MSP: Porter and Frye, Fugaise or 20.21?
Howdy Twin City hounds. This NYC hound and his SO will be visiting the City of Lakes next month, staying in downtown Minneapolis. We have two nights - so two dinners - before heading up north to Bemidji and then on to Brainerd.
For MSP, my CH searching has lead me to think about Porter and Frye, Fugaise, Cosmos, 20.21 or perhaps LBV. We've eaten at The Chambers Kitchen in a past visit and while we enjoyed our meal and experience there we want to try something different. I've looked online at the menus at both P&F and Fugaise and both appear eclectic - although personally when I saw the walleye on the menu at P&F my mouth started to drool as of course we don't see walleye out here. (My SO and I don't see "walleye to walleye" on this though point though!) Is the fact that 20.21 is a Puck resto a plus or minus? So for two memorable fine dining experiences in downtown Minneapolis which would be your choices?
I've searched for Bemidji and Brainerd and it appears more than a couple of posts mention the dining wasteland up there. It seems The Angry Trout would be too far for us to try to get to. Any tips on any good breakfast or dinner recs up there would be appreciated. Thanks!
Thanks MSP Hounds for your advice. My client has invited us to dine-in with her family on one night so we are down to one night-out in Minneapolis. I called Fugaise to make a reservation and got a taped message - this was about one hour before they opened - and left a clear voicemail message to make a reservation but never heard back from them! So I called LBV, got a live body and went with them. In a nice touch the receptionist asked if it was a special occasion - something we've experienced at Thomas Keller's Per Se and The French Laundry. (I strongly considered 112 Eatery but the SO was put off by the cheeseburger on the evening menu! Not me but you know how it goes. Dare I mention Chocolate Potato Chips or Hot Dish on a Stick from the State Fair? Me thinks not!)
Have noted possible visit to 20.21 and a stroll in the sculpture garden and likely pit-stops in Nevis/Akely and/or Walker and promise to report back.
Fugaise and LBV in that order. We went to Cosmos about a year back and had an awesome meal but that's been a while. Here is our review of Fugaise (we'd highly recommend you go with the tasting menu).
208 E Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Rating (Scale 1-10, with 10 being the highest):
Recommendation: Excellent. Fugaise was recently ranked by Zagat as one of the Top 10 restaurants in the Twin Cities (we agree wholeheartedly and understand why) – the result of meticulous preparation and exacting execution is a meal we won’t soon forget.
Fugaise is the brainchild of chef and owner Don Saunders (formerly of Vincent, La Belle Vie, and A Rebours). It’s located on a stretch of Hennepin Ave north of the river and even frequent visitors to the area probably don’t know it exists (the entrance is tiny and easy to miss). We’ve heard incredible things about Fugaise and were looking forward to the meal…although with a bit of trepidation because high expectations have sometimes lead to let-downs. The restaurant is located at the end of the building’s entrance corridor. As soon as you enter the restaurant, your eye is drawn to the mosaic tile that forms the backdrop to the small bar. The dining room itself has the feel of a modern, romantic loft with flashy, colorful, contemporary art adorning the dull gray and brick walls. There are no windows in this restaurant, but frankly it doesn’t matter – the décor is splendid and you don’t feel like you’re in a confined space.
The menu is small and is more readily appreciated by those with a more refined palate (luckily for us, our group of friends fall into this category). We were treated to fresh baked bread (warm out of the oven) and an Amuse – Olive Tapenade with Basil and Anchovy on Toasted Brioche (salty and wonderful). Among the appetizers, the Scallops with Parsnip Risotto and Lemon Truffle Froth was the clear winner and we’d all go back just for that dish alone. The sweet scallops were cooked perfectly and everything on the plate was a hit – this might be the single most memorable dish we have had in the Twin Cities. The pan seared Foie Gras with Poached Pear and Puff Pastry was amazing and came in a close second followed by the Fried Squid with Butter Lettuce, White Anchovy and Basil (which was good, but not in the same league as the first two).
We got an assortment of entrees, including the special of the day – Pheasant with Root Vegetables and Lemon Truffle Froth. It’s hard to pick a favorite, so we’ll pick two – the Assiette of Veal (Tenderloin, Sweet Breads, and Cheek with Sauce Perigord) and the Duck (with Grilled Mushrooms, Fried Sweet Potato, and Orange-Sherry Sauce). Both were cooked to perfection (actually, all meats were beautifully cooked) and the sauces worked really well with the meats mentioned above. The Pheasant special would have been up there with the other two if it weren’t for the Lemon Truffle Froth which we felt was too mild for the game. The Monk Fish with Savoy Cabbage, Pork Belly and Cider Jus was the weakest entrée – it just didn’t have the wow effect like the others did. In fact we swapped the Cider Jus from the Monk Fish and the Lemon Froth from the Pheasant and that significantly improved both dishes! For dessert we highly recommend the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Chestnuts, Toffee Sauce, and Vanilla Ice Cream – it was devoured quickly. The Dark Chocolate Marquise with Orange was quite good but could have used some more orange peel/zest as the combination of the two ingredients elevated the dessert. I know its nit picking, but that’s what remains when the meal is of this high a caliber. The service was great, partly because the restaurant wasn’t crowded but also because the staff was tag teaming when waiting on tables.
$$$$. Most entrees are $25-$30. On average we paid $55 with tax and tip not including wine, which was around $10 per glass.
Update (May 8, 2008) – Just returned from a fabulous evening at Fugaise. We were sad to see the restaurant was completely empty but that allowed the server and kitchen to have their undivided attention on us. The 5-course tasting menu ($65) was ahead of us and we were looking forward to it. We were enticed with an amuse of Prosciutto wrapped Grilled Asparagus with a berry compote - refined rustic would be a good definition with the char flavors of the asparagus paired with the sweetness of the compote. Our first course was an Almond Crusted Scallop served with celery root puree, celery remoulade, and bacon vinaigrette – the crunchy salty bacon left a lasting impression and really added depth to the flavors. The Frog Legs, prepared two ways, was our second course – a light tempura frog leg and a pea puree with frog legs was immaculate. I’ve had the pleasure of some great Halibut preparations recently and the delicately flavored Seared Halibut with Leeks, Whipped Potatoes and a Parsley Artichoke Broth was no exception – the fragrance emanating from this dish was intoxicating. Our fourth course was the Pork Tenderloin with Glazed Pork Belly, Root Vegetables, and Honey Au Jus. The single most impressive component tonight was the crispy and sweet pork belly and that’s high praise for what might seem as an innocuous ingredient. We ended the meal with a Lemon Panna Cotta with Strawberries, Mint, and a Honey Foam. A light and clean finish to a wonderful meal – sour citrus, sweet strawberries and honey, and pungent mint. Service was impeccable and our server even went out and replensihed our parking meter. Chef Saunders is on a roll.
And our review of LBV.
La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Ave
Rating (Scale 1-10, with 10 being the highest):
Recommendation: Excellent. Fresh off a second-straight James Beard nomination for best chef in the Midwest, Tim McKee shines and produces what is widely considered the best food in the Twin Cities.
Having just returned from our first trip to La Belle Vie (LBV) I was anxious to put my thoughts on paper (it is past midnight and the adrenaline is pumping). I’ll be honest; I wasn’t sure what to expect from LBV. I have two friends, both of who I respect because they know their food, and they recounted two diametrically opposite experiences from their last visits; one had a smashingly good time at LBV (read his review here), while the other wanted to smash his head against a wall (figuratively). As we were escorted to our seats, my heart was pumping fast; in anticipation of what was to come and from finally stepping into the hallowed halls of the dining area known as LBV.
You could drive right by LBV and not notice it – the exterior is non-descript (it’s actually part of a residential complex). When you enter the lobby, on the right is the LBV lounge…casual, contemporary and inviting. We were greeted right away and whisked away to the dining area. The space, with its mix of both traditional and contemporary design, evokes class and elegance. The walls are painted beige and there’s heavy use of intricate white trim as accents. But just as you’re soaking in the classic design, you’re hit with the modern – metal sculptures, abstract art, and clean lines of the tables and chairs. The whole room was nicely lit from the sunlight filtering through the sheer covered large windows.
The menu, at the hands of two-time James Beard nominee Tim McKee, has influences from France and the Mediterranean. He offers both a 5-course and an 8-course tasting menu, complete with wine flights (note that the tasting menu is served to the whole table). We went the 5-course route with a twist – we would add a Bouillabaisse as a 6th course. The wine list at LBV is spectacular, however it’s the non-alcoholic beverage list that really caught our eye…it’s a non-drinker’s dream. The Amethyst (blackberry syrup, sweet and sour, and sparkling water) was a sweet and bubbly concoction. The Petit Parlez-Vous (a pineapple raspberry martini topped with orange/passion fruit foam) belonged in a museum. If you’d prefer an (alcoholic) cocktail, we’d recommend the Tom Girl, a grapefruit vodka with pomegranate juice, pink grapefruit juice, cayenne and sea salt. The fruity overtones, from the fragrant grapefruit are followed by the delicate undertones of the spices. Oh, and in case you want wine, the Allegrini - Palazzo Della Torre ($49/bottle) is a nice inexpensive option.
As we were ready to start our gastronomic adventure, we were teased with an amuse of Fried Squash Flower with Ratatouille. The onions and tomatoes in the ratatouille had influences of Indian spices and were very familiar. Our first course was the Sweet Pea Panna Cotta with King Crab and Brown Butter Vinaigrette. A nice lump of sweet crab meat was the perfect way to start the meal – the cold panna cotta added a nice textural balance to the dish. The second course was a Sauteed Daurade with Ramps, Tomato and Rock Shrimp. It has been seared perfectly on one side and was served on homemade ravioli. We loved the texture of the crispy skin but the fish was a little too strong for us. Our next course was the Roasted Poussin with Caramelized Pork Belly, Broccoli Raab and Eggplant. As I put the first morsel of food into my mouth, I hear one of our fellow diners exclaim “how come my chicken never tastes this good!” The poussin had a crispy exterior, but was still moist and juicy and was sitting on a Japanese eggplant puree. Off to the side was a nice hunk of pork belly. Everything about this preparation was memorable…the texture and flavor combinations had our taste buds electrified.
We’re half way through our meal and then we made the decision to add the Bouillabaisse course. This fish stew was served with one piece each of mussel, clam, daurade, and sea scallop with a garlic-saffron aioli. We’re hit with a sharp bitter flavor with the first bite (I had a piece of the clam); others on our table got the same odd flavor. Once past the clam, the stew got better, although some of us had to contend with a dry daurade. We stirred in the aioli, and this took the soup to the next level…it took away the strong fishy smell and added creaminess to the base. Some people on our table liked the dish, but I don’t think we’d order it again. Our fifth course was the Beef Tenderloin with Morel Mushrooms, Jerusalem Artichokes and Forme D’Ambert. One bite, and you’re on the verge of a food orgasm. Served with both a white and a red wine reduction, and a mild blue cheese sauce, this tenderloin is the new standard for beef preparation. Just a few bites, and it’s done…we want more. But alas, precious things come in small quantities. As we recover from the food coma, we’re on to our final course, the Peach Brown Butter Cake with Grilled Peach Salad and Hibiscus Yogurt Sherbet. The second I read the description, I knew one of us (Natasha) wouldn’t be satisfied with the dessert (at the end of a meal like this, she needs chocolate). The cake had mild flavors and the sweet peaches gave off a sweet smell. It’s the pairing of the sour sherbet that takes this dessert to the next level, though. Although we’re done with our dessert course, I peruse the menu to see if I can find something decadent that will Natasha would fancy, but most of the desserts were fruit-based.
The food and ambience are just two of the three components that it takes to make a meal memorable. The service at LBV was impeccable. There’s a team of servers that float around the dining room effortlessly, taking meticulous care of each of the customers. This team works in unison – our bread and water is replenished quickly, they all smile and greet you genuinely, and it’s especially amazing how they precisely coordinate serving each course to the 5 diners. Our meal lasted the better part of three hours, but there weren’t awkward (or long) pauses. Bravo to the front of the house at La Belle Vie.
$$$$. A 6-course meal for two, with drinks, tax, and tip was $235.
re: MSP Foodies
On the OP's SO being put off by the 112 Eatery cheeseburger, you must understand that the 112 is a bridge between the expensive and the attainable. It's egalitarian menu fits Minneapolis like a glove. I would guess it might fit other cities like a glove too in our current economic condition. All the food is consistently delicious, and it there's anything wrong with that I can't think of it. You can blow a lot of money here as well if that makes it feel more rarefied.
MSP Foodies reviews read as quickly Tolstoy. Keep up the word counts!
I have never had a good meal at 20.21. The food there, I find, is sickeningly sweet. Everything. I found the atmosphere to be crowded and the service to be cold and snooty. Sub-par, albeit pretty food. They have had a change of chef since I've been there, so maybe things are different. I just haven't wanted to spend the money to find out...
For the Minneapolis restaurants on your list, I would rank them as follows: La Belle Vie by far, then Fugaise, then Porter & Frye. I was last at Cosmos four years (and two chefs) ago, and I didn't have a great experience. I haven't been to 20.21.
Others in the area worth considering include 112 Eatery (very difficult reservation to get) and Saffron. Avoid Alma. Others love it, but I have had nothing but uninspired experiences there.
Short answer: Cosmos, LBV or Fugaise IMO. Also, consider Alma.
Cosmos is consistant as hell. We always have great food and great service...consistantly great service is hard to come by and in MPLS, really only LBV and Cosmos have pulled it off in this dining catagory (for me). I highly recommend the tasting menus at both. I would put forth that Don Saunders is making the most creative food in the TC right now. I know that is a bold statement, but no other dining experience in town has surprised me as much as my dinners there. Alma is outstanding as well. More laid-back than the rest of these, it has a different vibe, great food, and good wine. All of these places have their menu's online btw, so that can help. Bottom line: If I had two dinners and only two: LBV and Fugaise.
One item of note, neither Fugaise nor Cosmos have any windows (and they are sparse/covered in the dining room @ LBV as well). I only mention it as it seems to be a deal breaker for some people.
PS. love the walleye joke.
"Cosmos is as consistent as hell." Agreed, but my experience has been the exact opposite. It has been consistently so-so and overrated. The service has been abyssmal. I have given this place four chances, including different nights of the week and a Sunday brunch. There are plenty of places with better food, better service and reasonable pricing.
of those on your list i would choose fugaise & lbv. early reviews of p & f have been mixed, though full disclosure-- i have not been, yet.
re 20.21-- it can sometimes be quite touristy, the food might not be mind-blowing, but the view can't be beat. i'm going to go ahead and rec that you try 20.21 for a pleasant and more low-pressure lunch or brunch, followed by a stroll in the mpls sculpture garden/loring park and/or through the walker art gallery. these experiences will probably be more memorable & enjoyable during the daylight.
i'm going to annoyingly :) drift away from your list & throw out some other great dining places in msp you might enjoy: 112 eatery, restaurant alma, heartland (st. paul).
& i'll leave the up nort' recs to the other hounds. welcome to msp!
Limiting an answer to the restaurants you've listed, I would say Fugaise for pure quality of food and attention from the staff. One you didn't mention in Minneapolis is 112 Eatery, which some would place above Fugaise. I still prefer Fugaise.
If walleye floats your boat, then I suggest you try one of two other places that will have an emphasis on local ingredients, even if walleye isn't one of them. Restaurant Alma is about 5 blocks from Fugaise. Heartland (in St. Paul) is a cab ride or a drive in your rental car. Of those two, I prefer Heartland.
As far as from Brainerd to Bemidji, you will find places that will have walleye on the menu, and you'll have a choice of battered or broiled. A little detour out of the way, in Nevis, you'll find Goose Crossing if it is still in business. It's been a few years.
re: Brad Ballinger
The Goose Crossing from a few years ago closed. A new place called Goose Crossing opened up and it shares no similarities to the original at all.
If you need supper near Nevis, go east on 34 to the Brauhaus near Akeley...if you like German that is. In Walker (between Brainerd and Bemidji), Boulders is completely acceptable for "finer" dining and my wife said the new upscale-ish restaurant in the rebuilt Chase Hotel in Walker is good (but not great).
I know you didn't ask for all of that but.....
For breakfasts up there, when I go out, it's usually dressed in mud-covered hunting attire. The Great Northern Cafe in Park Rapids, Jimmy's in Walker, a new (to me) favorite the Curtisinn in Akeley and so on. Typical small-town cafe stuff if that's what you're looking for.