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Apr 20, 2008 04:57 AM

Levain (msp)

Had dinner at Levain on Friday. The place was half empty, which was a shame, because it was probably the best meal I've had this year. We started with the mussels, which tasted like the sea. The entree was the strip steak special with a side of local mushrooms. The steak was perfectly done and better than those at traditional steakhouses. The service was friendly and efficient wtihout being overbearing. I can't stop raving about the experience.

As a regular reader, I'd like to say thank you to all who post here. You all make dining in MPLS so much better!

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  1. Thank you for your report on Levain--we've had a couple recently from folks who have gone on Sunday nights, too. Sounds very appealing.

    I've always wondered if Cafe Levain is getting a bit of the short end of the stick and is suffering a bit from the fact that it's not the "original" Levain, which was so beloved.

    Anyway, it sounds like it's worth peeking into! Thank you! It's always nice to have more voices on the forum here--I'm glad you chimed in.


    4 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      I don't think Cafe Levain is getting the short end of the stick because of Levain. I think Levain had many problems- high cost for the ambience of the place (and I am not one to shy away from paying ungodly amounts for food, but if I am, I don't want to look over at the chef's table and see someone wearing shorts and flipflops) and difficulty with chef turnover for a couple of reasons. I'm not sure why the place is often not full, but I don't think that's the reason. Maybe they're suffering because people don't realize they're NOT the old Levain...?

      1. re: cheeseguysgirl

        The old Levain also had piss-poor service, impenetrable menus, and a crowded, loud, cold dining room.

        I've noticed that the sign at the corner of 48th & Chicago still says "Levain - Contemporary American Cuisine." The owner can't even be bothered to change the sign...

      2. Places link. For those who might use the search function, Cafe Levain is a restaurant in Minneapolis, MN (MSP).

        Cafe Levain
        4762 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407

        1. Funny coincidence, I was there too on Friday and also had the mussels in that fabulous cream sauce. For anyone who's curious, the "small" order is about 20 smallish blue mussels -- I thought it was an ample starter. My server said the "large" is meant to share, but I'll bet it would make a nice entree for one. I wish I'd gotten the soup special too, it sounded amazing -- something like puree of spring greens with pea shoots...

          I should have gotten the grass-fed strip steak special. I went with the braised short rib; the beef was lovely but I am just not quite onboard with the "charred greens" concept. Oh well. The mushrooms were excellent as always.

          I too wonder if the somewhat slow business is because people don't realize the place is different from before. Honestly, I never would have gone to the old Levain. I like great classic dishes done well -- give me a steak with a red wine sauce and a good side of vegetables, a bowl of mussels.... I don't really want my food to be gelled, foamed, stacked a foot high, etc., and I really don't like the sort of jaded-palate places where every dish has one weird oddball ingredient in it. (No offense intended to those who are into that sort of thing.) One of the things I love about Levain is the consistency of the core menu -- I can always get a hanger steak, a braised short rib, etc. -- and the fact that I can choose a side. The Sunday night prix fixe has been a real treat too -- I love it that they keep a pair of simpler dishes on the Sunday night a la carte menu in case people like me wimp out on the prix fixe menu.

          The prices are very reasonable, especially for the quality of the food. I've found the service friendly and knowledgeable.

          It's been a little quiet in there when we've gone, so we worry a little. We want this gem to stick around.

          1. CG and I along with a friend of ours walked to Levain on Thursday night. We were one of a small handful of diners, which worried me, as the food was fantastic! For apps, the scallops on spinach-almond puree was a winner (the almond took the taste to a whole new level), as was the charcuterie plate. They had Thousand Hills beef tartare with a poached egg on top and a chicken liver pate that was so smooth it melted in your mouth. I have an intense dislike of chopped liver (I think too many bad synagogue versions), but this was topped with an apple gastrique that made it not just palatable, but memorable.

            Entrees included my friend's burger (again, Thousand Hills, with some short rib meat mixed in and gruyere on a brioche bun) that I am still drooling over. It was cooked med rare to order, juicy, fatty, oh man..... I had the crispy arctic char with tomato fennel broth- it was so moist and really well balanced- sometimes char has a faded flavor that makes you wish you were eating salmon, but not this version. CG had the gnocchi- not as good as 112's but a definitely more than respectable version (without the crowd and within walking distance, so really worth it). Sides included some of the crispiest fries ever, and charred greens that were unline any I've ever had. Somehow they tasted charred without tasting burned. Wow.

            Great food, locally sourced, really reasonable prices. I worry with our town's track record, that combo is ominous.

            1. Thanks all for these great reports on Levain!

              Me, I'm always looking for great food with no reservations and no waiting (I'm no good at planning ahead). Because of the great reports on this thread, I've bumped Levain's Sunday prix-fixe dinner to the top of my "must try soon" list.

              I, too, worry that the lack of patrons may be a problem - but remember that Sunday evenings are always slow (hence the great value prix-fixe dinner). Let's cross our fingers for Levain in its current incarnation!