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A few days in MSP, looking for some suggestions

I'm a fairly eclectic foodie, but trend toward healthier dishes, and love veggies and fish over everything else. (E.g., my favorite cuisine is high-end Japanese and sushi, although I dabble in Ethiopian veggie patters, and love a grilled fish, etc.)

I wear two hats, the snob hat, but also the open, culturally diverse hat, if you know what I mean. ;)

Anyway, I'll be in MSP for three evenings, and also have time for two lunches. I will be dining solo.

Off the top of my head, I was thinking La Belle Vie, since that seems to be the highest-rated restaurant, but do you think the chef would be okay modifying the tasting menu to no meat, and, would it be weird to go solo and just...read?

One other night I have for the Bachelor Farmer, since my guess was that that was the most regional. Good idea/bad idea?

One more night I'm totally open?

Two lunches, not a clue, but I'm feeling either vegan/vedge stuff, Ethiopian, and/or Vietnamese?

Thanks in advance!! Price is not an issue, although prices in MSP seem very reasonable in general anyway. I notice that there does not seem to be a Japanese-run sushi establishment, so I'm steering clear of that scene.

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  1. Vegetarian here.

    I think Bachelor Farmer has a single veg entree. I've never been because they don't cater to me at all.

    LBV is the most formal dining room in the city. You can get the same food in their Lounge, however, so might be more fitting to dine solo / read there. I don't know about having dishes modified.

    I've heard great things about Borough, but not sure if they can skew veg either. I understand they have some great fish too.

    Alma has enough veg dishes to choose your own 4 course tasting and has won a James Beard award (or two, I forget). Also do fish.

    For an interesting ethnic adventure, The House of Curry is a Sri Lankan restaurant about 20 minutes south of Minneapolis. Otherwise St. Paul has many Asian restaurants on University Ave. Depending where you're from, you may not have access to Vietnamese or Hmong food. Can you get Pho where you're from?

    1 Reply
    1. re: american_idle

      I'm from Philadelphia so pho central. Tons of veggie options in the city if you get there. Must try Vedge.

    2. I haven't been to La Belle Vie in a few years, but when I went, I went with two vegetarians and they had a tasting menu option for them. I don't see it on the website now, but hopefully someone else can chime in with more recent information.

      I'd also consider dining at Saffron and the vegetarian tasting menu at Heartland.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jaycooke

        I would never suggest the vegetarian menu at Heartland. $7 of (uninteresting) food for $35 and you'll leave hungry.

        Saffron is another good suggestion. I hear great things about Corner Table as well (again, haven't been).

        Most of the top restaurants in MSP can do something for you (I've emailed with most, most are happy to do it given some notice, harder a la minute). I thought LBV might just be too formal. Almost everywhere else is come as you are.

        Haute Dish does a veg tasting on Sundays only.

        Hmong Village and Midtown Global Market are great suggestions too.

        1. re: american_idle

          La Belle Vie isn't necessarily formal. A suit isn't necessary there.

          1. re: Jordan

            I talked to the LBV host when confirming my reservation and they didn't bat at an eye at my request. I'll be wearing a suit for fun anyway. ;)

      2. "MSP" covers a fair amount of square mileage, so it's hard to know where exactly you'll be, but if you can make your way past the river to Saint Paul, it would be fun to visit one of the Hmong markets.

        There's one northeast of downtown ("Hmong Village") and one northwest of downtown ("International Hmong Marketplace"). Both have a flea-market format with clothing, videos, and household goods, and both have informal food courts with a variety of Hmong versions of fresh and prepared southeast Asian foods.

        Another choice, closer to downtown Minneapolis, is Midtown Global Market. It's not so much that the food there is unique, but (I'd say) most of it is quite well executed and it's fun to stroll around and make a meal of maybe an Asian appetizer, Mexican main course, and a Salty Tart pastry. Plenty of references on CH as to vendors and specialties.

        1. Fantastic Vietnamese (/French fusion with local ingredients) food: Ngon Bistro. Also a superb local beer list, if that's of interest.

          My favorite Ethiopian/East African food: Flamingo.

          Both of these places would make great lunch destinations.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mtullius

            Ngon looks great. I'm a little confused, as they say they can make "vegan" pho but when I look at the online menu it's said to be made with oxtail and bones (for the broth).

            Flamingo also looks outstanding!

          2. Thanks so much all! I'm staying at the W which I believe is downtown Minneapolis. Truth be told I'm a little concerned that the weather will be so cold as to make waiting for cabs a pain. Is über available?

            5 Replies
            1. re: dndicicco

              No, Über isn't legal in Minneapolis.

              1. re: Jordan

                Yes, Uber is legal here: https://www.uber.com/cities/minneapolis

                (You're probably thinking of Lyft, which was only in St. Paul, until this week).

                1. re: jaycooke

                  Hmm. The news has been reporting that Uber is operating illegally in the city limits, and that they've received some fines and tickets as a result.

                  1. re: Jordan

                    Again, you are confusing Lyft and UberX with straight-up Uber: http://www.startribune.com/local/blog...

                    Lyft and UberX have users use their own cars. That is not currently legal in Minneapolis (but is in St. Paul). Uber is ok, and quite popular here.

                    1. re: jaycooke

                      Ah, I didn't know there was both an Uber and UberX. That's confusing! Thanks for setting me straight.

            2. Haute Dish on Washington Ave (I'm pretty sure) in Minneapolis does a nice veggie tasting menu on sunday evenings. Grown up midwestern comfort food.

              1. You might consider Fika at the American-Swedish Institute for a lunch if Scandinavian food is interesting to you.

                The other place I haven't seen mentioned yet is Piccolo. Great stuff, kind of a choose-your-own tasting menu. One of my favorite places in Minneapolis.

                5 Replies
                1. re: LiaM

                  Loved Fika. Thanks! Would piccolo work for groups in a business sense?

                  1. re: dndicicco

                    I think Piccolo would work for a small group (4, maybe 6) for business as long as the group members are a bit adventurous in their tastes. It is also one of my favorite places in the Twin Cities, but not really very well suited for less adventurous diners. If you do go, I very much enjoyed the salsify soup and the N'djua agnolotti on a recent visit.

                    Of your other options below, I think Saffron would work well for a business dinner if you wanted a slightly "safer" option.

                    1. re: LauraB

                      One more thought - I just noticed below that you had the La Belle Vie menu without meat. If you are trying to avoid meat, Saffron is a better choice than Piccolo as they tend to have meat in many of their dishes (although I have never tried to ask about modifications...).

                      1. re: LauraB

                        Thanks much! My gut feeling is telling me that Piccolo is the more sophisticated restaurant than the Alma's of the world, but you're right, it's risky and the menu doesn't jump out as doable for me in a broad brush. Saffron looks safe. I hope that's safe and still very good. It'll be challenging going from LBV to something else, since LBV set a very, very high bar.

                        1. re: dndicicco

                          Saffron is very good, and you can manage without meat there. Of the others you've been mentioning, I would probably go with Haute Dish, which has fun elevating old-style Midwestern home cooking.

                2. So a little update...I had a terrible travel day yesterday, so didn't arrive until Midnight. Clearly too late for one of my dinners. I have the day free today (Sunday) and am planning on leaving either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.

                  Here's my plan:

                  Sunday lunch -- Fika @ the ASI -- sounds fun & lite!
                  Sunday dinner -- La Belle Vie -- probably at the lounge, tasting menu. Looks amazing

                  Monday lunch -- still scratching my head here. I'll be solo. I'm a little concerned about Vietnamese or Ethiopian places, as a) I killed myself with a little extra spice from a meal last week, so am in recovery mode, and b) I don't want to wait outside for a cab!

                  Monday dinner -- with clients (business, but fairly casual). I'm wondering Bachelor Farmer (they're not from around here), Saffron, or Heartland? I figure LBV and Piccolo are a little on the fancy/couples side

                  I have to be in St Louis on Wednesday night. I'm not sure if I should leave Tuesday evening or rather do Wednesday morning so I could sneak in one more evening in MSP (I'm rarely here). That said, it seems like the weather channel is calling for snow every day here so not sure if that shuts down the airport or you all brush it off. I have a full day Wednesday to travel.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: dndicicco

                    You'll probably be getting into a cab for Fika, so getting into a cab for good Ethiopian or Vietnamese -- or anything else -- shouldn't be much of an issue except for distance = $.

                    Full disclosure -- I haven't been to any of your three candidates for your client dinner. However, as a frequent reader of this forum, I hear more negatives about Heartland than I do the other two (primarily that they're off their game). It's also farther from the W than the other two. You might want to call each of them, though, and find out if there even will be room for you at your chosen time. Do you want to be waiting an hour or so making small talk with your clients even before you get to a table?

                    As for the weather, the national weather service predicts a 20% chance of snow Tuesday night. The weather always is subject to change, but that tells me it won't be weather which will shut down the airport. And at the W you can always take the light rail to the airport so you don't have to worry much about snow clogging the highways.

                    1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                      Great insights.

                      I have Minneapolis St Paul "Best Restaurants" magazine in my room, which is very inspiring! I had a great breakfast at the W, too, btw.

                      Other options that look fantastic are Alma, 112 Eatery, Hautedish and Ngon Bistro!

                      What is the best Ethiopian in the city? I would want gluten-free injera.

                      1. re: dndicicco


                        I think most people would consider Fasika in St. Paul to be the best Ethiopian restaurant in town. It's my choice. On the Minneapolis side, there's Dilla and Blue Nile, neither of which I consider as consistently good as Fasika, but certainly not duds. Blue Nile also offers live entertainment at times, which might be a consideration for dinner conversations.

                        As far as I have seen, pretty much all of the prepared injera in The Cities comes either from Shega or East African Bakery. Shega bills their injera as teff-only (and, therefore, gluten-free); I'm not sure about EAB; might need to call them. If gluten-free definitely is a requirement, I would call the restaurant you're considering and verify. I buy Shega because that's the brand available where I buy injera (which is across the street from a small enclave of East African immigrants).

                    2. re: dndicicco

                      The problem I have with BF is the noise, it is hard to carry a conversation if they are full. I would recommend 112 or Bar la Grassa but the can be noisy also,

                      1. re: ibew292

                        Very helpful. I'm looking at the Butcher and the Boar, is that foodie approved? The menu looks fun and it seems to have a good-for-groups vibe to it.

                        1. re: dndicicco

                          I don't like the Butcher and the Boar. I seem to be the exception. I would go to the Butcher Block if it is open when you want to go.

                      2. First report, Fika.

                        Love the ambiance and scene. Definitely a cool, hip crowd. Mix of young and old, all well dressed, chic. I had to wait fifteen minutes for a table, which wasn't bad for showing up on the spot at 12 for Sunday lunch.

                        I tried a lot of items, since my server said it's relatively small plates and I wanted to experience the cuisine. The service, itself, wasn't particularly impressive. The pacing of the dishes was haphazard, and they were staff was clearly overworked. They were very brief but friendly.

                        I had:

                        1) Celery root soup -- excellent. Perfect way to start the meal on such a cold day. This seems to be a very popular dish here. Very tasty

                        2) Bibb salad -- nice and sweet dressing. I had it sans cheese to go a little lighter, but the dressing and hazelnuts make the salad. The lettuce was reasonably fresh, but I wasn't 100% impressed on that front

                        3) Brussel Sprouts -- this was supposed to be a small side, but I found it somewhat greasy. I asked them to go light on the sauce. I don't think the Brussel Sprouts were as tender as I would have liked

                        4) Salmon -- nice, light portion (maybe 4 oz). I had it served over lettuce instead of the rye bread since I'm a control freak. I enjoyed the mustard sauce. It was cooked perfectly, crisp outer crust and very pink interior

                        The gravlax looks like the best option here judging from other tables'. Let me add, very good coffee. Diners seemed to enjoy the wine list.

                        1. Report Two. La Belle Vie.

                          Wow. This restaurant is a home run from soup to nuts. Fantastic, old-world service, and perfect French cuisine.

                          I did the Chef's tasting menu and don't eat meat, but that didn't cause them to bat an eye. As you might imagine, the wine list is to die for, and I went with a delicious Brut since I was doing a lot of fish.

                          Here's what I had:

                          1) Amuse bouche - Scallop with a light vinegar. Very light, nice citrus notes. Great palette cleanser

                          2) Bread - two types of olive bread and a rosemary, wheat bread. Two types of butter and olive oil. Good, maybe not great bread course. Odd that they had two olives. The wheat-rosemary was a little strong and the texture was rough

                          3) Squash with Icelandic yogurt - Oh wow, first course was a vegetable course coupled with a Icelandic yogurt. Perfect mix of textures, and I saw they go the hint that I am a health nut

                          4) Smoked columbia river sturgeon with gingerbread crumbles and apple slices -- very light, sashimi-like dish but with the sophistication one would expect from a French restaurant. Out of this world

                          5) Skate wing and poached lobster -- served with olives and a French type of cracker. The lobster was outstanding, and the fish perfectly cooked. At this point I was solidly in foodie heaven

                          6) Ahi tuna and prawn -- solid course, the prawn was very flavorful. The ahi tuna was not necessarily standout, but the sauces brought some interesting flavors to the fore

                          7) Dayboat scallop, spinach crepe, and Japanese eggplant -- the star of the meal. Scallop was succulent, flavorful, and immensely fresh. The spinach crepe was tiny, but packed such a punch of popeye mixed with French classicism. The Japanese eggplant was a nice, modern touch which added my favorite vegetable :)

                          8) Cheese course -- this was three cheese whipped and served between two pieces of a baguette-like toast over an orange marmalade. Yes, as good as it sounds. It basically was a cheese cannoli from Mount Olympus

                          9) Mango sorbet -- palette cleanser, very sweet and refreshing. Served with some apple crumbles

                          10) Chocolate ganache, chocolate cake with caramel center, and a vanilla frozen yogurt ice cream -- Purely rich but not at all heavy, since smallish portion and elegantly presented

                          Everything was great here. Really outstanding meal, and I can see why people consider it the best haute cuisine in between Chicago and LA. To boot, the music is really cool, French staples with a touch of jazzy rock

                          1. Lunch #2 Report. Lotus Vietnamese. Loved it!

                            Saw that this spot was highly rated and very close to the W, so couldn't pass up for a lunch.

                            First off the spring rolls were great. Super flavorful, high-quality rice wrap, excellent, meaty shrimp. YUM. The peanut dipping sauce is perfect too.

                            The Pho is the best I've ever had. I did vegan, so vegetable base, no MSG, extra vegetables and tofu. Was outstanding and very clean. The bean sprouts, basil, lime, and jalapeno was the perfect companion.

                            Servers are super cool (hip even) and pleasant. Everyone is extremely friendly, and the place was hopping but the food came quick, the servers refilled my drinks twice, and there is even a picture of the extended family on the wall! Another interesting note is that the crowd is quite eclectic. You had everyone from the Mercedes driving businessman, the locals, the hard construction workers, the hipsters, etc. Really cool scene.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: dndicicco

                              Thanks for your reports. I have not been to the Lotus for a long time. Will have to get back there - the broccoli mock duck was always a favorite of mine. And the cream cheese wontons, of course :)

                            2. Report #3 Saffron.

                              This is a very good restaurant, but after LBV and even Lotus I did not get the same wow factor.

                              Saffron is very large, and spacious, and the host greeted me graciously. There is a cool bar area, as well as the more formal, but very open-concept dining room.

                              My server was attentive and extremely pleasant, super cool guy. I had to pour my own water a couple times, and they don't do the fancy things such as match your linen to your clothing, but otherwise the staff was helpful.

                              I had a few items, as I wanted to experience something different while keeping it slightly healthy. I was interested to hear about how the Branzino and various items are sourced from Greece! This is real-deal Mediterranean, but with a little flair. ;)

                              Here's what I had:

                              1) Charred Octopus -- very good. Tender inside, crisp on the outside, and cooked in an ever-so lightly spiced olive oil. I enjoyed it tremendously. Decent portion. Reminded me of Kanella back home in Philadelphia

                              2) Garden Salad -- also very good. They offer very interesting salads at Saffron and this was well sized without being overwhelming. Lots of different tastes going on here

                              3) Brussel Sprouts -- cooked to my liking in that they were tender, but the sauce was very heavy with a truffle oil that I found overpowering. I plowed through anyway!

                              4) Seafood Tangine -- Tasty dish, but to be honest, didn't knock my socks off. I'm a big fish eater and enjoy all the textures, which was lost here in the tangine concoction. Don't get me wrong, the seafood was excellent, fresh, good portions, eclectic (shellfish, white fish), and the vegetables in particular were soft and enjoyable, however, everything seemed to blend in a way that lost some of the sophistication of the different tastes but didn't take it up a notch

                              I bailed on dessert, since I felt like a pig at this point! Would definitely go back when craving Mediterranean

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dndicicco

                                Great! I tend to like the small plates more than the entrees at Saffron.

                              2. On my last night here I'm planning on Alma.

                                In consideration is Piccolo and even Heartland, but I think Alma may be a good bet for my fish/veg mantra.

                                I'm going to miss the food here!

                                Going to Saint Louis next, and I have never been that pleased there. Ugh.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: dndicicco

                                  I would recommend Haute Dish over Alma, though this is a controversial opinion. I don't find Alma particularly memorable, though there's nothing technically wrong with what they do.

                                  I have heard good things about Piccolo, but I have never been.

                                  1. re: Jordan

                                    Haute Dish isn't a great option for veg / fish eaters. The usual menu is very meat heavy, although they do the veg tasting menu on Sunday.

                                    1. re: Jordan

                                      Jordan, it looks like we may have an outdated email address for you, and an email we sent didn't get to you. Can you drop us a note at moderators@chowhound.com? Thanks!

                                    2. re: dndicicco

                                      Hey, I just replied to you on the St. Louis thread you opened. I have to travel down there from MSP on a regular basis, and know how bleak it can be.

                                    3. Report #4 Alma.

                                      Started off shaky, but improved and I found the experience a ton of fun. The best reference I have is LBV. Alma trumps LBV on taste and hip factor (obviously), while LBV was a thousand times better in terms of service.

                                      The servers at Alma do too much. They're also drying dishes, clearing tables, even preparing cheese plates! I was pissy when I arrived since things were taking a little too long for my liking, they asked me to move my bag (for some reason that annoyed me, but I was probably just hangry).

                                      Once the plates (finally) started arriving, I was in foodie bliss. I gave them a heads up that I wanted a pescetarian tasting menu, and they were more than happy to comply. They're also big on their wines, but the wines by the glass options are weak.

                                      1) Butternut squash and pesto amuse bouche -- Start big and creative. I'm not a huge pesto fan, but this worked very well and was given another sweet boost with some granny smith apple shavings. I was surprised by the size of the starter

                                      2) Smoked white fish, spinach, and fingerling potatoes salad -- Outstanding. I loved the smoked white fish most of all, and the vegetables were nicely presented

                                      3) Kale and shittake mushroom tempura over a greek yogurt -- This was a very sophisticated and interesting dish, in that the palette of flavors worked well together and the crunchiness of the course was appreciated

                                      4) Israeli couscous, shrimp, and clams -- With a touch of cheese, this was one of my favorite savory courses. The cousous was not really couscous, but a larger type of grain which I absolutely loved. The shrimp and clams were cooked perfectly, which maintained the moistness and in the case of the shrimp a touch of sweet

                                      5) Chili-rubbed scallop with cut apple and garlic sauce -- This was the "beefiest" course, and the scalloped was blackened nicely while the chili sauce added an interesting flavor component

                                      6) Smoked mahi mahi with butternut squash reduction -- This is a crowd pleaser and this point I was feeling full. It's a decent sized portion, maybe even 5 ounces. Can't beat butternut squash in this winter season

                                      7) Apple tart -- This was the only misfire. I think a cheese course would've been more appropriate. The apple was a touch mushy, and the ice cream and macaroon looked plopped onto the plate in a rather unappealing, doo-doo-esque fashion!

                                      I can see why this restaurant is so highly rated, and can envision it appealing to the casual eater as well as the more adventurous type

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: dndicicco

                                        "They're also drying dishes, clearing tables, even preparing cheese plates!"

                                        Right? It can be frustrating but it's the difference between a beer/wine only establishment (Alma) and a liquor establishment (LBV). Liquor's margins afford bar backs and wait assistants.

                                        Sadly, MN's antiquated liquor laws hamstring the shit out of our business owners.

                                        1. re: Foureyes137

                                          Restaurant Alma is a Semifinalists for 2014 James Beard Foundation outstanding service award. I like their service and so do others.......... I guess.

                                          1. re: Foureyes137

                                            We've moved a discussion about liquor sales and restaurant profit margins to the Spirits board. You can join that discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/968443

                                          2. re: dndicicco

                                            Nice job reviewing the restaurants!