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Nov 14, 2007 10:39 AM

MSP - Accessible Fine Dining: Go at Lunch

With the number of comments in the past several weeks regarding MSP fine dining places and limited budgets, I've been thinking alot about the tactic of using lunchtime to enjoy the cuisine of the Cities' top chefs. In the mere ten minutes I used to scan website menus, I was shocked at some of the absolute steals that I found. Example, although pretty high-end for lunch, a local grass-fed ribeye with asparagus, potatoes, blue cheese and red wine reduction for $17. Or a hanger steak with Danish blue cheese gougere, horseradish sauce and asparagus for $13. Or scallops with Provencial vegetables, garlic custard and roasted red pepper for $13. I routinely spend $10+ for a burger, fries and diet Coke at a run-of-the-mill bar and grill.

I know it's not practical for everyone, and parking can be an issue (and can add $2 to the tab if you plug a meter). Those excuses are valid in my case as well, but scanning the list inspired me to want to take better advantage of these fine dining bargains. I can certainly get into and out of Sapor or Fugaise on my end of downtown with easy parking.

Anyway, here's a quick list. I encourage people to add their own. (Not the $1.95 banh mi from ABC Vietnamese...the idea is budget access to fine dining, not budget dining).

I just pulled a couple sample items from what are generally regarded as the top restaurants in town and tried to find a couple outside of downtown Minneapolis. Keep in mind, most of these are seasonal menus and just snapshots as of their websites today. Also, most of these places offer some kind of gourmet cheeseburger for $10-12, which I find reasonable as long as it's top-notch:


Potato Leek Soup with Ham, Truffle Oil, Chive Foam $9
Scallops with Provencial Vegetables, Garlic Custard, Roasted Red Pepper $13
Skate with Haricot Vert, Fingerling Potatoes, Caper-Brown Butter Sauce $15


Duck Confit Salad with Poached Egg, Manchego, Spinach, Mizuna, Lemon Poppyseed Vinaigrette $12
Minnesota Grass Fed Ribeye with Asparagus, Blue Cheese, Yukon Potatoes, Red Wine Reduction $17
Seasonal Soup $8


Two Course Lunch $12.50
Salt & Pepper Walleye Tempura, Pappardelle Pasta Puttanesca, or Ploughman’s Lunch
Affragato Dessert
Seasonal Soup $6
Traditional Nicoise Salad $13.75
Vincent Burger (ground beef, braised short ribs, smoked gouda) $12.75


Today’s Soup $4.25 (bowl)
Smoked Turkey Risotto with Autumn Vegetables and Cranberry Relish $10.25

Sapor Café

Soup $5.50 (bowl)
Hanger Steak with Danish Blue Cheese Gougere, Horseradish Sauce and Asparagus $13.00
Potato Tart with Truffle Vinaigrette, Green Beans, Poached Egg and Anchovy-stuffed Olives $11.50


Ceviche Classico $8.75
Torta al Pastor $10.50


Pork Hot Pot with Braised Pork, Tofu, Shiitake Mushrooms, Thai Chilies, Ginger and Cilantro $15


Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls $6
Steak Frites $15
Soup and ½ Sandwich Pair $9


Nabeyaki Udon Soup $9.75
Tonkatsu Teishoku (pork cutlet) $9.00

Edit to add link to a great thread TDQ started a while back on a similar, related topic (everyday food at high-end places) that I had forgotten about:

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  1. Wow that's a great list.

    I've had the Torta Al Pastor at Mesa for lunch. I was underwhelmed. It was just a sandwich not any better than something from Manny's and it came with some kind of pineapple coleslaw that was also unremarkable. But it is a great chance to dine in that beautiful room. It's like the Apple Store (computer). It's very modern and airy but at the same time kind of soft and comfortable. It was worth $15 to spend an hour in that room and come back to work all energized.

    I've also had great fine-dining type lunches at sushi places and it's also a great chance to have sushi if you have a non-sushi loving chowspouse. Nami used to have a lunch special for about $12 that had probably 3-4 different rolls and 3-4 types of sashimi. I couldn't see it on their website. Does anyone know if they still do that (I haven't been since summer). Origami also has a reasonable lunch for about $10 for the roll of the day + miso + salad.

      1. re: The Dairy Queen

        Thanks TDQ, I had forgotten about that (and linked to it above as well).

      2. This is a great thread! I like the idea of lunching at a place that's above my range for dinner. (I'm a cheap date - my idea of a fancy meal is Ngon or Brasa.)

        The next time I'm dressed up at lunchtime, I'm going to Fugaise for an omlette ($9) and a glass of wine.


        P.S. While I don't dispute having Tanpopo on a fine-dining list, I've always thought of them as moderate-to-inexpensive dining. The dinner prices are only about $1 - $2 more than the lunch prices (unlike Fugaise and the like).

        2 Replies
        1. re: AnneInMpls

          Yes, Tanpopo is on the low end of the price point for fine-dining but I've has great lunches there. I love the Saba Teishoku. (Mackerel) And even though it is in DT St. Paul parking isn't too much of an issue.

          It's amazing how Japanese food seems to come up when talking about a fine-dining lunch. I found this Japanese-inspired lunch at Chambers

          “Bento Box”
          20 Minute Express Lunch 11am-2pm
          Butternut Squash Soup with Honshimeji
          Fall “Greek Salad”, Beets, Olives and Feta
          Chicken Satay with Chili Lime Dip
          Tempura Salt and Pepper Walleye
          Ice cream or Sorbet 15

          It's on my list the next time I think I'm dressed nicely enough.

          1. re: mnitchals

            Yeah...Tanpopo got preferential treatment because I love it so much, not because it's necessarily expensive. But I do consider it some of the most refined, inexpensive food in St. Paul.

            Thanks for the info on Chambers. Like I said, I hastily slapped the list together -- I did check their web site but misread their hours (6:30....a.m.! My mind read p.m. and I missed the breakfast and lunch menu links...duh).

            Interesting that they have a nearly identical salt & pepper walleye tempura on their lunch menus right now. Charred corn ravioli for $14, cheeseburger and fries for $13. The bento box would be my choice for the first go-round.

        2. Here's another place that occurred to me (though I haven't been for lunch OR dined at the bar...)

          WA Frost for lunch (or their wine bar for dinner


          Curious, though--usually, I'm minding my at lunch "time budget" as much as my financial budget. Can you get in and out of these places reasonably quickly?


          1. I saw that you mentioned ceviche at Masa...have you or anyone tried this? I only had ceviche while in Mexico and just absolutely loved it... Is it well prepared there? Does anyone have any other ideas of where to get good ceviche in the twin cities?

            2 Replies
            1. re: kelangell

              I love the ceviche at El Meson. I've also had it at Cafe Ena and didn't like it as much. The Mexican seafood place in MGMkt also has ceviche, which is very good and served in huge portions for the price, but I still prefer El Meson's which has a variety of seafood and not just fish in it.

              1. re: katebauer

                Hey Kate! Thank you so much for your suggestions...I think I'll have to go for the ceviche at El Meson! I can't wait to try it!