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Dec 5, 2011 11:12 PM

Washington Ave.

Friend of mine just moved to Washington and Portland in Minneapolis, which seems to have a few places that don't get much chatter online. Anyone have a recent report for Sanctuary? Zen Box Izakaya? I heard that Spill the Wine has a new chef, Craig Johnson. Thoughts?

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  1. I went to Santuary a few months good. Very good meal. I think I had a sea bass that was very well prepared. I can't remember what Mrs FH had, but I remember that she enjoyed hers as well. Overall, it was a very good meal, but not on the level of Bar La Grassa or Meritage, for example. But I'd say definitely worth exploring.

    First and only time at Spill the Wine was 2 years ago, and it was perhaps my worst dining experience in the Twin Cities since I lived here, about 9 years now. Everything about the meal experience was bad. Frankly, I don't understand how this place is still in business. You said they brought in a new chef, so might help the food, but the space was terrible (went in winter, and every time someone opened the door, a blast of cold air came in - I'm not soft when it comes to cold, but I had to eat with my coat on; no other tables were available); the service slow (timing of plates was off); the wine list was very slim for a place that considers itself a wine bar; and the meal was very expensive - about $100 for 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, and 2 glasses of wine, any of which I could have either made better or found better for cheaper elsewhere.

    I've been curious about Zen Box.

    1 Reply
    1. re: foreverhungry

      I checked out Zen Box Izakaya a couple times last month. Once for lunch and once for dinner. Over the course of the two meals I have the white rice, pickles, and chicken kara-age lunch set for lunch and crab korokke,short ribs, age dahsi tofu, grilled rice balls (saved for breakfast) for dinner (along with a couple of japanese beers, the tap asahi is great).

      I enjoyed the lunch best of all. A nice variety of flavors. Weirdly the pickles came first, without rice so you couldn't eat them with rice a typical Japanese thing. The way the rice comes in the lunch set makes it difficult to eat, the sauces un-sticky the rice so you can't pick it up with chop sticks and it's not ina bowl so you can't pick it up and scoop like you would in Japan. The gyoza have that wield overly hard texture some places give them, I like a bit more chew in the noodle wrap. But overall nice and a bit more calming than fighting the crowds and parking for the skywalk location.

      For dinner I was less impressed, fine good atmosphere. As I ordered a few small plates, I should have ordered a bowl of rice and none was suggested so the overall experience was a bit lacking. They were out of the fried oysters so I substituted the korokke, again the weirdly hard fried crust, not tender as I would expect a hard to eat as you couldn't really break it up with chopsticks.

      People having the noodles seemed to be enjoying them.

      Overall much better than Wasabi (nearly across the street) so I would think about stopping it I were in the area... However I'm really digging Masu right now (Had the Wagu beef burger set dinner last week, wow) and since I'm usually driving around for lunch anyway my go to places are Masu and Obentoya (If parking were better I would add Origami) as it's easy to get in and out and park.

      In the end, much much better than

    2. Sanctuary is a marvelous restaurant, IMHO. I've dined there probably a dozen times at this point and organized a dinner for 40 at one point. The co-owner Michael has great attention to detail, the chef is both solid and whimsical at the same time, the staff is a pleasure -- personable without being overbearing. I highly recommend.

      As for other restaurants on Washington in that region, Wasabi has VERY respectable sushi, even though its atmosphere isn't quite up to some of the other sushi places in town (although another poster recommended Masu, I had rather bad sushi there the one time that I tried it -- poor quality tuna (tuna!) and less than impressive other dishes -- it's got buzz, just now, and maybe I was unlucky, but the food was below average for sushi in the Twin Cities).

      Kindee on 2nd St. is nice Thai -- unpretentious, and fast carry out, too -- Sawatdee is, alas, less good -- I can't recommend it. Sea Change at the Guthrie is very solid (the oysters are always amazing) if perhaps trading a bit on its location for its pricing. Spoon River is run by Brenda (I forget her last name, darn it) who is a well known restaurateuse in the Twin Cities advocating strongly for locavore principles -- she used to run a vegetarian place called Cafe Brenda that was very, very good, although her current restaurants tend all to have non-vegetarian options, too, now.

      Izakaya has only been open about six weeks now, I think, so a bit dangerous to draw any immediate conclusions. Fun and informal -- somewhat more adventurous, or rustic, Japanese dishes than your usual sushi/habachi place.

      Spill the Wine is a funny place -- it's got some of the most scathing reviews I've ever read on various rating sites, and a poster to this thread properly notes that in the winter they've got the worst designed front door I've ever seen, but it can be ok for a less formal but still nice meal, in my experience. The wine selection has variety, some of the go-to dishes are solid, and it's got a lively feel. With a new chef, people might want to give it a second chance. My experience with the prices isn't as high as foreverhungry's post, which may reflect a newer menu/pricing.

      Also, another poster mentioned Bar La Grassa (much further towards the Warehouse district). That, too, is a restaurant with serious buzz right now. However, my girlfriend (who is Italian) and I refer to it as Bar La Garlic. If you don't like garlic (Northern Italians barely use it...) you're in trouble. We once asked what on the menu did NOT include garlic and after long thought the waitress suggested that one or two of the desserts might be free of it. I'm afraid that we haven't been back -- personal taste, of course.