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Boston Chowhounders Visiting the Twin Cities, Looking for Suggestions

My wife and I will be in the Twin Cities over Valentine's Day weekend to attend a Saturday wedding. Friday night, though, we're free and are excited about going out to eat, either in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

We'll be staying at the Radisson University Hotel in downtown Minneapolis but we'll have a car so getting around shouldn't be a problem. Both of us are adventurous eaters and enjoy all manner of food as long as the ingredients are top notch and the meats natural (preferably organic).

Does anyone have any suggestions where we should go? Any Twin City favorites or establishments that are always good? All suggestions welcome, whether it's for a hole-in-the-wall ethnic gem or a old school tried-and-true fave.

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  1. Some great places to check out in Minneapolis: 112 Eatery, Cafe Lurcat, Corner Table, Brasa (also in St. Paul) Garden's of Salonica, Obento-Ya, Sanctuary, Sea Change. I'm not as familiar with the St. Paul side, but the one place I really enjoy over there is Meritage. Hope this helps!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Reservationsforone

      Does anyone know the deal about the meats used at Meritage? Nowadays I only eat natural, sustainable, humanely raised meat, and I'm not sure whether Meritage fits the bill...

      1. re: mtullius

        http://www.meritage-stpaul.com/food.html

        there is a blurb about some of the meats at the link. I'd recommend calling is you have a specific question on a menu item.

    2. Lord, I am afraid I am going to sound like a broken record because I always recommend these places but...

      On the St Paul side:
      1) Ngon Bistro. Vietnamese - kind of fusiony cuisine. All natural, local, organic meats. Great local beer list (ask about the special beer, there's always something local on cask). A little more upscale than your basic hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese place. Although there are some fine more hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese places in Mpls and St Paul- I don't mean to disparage them!

      2) The Strip Club Meat & Fish. Grass-fed, local steaks prepared very well, offered with a number of sauces but you don't have to get them or have them on the side. Nice fish too. Small plate to share are a fun alternative to entrees here. But I wouldn't miss out on the steaks. Great cocktails, homemade bitters, digestifs, etc. Tiny location with a great view of downtown St Paul. Must make reservations for a Friday night!!!

      3) Brasa. There is also a Minneapolis location. Much more casual. All local, natural, organic chicken, pork. The pork is slow-roasted and sublime. Sides are great too. Southern/Latin American/Caribbean style food- plantains, beans and rice, grits, masa corn cakes, collard greeens, etc.

      In Minneapolis,
      1) Alma Restaurant. Same chef/owner as Brasa, Alex Roberts. More upscale. Has a tasting menu, changes seasonally so I don't know what's on offer right now. But it will be good, I promise! Reservations.

      2) Lucia's. Lucia Watson is one of the Twin Cities' pioneers of using locally-sourced products at her restaurant. Small, cute space in Uptown neighborhood. There's also a wine bar.

      Hope you have a good weekend and enjoy some of the great restaurants we have here!

      2 Replies
      1. re: turtlebella

        Brasa is highly recommended!! I always tell my wife this is the place I would take out of town guests that won't drill a gaping hole in their wallet. Their slow roasted pork with the lime/ginger aioli is fantastic. Yams with andouille, collard greens with smoked turkey and the cornbread are must haves, making my mouth water as I type. They also have rotisserie chicken, spicy braised beef and pulled chicken with cream and poblanos as meat options. And please, while you are in town, you must try a pint of Surly beer. Furious is the IPA, pairs wonderfully with the meats at Brasa!

        Strip Club is also a must hit. I have only been there once but I am still thinking about the strip steak I had. The small plates for sides are a refreshing twist on the usual sides you are offered at steak places. Must get reservations like turtle said.

        Cafe Lurcat in Loring Park (Minneapolis) is also a very nice option.

        1. re: turtlebella

          Lucia's is a great place that doesn't get enough mention.

        2. I would point you to one of the restaurants that reflects what makes the Twin Cities unique, namely access to high quality meats as well as a powerhouse Vietnamese restaurant scene.

          With that in mind, my recommendations.

          Heartland

          Typically, the chef builds a daily menu around what he can get in fresh. The Valentines weekend tasting menus are built around the habitat of the featured proteins and dairies. The ambiance is simple and lovely, reflexive of the Craftsman style, and the service is top-notch. You will need a reservation.

          For Vietnamese, I'm a bit torn between the best fit for your stated interests, and recommending my personal favorite. So I'll go with my heart and recommend Quang, which is the centerpiece of the Twin Cities Vietnamese dining scene. Excellent food from top to bottom.

          That said, I wouldn't dissuade you from visiting Ngon Bistro, where Vietnamese meets an emphasis on local ingredients. I found my meal there a bit clinical, but I can vouch for the excellence of the pork dishes, which feature meat from Fischer Farms, an outstanding local producer.

          Jasmine 26 and Hoa Bien are excellent options as well.

          1 Reply
          1. re: kevin47

            Heartland, in fact, features ONLY local ingredients on its menu (as far as I understand). And that makes it unique, not only here, but I'd imagine, just about anywhere.

          2. I'd also recommend Craftsman-- all local and natural meat and great ingredients. Of particular note is the amazing charcuterie plate (appetizer), with house-cured meats. It's remarkable.

            1. As a frequent visitor to MSP, jfood would rate "special places" as follows:

              1 - Alma
              2 - Meritage
              3 - Craftsman
              4 - Heidis
              5 - Bar La Grassa

              5 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                Alma is excellent - I'm dreaming of the warm lentil and duck confit combo I had there this past weekend.

                Bar La Grassa is excellent as well. I've been there a lot recently and I can't wait to go back.

                1. re: St Paul Susie

                  Do you believe that duck lentil dish? It was over the top fantastic. Jfood followed it with the sweetbreads which were outstandinf and then the duck 2-way, not to Alma standards..

                  At BLG have you eaten the pork tenderloin with a side of polenta...mucho great

                  1. re: jfood

                    BLG - I usually get the Lob/egg and then 2 small pastas. I can live without the secondi side of the menu there.

                    I'm returning to Alma this week - Planning on the lentil/duck confit combo again. I've had the duck 2 ways and I just don't enjoy sausage at all. I've had a similar entree at Meritage and again it would have been fine w/out the duck sausage.

                    To the OP - Sea Change is great - but coming from Boston I'd recommend something other than seafood - you have much better places to choose from.
                    (which I can say confidently having lived there for eons)

                    1. re: St Paul Susie

                      it was VERY hard going to the right at BLG in lieu of another 2 pastas, but the pork and the polenta is top 10 in msp. just some food for thought. eather may really screw up plans this week in your town.

                      1. re: jfood

                        FYI - Alma just updated their menu and the duck/lentil combo is no longer with us.

                        But it's ok.... there are other things that sound fab.

              2. First, your hotel isn't in Downtown Minneapolis, it is on campus. If you have a car you will be fine, but you won't be able to walk to anything downtown.

                With that said, you are in walking distance to a lot of bars and pizza. I think the standout is Stub and Herbs. They have tons of beers, mostly local or regional. Worth checking out for the beer, but not really the food.

                Across the street from you is a decent Chinese place called Village Wok. You will find mixed reviews on here. I really like it as do many students. It is open late, which may be helpful after the wedding.

                Otherwise, listen to everyone else. Heartland, Ngon, Brasa, Strip Club, Alma, etc are all really good choices.

                2 Replies
                1. re: churchka

                  Yup, you're staying in Stadium Village (on campus near Dinkytown), not downtown. In the morning, get thee to Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown - but expect greasy-spoon-diner theater. For a quick/close lunch, I recommend Jasmine Orchid on Washington (Vietnamese - great Banh Mi sandwiches) and Keefer Court on Cedar (Chinese bakery - I love the curry beef buns!). If you want a 1.5 mile RT walk, head towards St. Paul to Cupcake Bakery (tomato-basil soup and any cupcake with a filling). Otherwise, I second what other posters recommend.

                  Anne

                  1. re: AnneInMpls

                    I second the rec to go to Al's Breakfast for breakfast one day (if you go on the weekend, expect a wait). I think Anne is underselling it a bit-- it LOOKS like a greasy-spoon diner type place, but the food is several cuts above what that usually means. Al's is gourmet greasy spoon, and I doubt there are more than a handful of places like it in the country. I've never had a better pancake anywhere, and I know from my wife that the various egg scramble thingies are wonderful too. And there's the people-watching....

                2. As an aside, we would all love it if, after you dine, you report here. Being told that I am right never gets old.

                  1. Outstanding suggestions, everyone. Gad, only one night to dine and all these possibilities!

                    kevin47, indeed I will report back. I always enjoy reading the follow-up to these sorts of suggestion posts so sometime after that weekend I'll let the board know where we ended up and what our impressions were.

                    But let's not consider this thread done. If others want to weigh in, by all means do so.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: lescaret

                      Lescaret, I am a pragmatist: If you are near the University of Minnesota and if you are indeed in the Twin Cities with only 1 night for food....then I would not spend that time at the places near Stadium Village. Some of these places within walking distance are o.k. and would be fine choices if you were here longer but you are not. Instead, I would suggest either finding one restaurant that exemplifies good, local, organic Minnesota food or positioning yourself in a geographic location where you can sample a few small bites at restaurants that are interesting or just see a cool neighborhood. From visiting Boston, I know that Boston has a much better variety of French and Italian bistros than Minneapolis-St. Paul and you have great seafood there of course. Meritage, which was mentioned above, and other French or Italian places are great, but you have similarly great food in these styles in Boston, I say, play to our strengths. So here would be my suggestions:

                      (1) Restaurant Alma, upscale but friendly vibe, warm environment--maybe my top suggestion
                      (2) Lucia's (as others noted) Underrated. Both Alma and Lucia's have path-breaking chefs.
                      (3) Heartland. Yes, this is tucked away in a St. Paul neighborhood. But it is really, really local, and really was pathbreaking as well for its focus.
                      (4) Corner Table--you would really need good directions to get here. It is in the Minneapolis city limits--but tucked into a neighborhood and not close to your hotel. You could even call and find out if it would be possible to do the kitchen/chef's table at Corner Table. I am not sure how much that experience would cost but it would give you an intimate experience at one of the local, sustainable restaurants in the Twin Cities.
                      (5) If you do want to do the sampling of small dishes, like appetizers, at various restaurants. You could position yourself near downtown, and walk among 112 Eatery (difficult availability for a Friday night), Saffron across the street, and perhaps take a very short drive to Bar La Grassa.
                      (6) If you want to see the area of the city that I think is especially beautiful for visitors, then have dinner at Sea Change in the Guthrie Theatre. Take a walk on the Endless Bridge (a public bridge at the Guthrie that overlooks the Mississippi--and is indoors), where you can see the old milling complexes.

                      1. re: Northsideguy

                        I've done the Kitchen Table at Corner Table. By far the best meal I have ever eaten. The chefs continue to create (at their own inspiration) and serve you courses (along with a beer or wine pairning for each course) until you say enough. It was an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it. The cost is $125. We made it to 17 courses (13 of which were paired with beer/wine). We beat out Rick Nelson - who only made it to 11 courses...check out the story here:
                        http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/...

                      2. re: lescaret

                        If you are in Stadium Village, Restaurant Alma is a relatively close choice and has been my favorite restaurant in MSP since my first visit ~2 years ago.

                        Highly recommended.

                      3. Thanks again for all the great suggestions. My wife and I decided on Heartland, where we went Friday night the 12th. They offered a fixed price menu of three options: Forest & Prairie, Rivers & Lakes, and Farms & Fields (the vegetarian selection). All three offered an amuse-bouche, a first course, second course, cheese course, and dessert.

                        The short version? Fantastic! What a fine restaurant, and what a terrific dining experience we had. The word that kept coming up for my wife and I was "balance." Each dish, regardless of the mix of ingredients, seemlessly came together in a balance of flavors. For example, the vegie amuse-bouche of white bean puree w/ candied sweet potato and hazelnut tuile was magnificent, as was the (also vegie) winter squash lasagna w/ braised kale, buttered leeks, preserved chanterelle mushrooms and tomato coulis (the second course). Lovely diverse tastes that, in the mouth, blended together beautifully.

                        Standouts? In addition to the above mentioned, the second course of the Forest & Prairie was a beef tenderloin w/ cultured foie gras butter, caramelized crimini mushrooms in a port wine sauce. Though it sounds somewhat standard, there was a glory to the sauce, slightly sweet with a rich depth that really enhanced the very beef-flavored beef (not at all a benign bland filet one sometimes gets in lesser caring establishments).

                        The first course of the Forest & Prairie was also fabulous; grape wood smoked poussin (chicken leg & thigh) w/ preserved cranberry poultry glace & fingerling potatoes roasted in rendered duck fat. Loved it!

                        My cheese course came with a slice of Scotch Egg, something I'd never had before; it was a wedge of hardboiled egg encased in a spicy sausage 'crust.' The shaved slice of Roelli Cheese Co 'Dunbarton Blue' paired nicely.

                        Finally, though I'm generally not a dessert person, I confess to going weak at the knees upon tasing the dessert that came with the vegie meal: Roasted Iowa chestnut pot de creme w/ a sorghum chantilly cream topping. OMG. My wife and I clashed spoons over it!

                        The only complete miss was the first course for the Farm & Fields menu: A "cognac-fortified caramelized sweet onion soup" that, as near as we could tell, wasn't at all fortified and was actually weak and bland. Salt sort of helped but didn't save it. But that was the only thing that was only mediocre. Everything else was exquisite.

                        The restaurant itself is unremarkable to behold from the street (it's across from a gas station convenience store a few blocks down the street from the St. Cloud Broiler, a classic old diner-like grill joint of no particular distinction). Inside, however, it's beautifully done with simple light wood, an open dining room, and a view of the chefs.

                        My wife and I compared it favorably with a similar restaurant in the Boston area, Craigie on Main, an establishment that, like Heartland, is committed to using local provisions to craft a highly creative and superbly-executed menu. All you Twin City Chowhounders, if you come to the Boston area make reservations at Craigie on Main and enjoy a wonderful dining experience.

                        Finally, Yes, we went to Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown. It was everything that was said in this thread: quirky, small, busy, and delicious. We lucked out and went around 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning and waited only a few minutes before the very last two seats at the far end of the counter opened up. We scored them and, because we were already all the way against the wall, didn't have to shift down as everyone else did at one point to accommodate a new group. Later on, when we left the nearby bookshop around 10:30, we noticed that the line at Al's spilled out the door and sputtered down the sidewalk. We're psyched we went early and got to experience it!

                        My wife's whole wheat pancakes w/ blueberries and walnuts (recommended to us by the young man sitting beisde us) were light and fluffy. My dish of poached eggs on homemade corn beef hash was delicious too.

                        So thank you all for your opinions & suggestions! Consider these two Bostonian eaters well-guided and well taken care of. And both of us highly recommend Heartland, that place is a real gem.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: lescaret

                          Thanks for reporting back. Sounds like you had an outstanding meal...I may have just found where I'm going to have dinner tonight!

                          1. re: lescaret

                            So glad you tried and enjoyed both Heartland and Al's -- two very wonderful, if very different, Twin Cities gems!

                            1. re: lescaret

                              Thanks for the report - Stay for longer next trip!

                              1. re: lescaret

                                thanks for taking the time to give us such a thoughtful review. glad you enjoyed yourselves.