickled fish and dill flavored cocktails didn't do so hot...despite the fact that it was AWESOME.

        1. re: Foureyes137

          It's hard to define where the cut-off is, but I would put Chambers and La Belle Vie in that "elite" category, for instance, but not Craftsman or Lucia or 112 Eatery or Town Talk Diner. I would say many households can probably afford to dine at Craftsman/Lucia/112 Eatery/TTD multiple times a year, but not at Aquavit or any other restaurant in the Aquavit eshelon--however you define it-- more than once or twice a year. It's got to be business and tourists who sustain these kinds of places. (I forgot about parties--good point.)

          Also, frankly, in spite of my chowishness, when I go to a business meal, I'm more worried about being a good host and when on the company dime and am more inclined to steer towards something more "conventional" and unadventurous if I think that's what my dinner guests would be comfortable with. And, if I were entertaining a business guest from, say, New York or San Francisco, here who I thought was adventurous, I'd be more likely to take them to Lucia or Alma (to show off something very local) than Aquavit or Chambers which are chains or restaurants with a "name" chef, perhaps even with a restaurant in their own city.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            I have no idea where it fits into this conversation but as I was reading the thread last week about Fugaise, I was thinking, "You can get an incredible lunch there for $10-15." Same with a number of other "elite" places around town. Vincent comes to mind. So does Cosmos. So does Mission American Kitchen, where you can sample some of Doug Flicker's cuisine at $10-15. Same went for Aquavit when it was here -- you could get a three course lunch for $10-15 (I don't recall specifically).

            I am with the group that, for budgetary reasons, reserve special occasion places for special occasions, but I often forget that I can sample this "elite" cuisine for the same price I pay for lunch at Wagner's Drive-In, El Loro, Houlihan's and other places I've ended up in for weekday lunches over the years. I just have to plan an extra half hour.

            1. re: MSPD

              good point MSPD-- sounds like a great idea for new thread-- "elite lunches in msp" with price points!

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  right! i liked that thread a lot too! but specifically for lunch, though. i'm apt to overlook fugaise for dinner, for example, because for the same price, i could go to alma, etc. but if i were to realize that for 2 or 3 bucks more, i could try the wonderful food at fugaise instead of trying to choke down 1/2 of the mediocre truffle burger at bulldog ne. . . not being a luncher much, such a thread would help me redirect my occasional lunches out. i usually just sigh and settle for something mid-priced and independent, but if i only knew about the fine dining offerings-- well, i guess i'll have to keep a nicer change of clothes somewhere around here. and i AM interested in whether or not the *elite* lunch will take 2 hours, or less, or what. . .

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    soupkitten--I've heard so much about the burgers at bulldog--it's on my "one of these days" list. You don't like them?

                    MSPD--you seem to be our resident lunch hound. :).


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      With a 1, 3 and 5 year-old, a wife who works 80+ hours a week, a new job with a significant increase in responsibility and commute time, having to take a class at the "U" and keep up with homework, and trying to keep up with my fitness schedule, I can either relax at lunchtime or between midnight and 4:30 a.m. I choose lunchtime. =)

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        i will say i've had a nice burger at the bulldog ne, pre ketchup incident, and then later tried the burgers a second and third time and would rather have had a patty from matt's, honestly. i think for $10 plus they could certainly serve something tastier. the truffle burger in particular tasted nothing like truffles & was gut-wrenchingly greasy, alongside limp, sad fries. i pretty much don't eat burgers anymore myself, so maybe i have skewed high-end burger expectations, but i think there are finer fine-dining burgers to be had at the same price point. i haven't been back for a burger in 6 months or so, maybe they're better now.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          By "pre-ketchup incident" do you mean when Landon was fired for spraying mustard on a server or did they put ketchup on a burger (a sin in my book)?

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                So you're saying it is completely subjective? No offense, but that isn't much help. It doesn't sound like it's price as I easily spend as much as Lucia's or 112 as I do at LBV or Chambers. Is it that those places are seems to be the most obvious thread those places mentioned share. Is it that some places have multiple outposts? If Alex builds another Brasa in Chicago, does that make it a chain? I just don't get it I guess.

                I would certainly concur regarding "playing it safe" for business dinners, hense my comments regarding BANK. As someone who often ends up booking the dinners and being booked for them, playing it safe isn't the smartest bet, it is the only bet. Even if I know a visiting client is an "adventurous" diner, I would still likely book a safe place...which points back to this being a societal norm throughout the western world rather than a specific midwestern or Minneapolitan trait.

                1. re: Foureyes137

                  All I'm saying is the higher the price point, the less frequently people can afford to dine there. It's a simple point.

                  You're asking me to draw the line and, sorry, I'm saying I don't know exactly where to whether to draw the line: at $300 per couple, $250 per couple, or $200 per couple, but at some point I look at my own checkbook and think, I'm only going to drop "a couple hundred bucks" on a single meal 3-5 times a year. I put Aquavit in that category (based on never having eaten there, so, maybe I'm way off-base.)

                  On the other hand, I can eat comfortably (meaning, a couple of appetizers and full entrees with drinks) at 112 for $70, for 2 people before tip. Aquavit was before my time, but I'm guessing dinner for two with appetizers and drinks would have exceeded $70, no? Probably twice that?

                  If Alex builds another Brasa in Chicago, I'm not going to go so far as to call it a " chain"--but, if he did and you went to Chicago to visit friends, would you be bummed out if they took you to Brasa II for dinner since you can go to the original in Mpls any time you want? I would be. I'd rather go to a place that's uniquely Chicago. Maybe Trotter's Lite or something.

                  When someone from LA visits me, I don't take them to 20.21. They already have their own Michelin-rated Puck restaurant in LA, why would they want to visit ours, no matter how good it is? By the same token, why take a New Yorker (or anyone who travels to NYC a lot and has therefore probably been to Aquavit) to Aquavit in MPLS?

                  Yes, my "playing it safe for business dinners" comment was an attempt to agree at your Bank comment.

                  I don't understand why you (personally) book a "safe" place for dinner when you know you're hosting adventurous eaters, but I don't. If a business associate of mine is a known foodie, I take him (or her) someplace fun. If not, Olive Garden. ;-).


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Dara's article about Manny's in the CP today made me think of this thread. It seems to me that the people who can afford that kind of meal often tend to be older mdwest-raised consevative types who didn't grow up with a restaurant scene. In 10-15 years when the junior partners who might go to Alma now make executive partner they might be able to support the $300 per couple adventurous place. So I think we are on our way but really aren't there yet. I think I saw some statistic where the Twin Cities used to be at or just below the national averages on income but are now something like the 6th highest per capita metro area.

                    As for me I am firmly in the group of those who can often afford a $75 per couple meal ($100 after we pay the baby sitter) and I am not sure I would really enjoy $300 meals that much more. So I didn't really feel anything when the fine-dining bust happened last spring. I am glad that Levain has re-opened as a restaurant I can actually go to.

                    1. re: mnitchals

                      Dara's article today actually really annoyed me. Not her response at all, but the person who wrote in the letter. We go to Manny's maybe 2x per year. I see it as a place where business folks want to be seen, want to be treated well, but don't care that much about interesting food (which is pretty much what the letter writer said). We go when we want the bread pudding, or when we need to use up Parasole gift certificates, which we get as gifts often because people know we like to eat out. If only all those people who go to Manny's 2x per month would leave the Hyatt and try out some of the creative, chef-driven restaurants around town all our fantastic restaurants wouldn't be struggling. Who needs 2lbs of steak and 4 cups of creamed spinach two times per month anyways!?

                      (Mostly just venting, that guy's letter just made me so sad for the state of Twin Cities dining. It's more important to show off a comped drink than support great food!)

                      1. re: katebauer

                        I've never been to Manny's (I occaisonally indulge at Murray's) but I can't believe she recommend the place after the lousy service. "Can someone help me pick a bottle of wine?..." and the waiter answered "No" What the heck? If that's what the waiter really said that is cause to leave cash on the table for the drinks and walk out! I also wonder what a $90 appetizer is like (seafood martini) ?

                        1. re: katebauer

                          Every city has lawyers and investment bankers. We are lucky to have more than, say, Milwaukee. As crazy as it might seem to most people on this board, a majority of folks don't really care about chef-driven, food forward, locally sourced etc eating. They just want either a ton of food (How many Almas are in town? How many Chili's?) or a ton of food that has a ridiculous markup (5 steakhouses within an 8 block radius? Really?). Similarly, I'm sure film afficionados lament my appreciation for Harold & Kumar and Beerfest...however, at least I'm going to movies.

                          Also, Manny's makes for some of the most hilarious people-watching in town. An hour of Manny's is like an hour in a Weegee retrospective.

                          1. re: Foureyes137

                            You mean pieces like "The Critic", obviously. My favorite place for people watching in the spirit of "Summer - the Lower East Side" is Old Country or Hometown Buffet or whatever it is called now. It's full of these huge families (in more ways than one) who run the gamut from white conservative Minnesota farm families to recent immigrants from all over the globe. They can all get pushy when the guy dumps out a new steam tray.

                            1. re: mnitchals

                              Not "The Critic" in particular as there generally aren't drunk old ladies waiting outside Manny's, but simply the cast of obsurd characters there. I won't go into the regulars we see, but I will say I saw a 6 year old girl wearing a Cartier necklace and a christmas dress eat half a rare ribeye with her hands that her mother fed to her under the table like a dog. That was was better than any show in town.

                              1. re: Foureyes137

                                Wow I am really missing out! And people think there are two Americas. I guess actually we all just want to eat hunks of meat under the table. That settles it. I am going to try to change my Saturday reservation from Cafe Levain to Manny's.

                                1. re: mnitchals

                                  i like showing up to manny's when i'm looking pretty punk rock.

                                  try this, it's so funny: wait 'til they set your steak in front of you, they ask if they can get you anything, you say "ketchup!" or "yellow mustard!"

                                  then have someone else with a camera document their face as they attempt to recover their composure and realize you're joking. . .

                                  of course it may have been so funny last time because i was wearing fishnets and a vinyl mini. . .

                                  i agree that the people watching can be stellar. i haven't been to manny's for several years now, probably because i *can't* eat that much meat anymore-- apart from seafood, do they even have any smaller/normal meat options there, or other options--veg even?

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    oooh... that sounds awesome. I probably don't have the nerve to pull that off.

                                    Another great fun on the other end of the spectrum is to go into Uncle Franky's and ask for a chicken sandwich with no bun and the mayo on the side. A guy in line with me asked for that at the Plymouth location and they actually said, "No, you are getting a burger with everything. Where are you from f-ing Plymouth?"

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      They have lemon chicken with capers or something. I am sure it is good, but really what is the point of going to Manny's and ordering the lemon chicken?

                                      And we've shown up in tshirts and jeans. They really do not care about the pretense as long as you want to buy a $50 steak.

              2. I absolutely agree but I'm unsure that the problem is exclusive to MSP.

                One Minnesota specific thought is that "foreign" food is really new to people so they go where they know for it. While on the coasts people have been eating Thai food for decades, it's fairly new to most people around here. In this case I think of the crowds at Chiang Mai Thai, which is very Americanized and probably most people's first experience with Thai food. I think people started checking out Tum Rup Thai because there was a long wait at Chiang Mai Thai one night.

                I also think how much the restaurant caterers to newcomers is a big deal. Manny's has far better advertising than most of the other places on Lake, plus the menus are simple.

                Patrons beget patrons, and people are naturally more comfortable in places and bring their friends to places that they've been to before. We try and eat at lots of new places, but probably 75% of our dinners out are at repeat places, just because that's where your brain goes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: katebauer

                  My husband and I delight in finding the most authentic meal for the lowest price. Either that or go for places supporting local agriculture or organic production.

                  I love all the recommendations you guys give for places on this forum, but we haven't been to many... (it is awfully fun to go to their websites & try & replicate the interesting food combos they come up with at home)..

                2. My other favorite places in town (where town=St. Paul) for "Chinese" food are China Jen (Snelling at Cty Rd. B) and Tea House II I like the tortas at pineda, which, we discovered by wandering into every restaurant on a 2 block stretch of Lake Street and ordering from their menus until we couldn't eat any more. Chowhounding is all about discovery, getting out there and trying places you've never been to or even heard of before. And, following your own tastebuds and not the crowd.

                  I don't know any other place in town aside from 112 Eatery that serves fois gras meatballs.


                  1. I've lived in several areas of the US and outside the US, and this is not an MSP issue, this is a human condition. There are so many sociological reasons why people do this (commonality of experience so that one has something to discuss/compare later with members of their tribe, comfort/security, social reasons) and truly the prevailing personality types of most Americans makes this an unending conundrum for all who are of the other personality type (the adventure seeking loaner? who knows).

                    The challenge is in getting the trendsetter in a group to go somewhere first...Also challenging: making Amazing Thailand not look like a carnival ride from the outside. Perhaps people who have had bad experiences on the Midway are trepedatious about eating in restaurant that looks like a funhouse.

                    1. To avoid the larger question and just speak to Tum Rup v. Amazing: it's no mystery that TR is more crowded. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Amazing Thailand is not amazing. I went there again tonight (did a walk in at 8 pm and got immediate seating - on a Friday. The place looks lovely, and the presentation of the food is terrific. I want to like this place so much, but just can't.

                      Tonight I had the egg rolls (actually good) and the pineapple fried rice. The pineapple fried rice there is actually fantastic and would go back specifically for that. But it's the only good thing there I've had. My dining companion had the massaman curry and it was terrible. The beef was tough - hard, even. I couldn't pierce a piece of it with my fork easily at all. It was large chunks of beef rather than bite sized pieces or strips, and most of it was tough - she had to chew, and chew, and chew. The curry itself was more of a gravy and was incredibly sweet. Way, way too much sugar. And only like 2 peanuts in the whole dish. I think it was the worst curry dish I've ever had.

                      This experience came on the heels of patently inauthentic pad thai, tough and dry garlic chicken, and chewy and sort of gross crispy thai noodles.

                      Their batting average isn't so hot. I will actually go back for the fried rice, though - great flavor, big chunks of egg, chicken and pineapple, dried cherries.

                      I can also say that they mean business with spices. The one is like a medium at other places and the three was actually very hot, and I like spice. So that's a good thing.

                      But all things being equal, I'd take Tum Rup over this place any day.