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Dec 4, 2008 06:25 PM

Jfood visits Cafe Levain (MSP) - Great Short Rib

Jfood decided to try new restaurants this week and his first choice was Café Levain. He understands that this used to be a high end restaurant but changed its MO and is now more mid-level. For those of you who have never been there, be aware that the address is South Chicago but the entrance is on 48th.

The inside feels like a combination of colonial America and a French Bistro. Along the center of the ceiling are three long bars to which the overhead lighting fixtures are attached. The fixtures themselves are candle type indirect lighting giving the Colonial feel. There are also spotlights along two of the walls as well as wall fixtures on back wall. The open kitchen gives plenty of extra light. There is also a private wine tasting room off the back.

There are ten 2-tops, 11 4-tops and a larger round table. There are also 2 bars, one overlooking the kitchen w four seats other with six seats

On a cold December evening there were four tables occupied at 7PM. The menu is small menu and is very similar to the one on the website.

Jfood ordered the onion soup for an appetizer and the short ribs for his entree. His waitress explained that he would also receive one side so he ordered the mushrooms. The onion soup intrigued him since it was listed with St. Pete’s Blue Cheese and he had never eaten onion soup with that type of cheese.

The waitress brought three slices of bread and butter. The bread was not heated (it would have been a nice touch) but the butter was nicely softened. The bread was fairly tasteless as well as the butter.

Onion soup -
When the waitress brought the onion soup Jfood smiled and stared. Vertically embedded in the cheese were a half a dozen thinly sliced onion rings. They were nice and crispy and salted. The best word to describe the soup is bold. The cheese was bold the beef broth was even bolder. There were very few onions to be found, which was a disappointment. Jfood thought the cheese and broth fought a major flavor battle and the palate was the collateral damage. It was just too much together with no balance.

Short Rib –
Now onto the great news. If you are looking for a short rib that will knock your socks off, Levain is your place. They served one large boneless piece. The meat is perfectly cooked (although on the first attempt was not as hot as Jfood would like so he asked for it heated a little more), the flavors are outstanding and the size is perfect to fill you, but not bloat. Jfood slowly sliced each piece, and just closed his eyes while chewing. You could feel the love that the chefs placed into the meat along with garlic and other spices. The garlic background was perfect, and the other flavors blended perfect. And the mushrooms were quickly sautéed, maintained their crunch and were divine. Jfood had found Short Rib Nirvana.

So for the short rib alone, Jfood would wander back to Café Levain for a second attempt, but he would stay away from the onion soup.

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  1. I find it interesting that you found the bread at Levain problematic. The bread comes from Turtle Bread Company and in my experience is always solid. So unless their head baker left, and given her inclusion on the team the US sent to Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie,i assume that the owner would want to keep her and that we would assume would have heard about her departure in the papers somewhere or maybe from Dara M-G's blog or some such.

    8 Replies
    1. re: frittering_away

      The bread does come from Turtle Bread, and I don't believe Solvang Tofte has left (at least they still have her newspaper writeup framed and prominently displayed in their bakery), but I often find that it is less than fresh by the time I get it at Levain. I have to agree with jfood's third person opinion. I wish the bread there was better-- but as CG reminds me, they do serve softened salted butter-- so we've got that going for us.

      1. re: cheeseguysgirl

        interesting in that jfood's butter was unsalted. jfood prefers salted.

        on the way back to his car he almost went into Turtle for a take-away dessert for the hotel. Is this a good idea? any recos?

        1. re: jfood

          Their desserts and pastries are quite good. I recommend the croissants and the marquise cake, especially.

          1. re: jfood

            In a word, yes.
            We end up having to export at least a dozen chocolate Croissants to DH's friends in Indiana every time we go or face a mutiny upon our arrival.

            I'm not fond of their cupcakes, something about the icing bugs me. The pumpkin bars however are very tasty.

            1. re: jfood

              It's a great idea-- their cakes are delicious, especially the marquise cake (agreeing with Jordan as usual)-- the only problem is they don't sell it by the slice- the smaller size I think is 12.99, and is good for 4-6 people-- it's incredibly rich, fudgy, melting in your mouth.... really good. Worth getting at the beginning of one of your weeks, if you have a fridge at your hotel. If not, the Opera and Triple Chocolate cakes are good second choices.

              1. re: jfood

                If jfood likes ice cream and it happens to be open (winter hours are shorter), I'd recommend getting something at Pumphouse Creamery (in a crowded field, my wife and I consider it the TC's best ice cream).

              2. re: cheeseguysgirl

                How odd. Typically we don't remember to go to Levain despite it's proximity,so I can't say that I remember if the bread was off.

                I know that it has never seemed off to me at other places restaurants, like Heidi's, so I'm curious how they manage to less than fresh bread when the bakery is right next door.

                1. re: frittering_away

                  That does seem supremely ironic, I know.... but we go often. I love the food there, I just know to not expect good bread.