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Sunday night prix fixe at Levain (MSP)

I had been wondering about the prix fixe menu at Levain, so we went a couple of weeks ago and again tonight. I thought I would share some details in case anyone else is curious too.

The menu from a couple weeks ago is posted on their blog at www.cafelevain.com -- first course was a salad of frisee with julienned apples, and some pate (I'm not a pate fan, so I preferred my husband's first course from the vegetarian version, which omitted the pate and added golden beets with local honey). Second course was a golden beet soup with haricots verts, red beet, Fischer smoked ham, sherry vinaigrette, chive, hazelnut oil. Third course, grass-fed strip steak with butter-poached prawn with potato puree and wild mushrooms. (The blog has a more detailed rundown, this is just what I remember.) I thought the beet soup was phenomenal. It's not the kind of thing I would have normally ordered, but I loved it. Frisee was great too. And for me, steak is always a safe bet.

Tonight was a potato soup with mirepoix (very tiny dice as a garnish), breadcrumbs, basil oil, roasted Kadejan chicken, and truffle oil (I don't recall that being listed in the menu, but I knew it had truffle oil the minute they brought me the bowl). I'm getting a little truffle-oiled out, I think I would have preferred the soup without it. But I liked the chicken and garnishes, nice texture additions to the soup. Second course, "crispy Arctic char" with mussels, fingerling potatoes, fennel, tomato broth. I love shellfish but am Not A Fish Person; DH got my char and gallantly offered me his mussels. Third course, braised beef short rib with truffled polenta (see above comment on truffle oil...), brussels sprouts, spinach, and frisee salad. The beef was fantastically tender and full of flavor.

I love food but have a lot of strong dislikes -- most organ meats, most fish, eggplant come to mind. I tend to order the classics. So a tasting menu is usually a dicey proposition for me. A couple weeks ago I was steering clear of the pate and tonight the char, which I felt a little guilty about in a place where the chef can see your plate from where he's standing. ;) (Sorry Adam; but I loved everything else.)

They also have a limited a la carte menu on Sunday nights, where they provide a choice of two simple classics -- beef short rib with potato puree and asparagus; roast chicken; etc. I sure appreciate that option. The prospect of Arctic char almost drove me to a la carte tonight, but I took a chance (I did like the mussels).

The vegetarian 3-course option is $20, the version with meat is $25. Well worth it.

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  1. I've been curious, too, but somehow always manage to find myself occupied on Sunday nights, so thank you for letting me live vicariously through you with this terrific report! I find it interesting that the third course isn't dessert (personally, I prefer three savory courses, so, it's a good thing, from my perspective.)


    1 Reply
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Actually, it worked out for the best, because we wound up going around the corner to Pumphouse Creamery, where I immediately fell in love with the sea-salt-caramel-praline-pecan ice cream ::swoon::... :)

      I could happily make a weekly habit of Sunday night dinners at Levain. My husband has usually been the type who wants to "save" good restaurants for special occasions, so I'm trying to convince him that Sunday is by definition a special occasion.

    2. Everyone should go...I can't possibly rave enough! Wonderful food. Exceptional value. A great way to taste Levain.

      1 Reply
      1. re: njk

        We stumbled into Levain unaware on Sunday night and were so surprised and excited about the prix fixe menu! We don't eat red meat so we were even more excited that they had a vegetarian version! 20 bucks for 3 courses! Awesome! And they were all very good. We had the same potato soup that fendel mentioned but without the chicken. So silky and tasty.

        The second veggie course was gnocchi with roasted grapes and white asparagus. I loved this course. It was so earthy. Probably the best gnocchi I have had and I am a gnocchi fan.

        The last course was the polenta fendel mentioned without the short ribs. Again - earthy yummy and probably the best brussel sprouts I have had and again - brussel sprout fan here!

        I prefer savory courses as well because I feel you can always add on dessert if you want. I was too stuffed and didn't and I wish I had know about pumphouse creamery - for sure next Sunday. We are making this a tradition! We also had the wine pairing which was 12 bucks! Seriously, I feel like this is the best deal around.

      2. We went again tonight, so I thought I'd report back... We were there from 5:30 to about 7, and there were about 8-10 diners (including us) for most of that time -- so I was sorry to see that business was a little slow tonight. I hope it picks up later for them.

        I was craving mushrooms, so the braised short rib on the a la carte menu caught my eye -- short rib with potato puree and local mushrooms (roasted, I think). But I couldn't pass up the prix fixe menu. First course was a local watercress soup, pureed, with pea tendrils, creme fraiche, thin strips of lemon zest, and julienned Fischer Farms ham. I love what they do with soup there.

        Second course, dayboat scallops with white asparagus, English peas, haricots verts, and a frisee salad with (I think) a truffle-oil vinagrette. Wow. The scallops had a beautiful golden-brown crust and were absolutely sweet and tender. Best scallops I've ever had.

        Third course, poached Kadejan Farms chicken breast over spinach, with gnocchi, brussels sprouts, and a little salad of pea tendrils (I think), thinly sliced radishes, and julienned Fuji apples. Poached chicken breast is usually not my idea of a good time, but this was lovely. So tender that a butter knife to cut it was overkill. I always like Kadejan chicken. The gnocchi, which seemed a little dry to me the last time I had them, were perfect tonight, moist and light.

        DH had the wine pairing and enjoyed it.

        The vegetarian version substituted local mushrooms for the dayboat scallops, omitted the ham from the soup, and for the third course I think they just did gnocchi and vegetables, although I admit my recollection of the vegetarian menu is a little hazy. I'm a hopeless carnivore.

        Dessert was sea salt ice cream at Pumphouse Creamery around the corner. Bliss.

        I kinda wish Levain would post the prix fixe menus on the website, but that would probably be a lot of work on top of posting the regular menus. So maybe we 'hounds can step up. If any of you guys go on a Sunday night and have a chance to share your experience, describe the menu, etc., that would be great. I'll try to do so when I go. I might make it next Sunday.

        We are big Levain fans. The regular menu is great too, but we are really enjoying the prix fixe on Sunday nights, so that's when we usually go.

        1. We went tonight and had another excellent meal... I thought I would pass along this report for those who might be curious about what's been on the Levain tasting menus, or who need a nudge to go try the Sunday night dinners.

          First course was "local kohlrabi soup" -- kohlrabi! Who knew? I've never even had kohlrabi before, but it was a beautiful soup, full of subtle flavor, with pea tendrils and shreds of Fischer ham. This is one of the reasons I love the tasting menu. I would never have said, with a regular menu, "Hey! I'll have the kohlrabi soup." But it was fabulous.

          Second course was salmon with peas and haricots verts in a sauce that had capers... my husband loved it and said it was very tender. They were kind enough to substitute a gnocchi course for me (wish I liked salmon! but no), and it had carmelized brussels sprouts, pea tendrils, and morels. Wow...

          Third course, hanger steak with local greens and mushrooms, and some fingerling potatoes that were perfectly cooked, with a lovely flavor I couldn't quite place...

          And of course, slices of baguette with this amazing chive aioli (which is right up there with their sublime basil aioli in my book).

          The a la carte menu, as I recall, included the soup, the salmon, a burger...

          More and more local ingredients are showing up, now that the Minnesota growing season is underway. I have got to get back there more often.

          1. Hope it's OK to bump my own thread, I wanted to post a little update. We've been to some more of the Sunday suppers at Levain since I originally posted this, and they continue to be wonderful.

            Honestly, the reason I haven't been coming back and posting a rave every single time is that I rarely eat out anywhere else these days (my husband & I are both unemployed, so a good meal out is a rare treat)... and I'm afraid if I continue to post nothing but raves about the same restaurant, people will think I'm somehow biased. But what can I say, Levain has become far and away our favorite restaurant.

            Tonight we had -

            1st course - a lovely Provencal soup with local vegetables, a ratatouille garnish, a crisp crouton, and for us carnivores, mussels. I never cease to be delighted by the soups at Levain.

            2nd course - a big seared scallop on a salad that included fresh corn, julienned chiogga beets (neat!), tiny melon dice, and mizuna.

            3rd course - was described on the menu as "pork sirloin" (Fischer Farms, I'm pretty sure it said) - reminded me of my mom's schnitzel from my childhood, only better. So tender and rich! We had our mostly-vegetarian brother-in-law with us who decided he would try a little piece, since we were making little happy noises and he was curious; he said, "This could make me into a porketarian." Great potatoes, capers, and greens with this.

            Dessert - Valhrona chocolate torte - an intense chocolate experience.

            The guys loved the wine pairings as well. Our porketarian raved about the carmelized brussels sprouts in his third course.

            Once my job situation improves, I hope to return there more frequently. I notice they've added the fried chicken to the regular menu, a bargain at $12, so even on our current austerity budget, we could probably handle that now and then. We had the chicken during one of the Sunday suppers about 2 months ago, and it was impossibly tender and delicious. My husband is not usually a fried chicken fan, but he still talks about that meal.

            1. Okay, this is the best deal in town right now. Three courses for $20 (vegetarian) or $25 (non-vegetarian).

              Last night... Mushroom Salad (charred asparagus, frisee, turffle vinaigrette, herbs, and the local forest mushrooms). Heirloom Tomato Soup (Brillat-Savarin topped crouton, EVOO, Fisher Farms bacon, chives). Braised Beef Short Ribs (poraro puree, brussels sprouts, heirloom tomato-anise braising jus, apple gastrique).

              Best deal in town. Plenty of empty tables.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Brad Ballinger

                I just ate at Northcoast in Wayzata. Rick Nelson who is a highly regarded critic with the trib recently recommended there tasting menu. It was excellent but didn't really wow me. The last time I said "wow" was the first and only time I ate at Cafe Levain a couple of months ago (Lowly fried chicken no less). Everything my wife and I has was excellent. Our server informed us the head chef was in his early twenties which made me skeptical but once the food came this was quickly forgotten. I can't recommend Levain highly enough. It's a shame I haven't been there more often as living 25 miles away and high gas prices make it an event. I hope Levain makes it, as it is hard to find value and quality in one package. If you are a foodie you owe it to yourself to experience Chef Adam's skills before he gets well known and ends up as a consultant. I read his blog about his passion for food...hopefully he doesn't burn out like so many great chef's do.

                On another note....Chef Adam...I know you check this board from time to time. Any chance you can give us some feedback on the financial "health" of the resturant any new announcements like your blog that talked about expanding the tasting menu to more days. Thanks.

                1. re: dave43

                  Pardon the interruption, but please keep this discussion narrowly focused on the chow, in accordance with our mission. Discussions of the financial health of the restaurant are considered off-topic for our regional boards.

                  Thank you for your understanding.