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Graduation Dinner--MSP

You fine folks haven't let me down yet, so I come to you again for advice:

I'm graduating from law school next month. My parents will by coming into town for the ceremony, and have told me they want to take me, my husband, my brother, and his girlfriend "somewhere really nice" (my mom's words) for a celebratory family dinner. I've seen a lot of discussion of a lot of fancy places on this board, and I'm trying to decide which one to choose. Note that this dinner will be taking place on a Saturday night, in case it makes a difference as to the menu available.

Limitations:
-price point: my mom's "default" suggestion was The Melting Pot, so I'm thinking that up to $60/person wouldn't be amiss (note that we're unlikely to be drinking, so no need to think about alcohol costs when considering the price point).
-my husband is allergic to shellfish, so please only suggest places with a prix fixe type of menu if you know that they are willing to adjust the menu for diners with food allergies, or if you know that they don't include shellfish in their fixed menu.
-while I'm open to pretty much any kind of cuisine, I would prefer to avoid places that seem particularly fussy unless the taste of the food justifies putting up with the fussiness.

Other than the limitations above, I'm willing to consider pretty much anything! For an idea of the kind of things I'm interested in, I've been considering The Strip Club, Meritage, I Nonni, Alma, Heartland, Craftsman, and 20.12 so far, but I'm definitely open to other suggestions, or help deciding among the ones I've listed so far.

Thanks in advance for your help!!!

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  1. I was lucky enough to have a parental unit in town this past week and got a maternally-comped meal at both Alma and Meritage (seriously, lucky me). At 60pp (assuming you meant tax and tip) you would be nudging right up against your upper limit at alma. the 45 dollar prixe fix menu would certainly allow you to avoid shelfish, and while this particular meal wasnt the most amazing ever, a meal i had at alma about two months ago is likely in the top two or three ive eaten in town, ever. For the second visit in a row the absolute star of the dessert menu was a puding- in feb we had a white chocolate sour cherry pudding that didnt look so good on paper but was absolutely amazing. This time around there was a chocolate pudding with olive oil and sea salt that i finished much to my waistband's dismay - as stuffed as i was i would have eaten another one, or maybe two, given the opportunity.

    Meritage would certainly be under your maximum price range, and has the added benefit of one of my favorite menu designs around. The three dollar amusements are a great way to get the feel of a 12+ course tasting menu, but without having to give up your choices to the chef (if thats not your thing). The lamb bacon was outstanding. For our mains we had the vegetable composition which was really nice and a perfect homage to oncoming spring, the moules frites which are a steal at 18 bucks, nice plump mussels - but i wasnt crazy about the somewhat unidimensional anise broth, maybe anise and i just dont go together - and a lamb special that was as generous as it was delicious. I think the room and location say celebration a bit more than alma, but maybe its just me.

    While i dont think that it is quite as nice (fancy?) as the other two, but The Strip Club would be a good choice assuming you all were up for (down with?) steak - ok they have other stuff too, but mostly not. I think a trip there without a cocktail would almost be criminal, but then again a big steak does sort of scream "law school graduation". Not sure how a party of six would work in that room, given its dimensions.

    Any of these options would sure be better than the melting pot.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tex.s.toast

      Having never been there myself, could you explain what you mean about the dimensions of the room at The Strip Club? Is it fairly cramped?

      1. re: MN Law Student

        its not so much cramped as cozy. it is definitely a small room. there are mostly 2 and 4 tops and a small bar. its not that it would be impossible (and ive always had awesome service at TSC so im sure they would accommodate) but there arrangement of the various 2s and 4s isnt such that one could just slide a couple of them together easily.

        theres also a small loft, which i have not sat in, but judging by its overall dimension im not too sure it has more than a couple of tables in it.

        1. re: tex.s.toast

          I've sat at the loft at TSC and it has about a half dozen tables. TSC is very loud. I wouldn't recommend it if you're trying to have a quiet conversation over dinner on any Friday or Saturday evening.

          I think the addition of 112 Eatery to the list of places under consideration is a good idea.

          Small correction (in case you're trying to do a google search), it's 20.21, not 20.12. And I agree with St. Paul Susie that it's disappointing (I've been for brunch.) It does have the advantage of having a built-in activity, (seeing the museum), but not on a Sat night.

          Alma might be great on occasion, but I've found it disappointing, but still pricy.

          Heartland has never let me down.

          And, yes, congrats!

          ~TDQ

      2. re: tex.s.toast

        I had this same situation 2 years ago, when my husband graduated from medical school! I cannot say enough great things about Fire Lake Grill downtown. As a former caterer and restaurant manager, my bar is high, and they exceeded my expectations. FLG has a private room, which is lovely and feels more "high end" than the menu prices. Their selections are familiar foods (which is important when feeding a crowd of family with different tastes, some unsophisticated), yet the dishes will appeal to the more discerning. The staff was wonderful, competent, and accommodating. We could not have asked for more. Krisitn Holt is the manager, and she was a pleasure to work with. In fact, she helped us make pre-determined menu selections based on our budget, and also arranged having a TV and DVD player (from the adjacent hotel) brought into the room so that we could surprise my husband with a video "roast". An additional bonus is that they are conveniently located downtown, where many of our out of town guests stayed.

      3. All good options on yout list! Don't count out The 112 Eatery...

        1. Great list! and all significantly better than the melting pot!

          Ditto the feedback above about alma and meritage. Since you aren't drinking you should be able to keep it under $60 a head.

          I think a table for 6 at the Strip Club might be a challenge - you'd have to plan ahead! and I firmly agree that a visit there cocktail free might not be the same as the usual cocktail soaked visits!

          I Nonni is always wonderful - however the chef left last week and I haven't heard any updates about the quality etc. I think another chef in the kitchen was promoted. Its a nice room that your parents would feel comfortable in. And they can easily adapt to a shellfish free menu.

          20.12 doesn't seem special enough to me. And the one time I visited I was dismayed at the service and the stench of fried grease on my clothes.

          Craftsman - haven't been in awhile - but I think your other options are more special occasion dining worthy!

          Heartland - I still haven't eaten in the main room despite being around the corner. But I think that would be another great option

          3 Replies
            1. re: St Paul Susie

              I've seen large parties at the Strip Club (and, come to think of it, I've been part of one too)-- no worries. As long as you make a reservation...

              1. re: mtullius

                For what it's worth, that large party that mtullius refers to-- I was in it (he's my husband) and that party at The Strip Club was of 12. Yes, twelve. They will have NO problem with seating larger parties, as long as you have a reservation, yes. But you'd need a reservation for 2 on Saturday night there anyway. So. Don't rule out TSC based on party size.

                What about adding Vincent to the list? I guess the price point would be on the upper end of your limit. But we've always enjoyed it as a special night out/celebratory kind of restaurant.

                If you go to I Nonni, which I have always loved, I would really be interested in hearing what you think, since as St Paul Susie mentions their chef has left.

            2. Congrats, Counselor!

              As a fellow member of the bar, hopefully I can point you in the right direction. Your special day definitely requires some pomp and circumstance.

              The Strip Club is a great restaurant, if you want something fancier than that in the St. Paul area, I'd do the St. Paul Hotel. That's where my dad took me - he bought me a scotch and a steak and I felt very official. Frankly, I was just glad to graduate from Billy's on Grand.

              Heartland is also a great choice in the St. Paul area.

              If you're thinking more Minneapolis. I have also had great experiences at La Belle Vie, and I know (because I have lots of random allergies) that they are very accommodating to that as long as you call ahead. Same with the Chambers Kitchen - I've always been blown away by the quality of food there and they handle my allergies well.

              The real question, of course, is where are you going to get wasted in 4 months after the bar exam?!

              1. I am very much a fan of Alma. We've been there often and it's always been exceptional. The food is excellent, and service is wonderful, but it doesn't seem fussy.

                I would also recommend Heartland. Local very excellent food, very well prepared, excellent service. And the main dining room would be good for a group, I think. It seems like there's a bit of breathing room there. The tables don't seem quite so close together and it seems a little roomier.

                You can't go wrong with either choice.

                2 Replies
                1. re: karykat

                  In your price range, I would definitely do Meritage.

                  I have never had an exceptional meal at Alma. Although it has many boosters, I have had the bad luck to be underwhelmed both times I went.

                  1. re: Jordan

                    I agree with Jordan about the rec for Meritage. Meritage has never disappointed me, and is incredibly affordable for the quality of food and service. Plus, they have a patio!

                    ~TDQ

                2. Thanks for all the great feedback so far!!! A couple additional questions:

                  As far as "fanciness" goes, what kind of dress code would we be looking at for any of these places?

                  And, as far as a reservation goes, this meal will be happening on a Saturday night mid-May (not on a particular holiday though), almost exactly a month from now--how far ahead do I need to make the reservation?

                  For reference, based on all the feedback here and looking at menus online last night, Heartland and Meritage are winning right now, with Heartland having the edge over Meritage based almost entirely on last night's Fauna menu (realizing that their menu changes daily). Actually, with that in mind, how much does Heartland's menu vary from night to night? Is it just specials or the fixed menu that changes, or is it EVERYTHING? And if there are things from last night that sounded amazing, are their chefs ever willing to bring them back if asked in advance?

                  Thanks again for all the help, I love seeing what people have to say about the food around here!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: MN Law Student

                    I think you could get by at any of these places with a "dressy casual" sort of style. I've gone to Meritage and Heartland in both jeans and and a sweater and full business attire (though not at the same time!) and never felt out of place at either.

                    Normally, I'd say you could get away with reservations a week or so in advance, but if its the same night as your graduation, I'd say plan ahead, as things tend to fill up quick on nights like that.

                    1. re: MN Law Student

                      Dress codes (I'll give the male version...you can deduce the female):

                      Meritage: Dress pants and collared shirt. No tie required. On evenings with Wild games or other Xcel events, you might get a smattering of hockey jerseys, etc.
                      Heartland and Alma: Same, minus the jerseys. Add a few ties.
                      La Belle Vie: I wouldn't feel comfortable without a tie, unless I had a collared shirt with a jacket.
                      The Strip Club: I've worn "trendy" casual.

                      As for the menus, don't be afraid to call. I'm not "in" with chefs, but Chef Russo is by all appearances very willing to talk about what goes on in his kitchen. He's a semi-regular poster on some online blogs. I'm sure he'd be happy to answer your questions, accommodate special requests. Similarly, the Kleins are very acommodating, usually personally checking in on tables at Meritage. At the Strip Club, Chef Fratzke will often pop out for a drink with the diners at the bar.

                      Re: the parties of 6+/reservations -- this early in advance, you should be fine anywhere.

                    2. Thanks for all your help everyone--we just made reservations at Heartland and I can't wait after all the wonderful things you've all said about it!