Rick Nelson is here to answer any and all dining-out questions. Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Where can I have lunch in downtown St. Paul? I’m out of ideas.
A: I’m one of those annoying Minneapolitans (at heart, anyway, despite residing in Mac-Groveland for nearly 20 years) who considers Lowertown part of downtown. You should, too, because my favorite lunch at the moment is within walking distance. It’s the artfully composed poke bowls ($10 to $12) at Almanac Fish, 289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-202-3413, almanacfish.com), served daily from 11 a.m. until about 2 p.m. “Or whenever we run out of rice,” said manager Josh Nelson. The fish couldn’t be more pristine, which comes as no surprise since Almanac is the retail outlet of the Fish Guys, which supplies a long list of top local restaurant kitchens. “We use whatever sashimi fish we have available,” Nelson said. “That always includes yellowfin tuna and certified organic farmed Norwegian Atlantic salmon, and sometimes it’s scallops, or hamachi.” The formula is a glossy version of Poke 101, and the flavors are astonishingly clean and bright: Sushi rice is topped with 4 ounces of cubed fish that’s tossed in a shoyu sauce and topped with a spiced-up miso mayonnaise. Add-ons — produced in the kitchen of the adjacent Octo Fishbar — include kimchi, seaweed salad and Japanese pickles. A nice touch is that Nelson (and, on the weekends, Alex Chase) serves each beauty of a poke bowl in a gorgeous handmade vessel created by St. Paul potter Kevin Caufield. Don’t miss it.
Q: Our date night is Sunday night. Where would you go?
A: To St. Genevieve (5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-4843, stgmpls.com), where chef/owner Steven Brown and chef de cuisine Dustin Thompson create thematic family-style, fixed-price suppers each week, based upon favorite restaurants, chefs and places. Future themes include Havana (Sept. 9, $39), Jeremiah Tower (Sept. 16, $44), Bouchon (Sept. 23, $44), Korean Family Meal (Sept. 30, $39) and Mission Chinese (Oct. 7, $44).
Q: I have my Medicare birthday coming up. Can you give me suggestions for restaurants that have been around for 40-plus years? We’ve been to Murray’s and (the original) Nye’s. Maybe somewhere that does a nice lunch.
A: How about a celebration on the patio at Jax Cafe (1928 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-789-7297, jaxcafe.com)? The restaurant has roots reaching back to 1933, and the patio (sheltered, really charming) has been around for decades. In this same realm, you could head to the (glorious, standard-setting) patio at 44-year-old W.A. Frost & Co. (374 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, wafrost.com). At both restaurants, lunch is more affordable than dinner, and we should squeeze as much out of summer as we can, right? For a side of nostalgia, consider Lindey’s Prime Steak House (3600 N. Snelling Av., Arden Hills, 651-633-9813, theplaceforsteak.com), which has been serving sirloins and hash browns for 60 years in its charming lake-cabin surroundings. Become a member of the restaurant’s Birthday Club and receive a $25 voucher.
Q: We like fixed-priced, multicourse menus. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Book at a table at Corner Table (4537 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-823-0011, cornertablerestaurant.com), where chef Karyn Tomlinson prepares three courses for $45 (and yes, the $7 upcharge for the white Cheddar drop biscuits is worth it). At small-scale Tenant (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-8111, tenantmpls.com), a handful of chefs prepare and serve six courses for $50. Another collaborative chef effort, Just/Us (465 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul, 651-424-1080, justusmn.com), prepares six courses for $45. James Beard award-winning chef Alex Roberts and his crew at Restaurant Alma (528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909, almampls.com) prepare three courses for $62 (pastry chef Carrie Riggs’ desserts are extra — usually in the $10-or-so range — and worth it). And here’s an ultimate kind of experience: On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, chef Shigeyuki Furukawa progresses through 10 courses for $125 at his Kaiseki Furukawa (33 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-338-1515, kaisekifurukawa.com).
Q: Where should we be having dinner in Stillwater?
A: How about a pair of newcomers? Feller (402 S. Main St., Stillwater, 651-571-3500, lorahotel.com), the handsome ground-floor restaurant at the equally handsome Lora Hotel, is where chef Sam Collins concentrates on local, seasonal ingredients at breakfast, lunch and dinner. A few blocks to the north at Pearl and the Thief (112 N. Main St., Stillwater, 651-342-0972, pearlandthief.com), chef Justin Sutherland is taking a Southern approach to seafood at lunch and dinner (and laying on the oysters), and the bar is pouring all kinds of whiskeys.
Q: How about a place for prime rib? No steakhouses, please.
A: On Saturday evenings — it’s part of his continuing transformation and reinvigoration of this enormous restaurant — McKinney Roe (530 4th St., Mpls., 612-545-5863, mckinneyroe.com) chef Scott Pampuch pulls together a prime rib dinner, with popovers. Pampuch offers a different dinner special six nights a week, including a pot roast that recalls his tenure at the former (and pot roast-centric) Modern Cafe in northeast Minneapolis (Thursday), beef stroganoff (Monday), fried chicken with Champagne (Wednesday) and bouillabaisse (Friday).
Q: How about some brunch ideas?
A: That’s easy. Highly favorable brunches can be had at Grand Cafe (3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260, grandcafemn.com, Sunday only), Bellecour (739 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com, Saturday and Sunday), Pajarito (605 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-340-9545, pajaritostp.com, Sunday only), Martina (4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., 612-922-9913, martinarestaurant.com, Saturday and Sunday) and Burch Steak (1933 Colfax Av. S., Mpls., 612-843-1500, burchrestaurant.com, Sunday only). For something more casual — and while the weather continues to cooperate — think about devoting your weekend mornings to grazing through brunch-friendly farmers markets, at least the ones that boast a critical mass of prepared-foods vendors. On Saturday, that means the Mill City Farmers Market (2nd St. and Chicago Av. S., Mpls., millcityfarmersmarket.org) and the Northeast Farmers Market (629 NE. 2nd St., Mpls., northeastmarket.org), and on Sunday, check out the Linden Hills Farmers Market (2813 W. 43rd St., Mpls., lindenhillsfarmersmarket.org) and Kingfield Farmers Market (4310 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., neighborhoodrootsmn.org). Here’s another motivation: September’s apple season also means apple cider doughnut season.
Q: Are there any openings on the horizon you’re looking forward to?
A: Definitely. When it opens Sept. 14, Keg and Case Market (928 W. 7th St., St. Paul, kegandcase.com) will give diners a major taste of the food hall phenomenon sweeping the country. I’m really interested in seeing what a pair of French chefs — David Fhima and Patrick Atanalian — are going to do at Fhima’s Minneapolis (40 S. 7th St., Mpls., 612-353-4792, bistro-373.com); the project is taking over the priceless art deco playground that is the former Forum Cafeteria, and it’s opening (starting with dinner only) on Sept. 28. The folks behind Apoy (4301 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., apoympls.com) are promising casual Filipino fare, and I’m all for that. Martina chef Daniel del Prado is the talent behind Colita (5400 Penn Av. S., Mpls.), which will focus on smoked meats, raw seafood dishes and vegetable-centric offerings from a Mexican perspective. Oh, and the Travail Kitchen & Amusements collective is diving into barbecue with the Minnesota BBQ Co. (816 Lowry Av. NE., Mpls., travailkitchen.com).
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib