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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!


              1. Cafe Levain's menu is in an updated incarnation- we went there for dinner last night. Frog legs are now on the apps, and my friend ordered them-- they are now the gold standard by which all frog legs will be judged. They were buttermilk brined and then deep fried-- like tiny fried chicken wings with the tiniest tastiest morsels of meat that taste somewhat of chicken, somewhat of fish. Mmmm. I had the soup of the day- a puree of baby artichoke with chive oil and fresh fennel. It was good-- probably a bit too large of a portion, but light and delicate (although I was really coveting the frog legs by the time I'd had much soup). Burger was had again, and when it arrived overcooked, Chef Adam promptly made it again and took it off our bill (which IMO was unnecessary). CG had the hangar steak which was tasty and well prepared, but the flavor of the meat paled in comparison with my Thousand Hills ribeye special-- I don't think I have ever eaten such a beefy tasting piece of beef. It was almost shocking in its flavor depth. Slightly chewier to be sure than regular corn or silage fed beef, but the flavor MORE than compensated. I hope more people go there to eat that-- Chef Adam really cooks it in a way that allows the natural flavor to shine.

                10 Replies
                1. re: cheeseguysgirl

                  We went there for dinner a few weeks ago and they had a pickled Ramp soup that was AMAZING. I love ramps so when I saw it on the menu I had to have it. I ordered a cup and like CGG I thought it was a huge dish to be served as a cup but I didn't mind because it was that good. I also love the gnocchi there. Each time I have had it it as served with different seasonal vegetables and was full of flavor and completely fresh and rich tasting.

                  I love this place.

                  1. re: maureen73

                    Maureen, I have to tell you, pickled ramp soup really does not sound appealing. But, I trust you enough to know it must be delicious if you say it is. But, can you please describe it a little more? Very curious.

                    Thank you!


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Disclosure: I am the Chef at Cafe Levain.

                      Correction: Although I don't know the exact type of soup Maureen had (we've done Ramp Soup with Pickled Ramps, Potato soup with Pickled Ramps, so on and so forth) we merely feature Pickled Ramps within a soup - not an entire soup made of Pickled Ramps. Hope that clears up the confusion.

                      And as for portion size, we actually don't offer "cups" of soup - all our soups are one size (a bowl), and are priced always at $8.00.

                      - Adam. Chef - Cafe Levain.

                      1. re: vicks

                        Thank you, Adam, for the clarification.

                        I'm always curious about ramps because they are such a seasonal item and they don't appear on many menus. Are the pickled ramps in your soups sprinkled on top like a garnish or are they more integrated into the soup?


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          They are sprinkled on top like a garnish - pretty much the entire Ramp season this year we used the green tops for soup and pickled the bulbs - we still have about 10 lbs of ramp bulbs pickling in the kitchen. The ramp greens make a wonderful soup much like you'd use Spinach or other greens in a pureed soup (blanch them first for color, then puree them into a pureed soup)

                          This year we usually paired the pickles with things such as Fischer Farms Smoked Ham, Pea Tendrils, Local Mushrooms, etc. etc. - Ramps are such a great mix of onion/garlic flavor that they pair really well with tons of things when properly used.

                          - Adam. Chef - Cafe Levain.

                          1. re: vicks

                            Sounds fantastic! Thanks for the info.


                            1. re: vicks

                              The ramp squared soup was divine. It was just like Violet's gum in Willy Wonka- a melange of different taste and sensation waves that just kept on coming.

                          2. re: vicks

                            Sorry! I am typing too fast and naming things wrong. I had the Ramp soup with pickled ramps. It was excellent. I loved the pickled ramps on top and ate all those first and then didn't have any left to stir into my soup. Sigh. But they were too yummy!

                            Thank you for the clarification Adam!

                      2. re: cheeseguysgirl

                        I'll take your word on the frogs' legs. Have you had them at Fugaise?

                        1. re: Brad Ballinger

                          No, in town I've only had them at Cave Vin. These were much, much better. Fall off the bone tender and moist. Must have been the brine.

                      3. I too like this place. I've been there twice and both times I've left with a good feeling. There are a few technical issues I had with the first time I was there, notably, the unevenly cooked risotto and an argumentative server. That was late fall of 2007. Loved the escargot, prepared with a lemon beurre blanc with a garlic bite to it. Tons better than escargot served the "traditional" way.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: kuan

                          I just ate at Levain last night. I asked about the chef and was told his name was Adam (who responded above) and he was 21 years old. I was a little concerned but there was no worries after we finished our meal. I had the fried chicken ( a steal at $12 ) and my wife had the hanger steak. Both were excellent as were the sides of brussel sprouts and oyster mushrooms. This young chef is talented and not burnt out yet so I recommend you check Levain out. Too bad I live 25 miles from Levain...if I was closer I would be a regular. I love how they use local produce and meat.

                          1. re: dave43

                            I was there last night and had the fried chicken and it was delicious. The skin is brought to a perfect crisp and the meat is very tender. A very good buy. The scallops are tantalizing. Very tender, very clean and very easy to eat. A must try.

                            And, if I've heard correctly, I believe Chef Adam is 23.

                        2. My boyfriend and I had dinner there last night (Tuesday). It was wonderful- the cheese plate was delicious and actually had enough cheese (what's with cheese plates in Minneapolis these days anyway?) with yummy accompaniments. The tomato salad with charred corn was beautifully done. And both of us ordered the fried chicken. Being from the south, it isn't the fried chicken my grandmother made, but it's very very good- Chef Adam turned out a juicy thigh AND breast, which is fairly difficult. The mushroom side dish, outstanding. The prices are great, what a neighborhood restaurant should be (again, what is with the prices in Minneapolis?). Levain will be a definite for us from now on.