Yes, it’s a great time to be dining in the Twin Cities.
So far, 2017 is showing itself to be a year that has launched an innovative and potentially influential number of restaurants, some from established talents, others from auspicious up-and-comers.
The range is impressive. There’s an expertly run French bistro with a beauty of a bakery. A different spin on French cooking, from a well-respected culinary couple, is lighting up south Minneapolis. A Texas-inspired barbecue joint is a welcome addition to the region’s nascent BBQ scene. A stylish quick-service spot just might redefine that increasingly popular genre. Oh, and the lights are back on at a pair of beloved dining venues.
Looking ahead, there’s also a promising list of projects in the pipeline.
How did chef Gavin Kaysen follow up his four-star Spoon and Stable? By doing something completely different. He turned to a historic downtown Wayzata property — once home to the Blue Point, and, long before that, the groundbreaking Chouette — and launched an homage to his mentors, French chefs Daniel Boulud and Paul Bocuse, serving scrupulously rendered French bistro classics. Kaysen’s two properties do share some crossovers. The stylish setting is the work of Shea, the Minneapolis design firm that put Spoon and Stable into a zillion Instagram images. S&S pastry chef Diane Yang works her considerable magic in a spectacular all-day bakery, and Spoon bar director Robb Jones runs a highly drinkable cocktail program. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday, bakery Tuesday through Sunday, brunch weekends.
739 Lake St. E., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com
A venue this beautiful was never going to remain dark forever, it was just a question of when, and who, would take on the former La Belle Vie. The answers: a few weeks ago, and Kenwood chef/owner Don Saunders. He’s reserving the patrician dining room for private events and dedicated the dreamy lounge (sensitively and smartly renovated by Smart Associates, the Minneapolis design firm) as a bar/cafe. The menu features a Twin Cities rarity: caviar service, with five options (two domestic, three foreign) ranging from $25 to $135. The cheese and charcuterie selections demonstrate discernment, and they’re supplemented by more than a dozen small and not-so-small plates, plus fashion-forward desserts by pastry chef Jo Garrison. The bar focuses on classic cocktails, and seven sparkling wine options are available by the glass. Dinner daily.
510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-315-5841, 510mpls.com
After several years of trying to get their dream restaurant, Brut, off the ground, master technicians Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone recently picked up another project. Hurrah. They’ve given a slight but charming makeover to south Minneapolis favorite Grand Cafe, but the real change is coming out of the kitchen, where Anderson, Malone and chef de cuisine Alan Hlebaen are preparing an eclectic and instantly appealing array of contemporary, French-inspired dishes. Yes, the Tennessee-raised ham, served in parchment-thin shavings and so precious it’s priced by the ounce, is definitely worth the investment. Don’t miss the duck egg dumplings, the daily raw fish preparation, the perfect pea salad or the divine little chocolate pot de crème. Lovely, personable service. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260, grandcafemn.com
To say that the revived Lexington is better than ever doesn’t do justice to its current state because, let’s face it, the landmark St. Paul restaurant wasn’t ever much of a culinary paragon. But that’s changed under the kitchen leadership of chef Jack Riebel, who has deftly brought the country-club essence of Grand Avenue’s grande dame into the 21st century (his sublime, three-sided take on smoked lakefish certainly ranks as one of the year’s top 10 dishes). Riebel and co-owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald invested upward of $5 million into a top-to-bottom renovation, and this much is true: the Lex has never looked better (it’s especially lovely to see the clubby Williamsburg Room, long a private-events space, opened up for general use). Next up: a rooftop patio and bar. Dinner daily.
1096 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-289-4990, thelexmn.com
This highly appealing newcomer is proof positive that sharp, sensitive cooking can also be accessible and affordable. Founder Anne Spaeth has an excellent sense for culinary talent. Chef Shane Oporto is working in a far different environment from his last gig — he was the final chef de cuisine at La Belle Vie — and he’s excelling in the fast-casual format, offering rotisserie meats (try the leg of lamb), garden-fresh salads and gorgeous savory tarts. Spaeth also had the smarts to recruit pastry chef Katie Elsing, and partner with the Bittercube folks to run the imaginative bar. The wide-open, great-looking space is destined to make the place a people magnet, as will the surprisingly affordable prices. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
2640 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-2640, thelynhall.com
We should all thank Black Sheep Pizza chef/owner Jordan Smith for finally turning his hobby — Texas barbecue — into a counter-service restaurant and takeout haunt. All those eating tours through the Lone Star State have obviously paid off, because Smith has a real sense of what’s what. The brisket is an object of rare beauty, the spare ribs bear an intoxicatingly smoky nuance and the juicy, blackened-skinned chicken is sold in three sizes (go ahead, get the whole bird). Smith’s sides are similarly well-prepared (the potato salad might possibly be the city’s best), and for dessert, there are slices of expertly baked pies, from Rachel Swan of Pie & Mighty. There’s a great beer list, too. Dinner daily.
16 1/2 W. 26th St., Mpls., 612-353-5525, stormkingbarbecue.com
Four more to keep in mind
After several years of farmers market and pop-up situations, fans of the first-rate output at Rise Bagel Co. (530 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-354-3349, risebagel.com) can now satisfy their cravings at a convenient brick-and-mortar location. Sing hallelujah.
Two former Piccolo chefs took over their boss’ former space, renamed it Tenant (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-8111, tenantmpls.com) and started cooking casual, six-course ($50) dinners, wisely borrowing the pay-in-advance ticketing system pioneered by the vanguard Travail Kitchen & Amusements.
The tiny storefront that was the longtime home of Ristorante Luci is now Bar Brigade (470 S. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, barbrigade.com), and the work of pros J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly is a model neighborhood restaurant: cozy environment, appealing French tavern-style menu, lovely cocktails, decent prices, super-nice people.
Finally, at good-looking Jun (730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-208-0706, junnorthloop.com), what’s remarkable can be summed up in four words: all-day dim sum.