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When a restaurant opens in a brand-new five-star hotel, its reputation inevitably precedes it. Now that Mara is open at the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis, guests can decide for themselves whether chef/owner Gavin Kaysen's Mediterranean-influenced restaurant, bar, lounge (and related cafe) matches the buzz. Here's what to expect if you're fortunate enough to snag a reservation and dine out in downtown Minneapolis' newest tower.

Location: 245 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-895-5709, mararestaurantandbar.com

Hours: Breakfast is available from 7-10:30 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 7-9 a.m. Sat.-Sun.; dinner service is from 5-9:30 p.m. daily. Walk in to the bar from 2-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 2 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat. The grab-and-go Socca Café is open Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

Garganelli with lamb merguez ragu at Mara
Garganelli with lamb merguez ragu at Mara

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

The food: There are various ways to experience Kaysen's contributions to the Four Seasons Minneapolis. Mara serves breakfast and dinner daily, and bar snacks, such as cheese-stuffed focaccia ($18) and melt-in-your-mouth panisse (aka chickpea fries, $15), are available in the lounge.

Dinner, which is booked out until August, is the main attraction. Servers advise ordering small plates from each of several categories — spreads, raw and cured, pasta, entrees and sides — to taste one's way through the flavors of the Mediterranean. That can add up, and take time; my dinner lasted four hours.

I tried the hummus, smooth and as airy as whipped cream with a pop from fried chickpeas, which came with a sturdy seasoned pita for dunking ($14); juicy chunks of broccolini that had been charred on the grill and smothered with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and crunchy sunflower seed dukkah ($14); and an unexpectedly unforgettable pasta dish of housemade garganelli under succulent lamb merguez ragù studded with peas and carrots ($30). Servers, friendly and knowledgeable, were spreading the word that the chermoula-spiced chicken is Kaysen's favorite dish; he worked on it with chef de cuisine Thony Yang for two months. It's spatchcocked and deboned, grilled to perfection and lacquered with a pomegranate glaze ($32).

Hummus at Mara
Hummus at Mara

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

Desserts from pastry chef Eddy Dehin are stunning. Riz au lait ($12), a coconut and lime rice pudding with basil ice cream, packs the tropics into one small bowl. Chocolate Decadence ($14) utilizes the kitchen's climate-controlled chocolate room to make paper-thin dark chocolate sails that are poked into dollops of mocha cream. "Looks like a Viking ship going off to sea," a neighboring diner exclaimed as it was set on my table.

At breakfast, you'll find a table spread with pastries ($7 each), so you can make a visual selection; entrees with a hint of the Middle East (shakshuka, bagels and lox with labneh, breakfast pita with merguez, $17 and up); plus a playful spin on sausage — chicken shawarma Spam ($9). Baked-then-fried shards of potatoes with schug aioli are the same at breakfast ($10) and dinner ($12), and are good enough to eat twice in one day.

Across the RBC Wealth Management lobby is Socca Café, a light-filled espresso bar with grab-and-go salads, panini, gluten-free wraps, gazpacho (all $12-$15) and the same pastries as the dining room.

A Jell-O shot garnishes a Negroni-like drink at Mara.
A Jell-O shot garnishes a Negroni-like drink at Mara.

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune

The drinks: Discussions of Adam Witherspoon's bar program will likely start with the fact that there's a Jell-O shot (it's a citrus-shaped garnish for a Negroni-like cocktail called the Cardinale). But it won't end there. Witherspoon, previously of 3Leche, Martina and Colita, has created an innovative cocktail menu ($15 each) with housemade liqueurs that incorporate everything from flowers to hot peppers, and he garnishes the drinks with pizazz — or, in one case, a Jolly Rancher-like sucker sprinkled with pink and purple herbs. Three nonalcoholic cocktails ($10) are crafted from proxy liqueurs made by Witherspoon's 3Leche comrades.

The beer selection is egalitarian — this is a hotel bar — but the wine list by sommelier Paul Hennessy runs deep (glasses are $13-$30). My server advised me that the Lyrarakis Voila Assyrtiko ($13), a white from Crete, "pairs universally," and he was right.

The vibe: Dinner service has a celebratory air, and the sumptuous window-lined dining room's gold-leaf walls and green Italian glass chandeliers illuminate as the setting sun reflects off the building across the street on Nicollet Mall. A rust and sage palette and an Italian-tiled fireplace in the corner bring homey warmth to the glitzy space, which is trimmed with more gold than a Tiffany counter. But a cringey soundtrack of chill-out music won't let you forget that you're in a hotel.

At a five-star luxury hotel, the people-watching is almost as good as anything on the menu. Because there's a mix of spruced-up locals and travelers, conversations about vacationing, hotels and food were easily struck up between tables. The couple seated next to me were at the Four Seasons for a staycation — they had walked to the hotel from their home — and planned to sample the entire Mara menu over three nights.

After dinner, while I was waiting for my car, the valet asked the people ahead of me how their night was. A woman shrugged as she got into a Maserati and sped off.

Getting in: Reservations for dinner are locked up until August, and even then, availability is limited. But the bar/lounge is open for walk-ins, and so is breakfast (and Socca). There are two entrances to the Four Seasons, one under the column-lined portico on Hennepin Avenue, where a doorman will greet you and send you across the lobby, past the front desk, to the glowing Mara lounge. Enter with less fanfare on Nicollet Mall into an office lobby that will take you to the side of the lounge. Valet, in front on Hennepin Avenue, is $10. And you don't have to have a Maserati to take advantage of it.