Shocking to no one, I’m not a math major. The check arrives and I stick to a straight percentage on that tip because I suck on a very basic level. No, I’m not proud. However, you don’t need a slide rule to figure out that the amount of restaurants hitting the Twin Cities dining scene is a lot. Count them on both hands: a lot.
The most ambitious project of the year has to be the Brasserie Zentral project inside the Soo Line building in Minneapolis. Chef Russell and Desta Klein of St. Paul’s Meritage have three distinct places and almost all are ready and open. The first to open was Brasserie Zentral: a fine dining, gluten lover’s paradise. You haven’t tasted a schnitzel until you’ve supped on theirs. It’s a gorgeous setting for a date night. Order one of the dishes made for two, like the succulent roast chicken with the mahogany skin. Serving lunch, midday snacks, and dinner, it’s a welcome new spot for taking out of town business clients as well. Do not miss the cocktails mixed by Trish Gavin, either. Elegant and perfectly balanced, these are what they mean when the say “craft” cocktails.
That’s not all. They also recently launched Café Zentral in the skyway. The fresh, beautifully prepared food brings desk-side dining to a new level.
Finally, there’s a third new offering inside this building: Foreign Legion is ready to launch any day now and the space is absolutely stunning. The wine bar is serving by-the-bottle and -glass from a list selected by Nicolas Giraud, who also wrote the wine book of those served at Meritage. With a selection of small plates this place is a renaissance of the wine bar the likes of which we haven’t seen since the ’90s. If you work downtown, or have an event, this is the place to plan a happy hour destination.
It’s not too late to hit the gorgeous patio atop the new Libertine and get yourself a bone marrow luge. The restaurant isn’t the first collaboration between James Beard Award-winning chef Tim McKee and the restaurant group Parasole (they also own Chino Latino, Manny’s Steakhouse, Salut, Mozza Mia, and more.) But, this is the first time that McKee chose the concept and stamped his name on the menu. He’s brought in chef Stephan Hesse to run the kitchen. Hesse and McKee both opened Masu in Northeast and the Mall of America as well. The interior dining room is swank, but comfortable, with plenty of windows along Lake Street to take in the Uptown sights.
The menu is meat-heavy and listed by animal, although there is a little section of dishes prepared with plants or simply “not animals.” Carnivores and whiskey fans will love the bone marrow. Scoop up all the delicious meat jelly and request a shot of whiskey poured straight down the bone into your awaiting mouth. Or stick to traditional eats like their fantastic French fries and char-kissed steaks. Don’t miss the oysters. The cocktail list was written by the one and only Johnny Michaels, who made his name while running the bar at La Belle Vie (and writing the Northstar Bartenders Guild book). The non-alcoholic drinks are given every bit as much attention and layers of flavors as the spiked ones.
If your mood is for something just a wee bit lighter, duck into Marche. This is the third or fourth restaurant (depending on how much you count Parlour that shares Borough’s kitchen) from Jester Concepts that also owns Coup d’Etat. Located in the Lime Apartments on the first floor, they sport a wide-open room with a pretty just-off-Lyndale Avenue patio. The menu is as simple as it is good: sandwiches made with great ingredients, grilled until the exterior boasts a crust that collapses with a deafening crunch. Everything is made from scratch and it’s possible that you will catch chef Nick O’Leary grilling up something pretty inside. Pastries and coffee drinks are perfect for those who live in the building to grab and go in the morning. Soups have a crushed velvet texture and plucked-straight-from-the-vine flavor. It wouldn’t be a restaurant from this crew without some remarkable cocktails. These are entirely batch-made and pre-bottled. What that means for a drinker is consistency, no matter who is working, be it Jesse Held (their top bar man) or a barista. The Old Fashioned is here and it is a dark brown beauty you’d be happy to hang your hat on.
Further down Lyndale, just over the border into Richfield, is the new Lyn 65. It’s run by chef and owner Ben Rients, a one-time sous chef at Restaurant Alma. Everything served here is fresh, locally sourced, and organic without being overly fussy or pretentious. This is firstly a neighborhood spot and its cozy space inside an unassuming exterior is easy and comfortable. On the menu are a few pizzas, a tender braised beef short rib with miso butter, and a crab Benedict that is decadent fun for dinner. Cocktails are once again of the craft in nature and are worth working your way through the menu.
In Seward you might notice that there are a few full bellies wandering out of the Verdant Tea space. When first they opened, this tea house specialized in hand-harvested leaves from specific small, family farms in China. They strive to do for tea what next-generation coffee houses have done for beans, which they have, but the ambitious team wasn’t done there. Although they continue to have brews that have tea nerds losing their minds, they also now have a full menu. Like the man once said: But wait! There’s more! There is now a full bar—boozy concoctions that are beautiful. They use local, craft distilled spirits like Loonshine from Northfield, Minnesota, or Far North Spirit’s Solveig gin from super far North Minnesota. (It’s not just a clever name). Is it possible to have it all? Verdant Tea is certainly trying and their focus on every minute detail thus far has it working out that way. Just order the gravlax rice balls and tell me it isn’t.
Minneapolis isn’t having all the fun. St. Paul’s Payne Avenue continues to get new eateries including Tongue in Cheek. Despite the cheeky name, they actually serve mostly straight-forward recognizable American fare. The steak tartare served on a salt block is gluten-free fun to scoop up. Their success is in the small plates and they have a remarkable happy hour. Order teasers for just a couple of bucks and you can leave happy and full. Each are prepared to the chefs whims and allows for him to be creative. The pork was a play on crunchy, soft, chewy textures. They’ve also got some great fries served with a side of gravy–all the best of poutine without the sad soggy nature that can result.