What's new in restaurants? Who better to ask than our regular food and dining correspondent Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, senior editor of Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, where she writes restaurant reviews as well as other stories. Dara is here to fill us in on the newest developments.
Tom Crann: First, what is the overall new restaurant scene like right now in the Twin Cities? Are there a lot of new restaurants opening?
Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl: There are! Not quite so many as in the go-go years before the Great Recession, but a respectable number have opened. I think we can talk about six interesting ones in three minutes, if we move fast.
Tom Crann: Thirty seconds a restaurant. Let's go.
DMG: Big news of the season? Unquestionably: The Butcher & The Boar; 11th and Hennepin in south Minneapolis, 65 high-end bourbons, craft small-batch beers, and meat, meat, meat — two-pound chunks of 24-hour smoked beef rib, house-made wild boar ham, and the glitziest house-made foot-long hot-dog in modern history.
Tom Crann: I'm almost afraid to ask, but what makes a glitzy foot-long hot dog?
DMG: A pretzel bun from famous local baker Salty Tart, a family recipe for the pepper dog, and generous heaping portions of house-made Cajun chow-chow, peppers, and cilantro.
Tom Crann: And how much is a glitzy foot-long hot dog going to set me back?
DMG: Nine bucks! But if you want to spend more, add a $27 shot of 14-year-old Wild Turkey. And actually, good luck getting in. Butcher and the Boar got a four-star review from the Star Tribune last week, and I waited an hour for dinner at 9 o'clock on a Tuesday night before the review came out. So make your Valentine's Day reservations now.
Tom Crann: Is it that good?
DMG: I'm not actually sure. The chef, Jack Riebel, who was at the Dakota and before that Goodfellow's and La Belle Vie, is that good, but some of the dishes I've thought were flawed, burnt fries, overly sauced ham, I think the kitchen is struggling against the tsunami of local desire. Are they the restaurant of 2012? It's looking like it's their crown to lose.
Tom Crann: Okay, Butcher and the Boar. What else is big news?
DMG: Seafood. The Oceanaire relocated from their longtime spot deep inside the Minneapolis Hyatt hotel to a street-front space on Nicollet Mall. My ten-second review: Eh. The oysters and signature prestige seafood cuts like fresh swordfish steaks are still the best in town, but a lot of the new menu items strike me as a pretty girl wearing a Carmen Miranda hat. Too much fruit, too much sauce, too much, too much. Still great oysters though!
Tom Crann: And Minnesota hasn't been known for its oysters.
DMG: But it may soon be known for its lobsters. Let's wrap this up with two big trends. First beer, then lobsters.
Tom Crann: Beer — we've heard a lot about beer this year.
DMG: And you're going to hear a lot more. Beer continues to be the major trend. Three new beer-focused restaurants have opened up, Harriet Brasserie and George and the Dragon in South Minneapolis, and the Devil's Advocate, in downtown Minneapolis.
Tom Crann: And how are they?
DMG: So far, they're all striking me as pretty average, with great beer. Harriet Brasserie and George and the Dragon: Nice places if you live in the neighborhood, but don't travel across town if they're not in your neighborhood. But the Devil's Advocate, that's something weird and different.
Tom Crann: Uh-oh. Something weird.
DMG: Yes. Have you ever thought: I really wish a restaurant would only serve meatballs. Or actually, protein balls. Vegetarian balls as well. I really wish a restaurant would serve only protein balls.
Tom Crann: No, I've never thought that.
DMG: Well, if you're out there in radio-land thinking, I've thought that: get yourself to Devil's Advocate now. All they have is protein crafted into balls. That would be falafel, salmon, chicken, pork, and beef; and sauce, like marinara, mushroom gravy, or yogurt sauce. You fill in a little order-sheet with grease pencils, and they bring you the protein-balls and sauces of your choice.
Tom Crann: And how are these spheres?
DMG: Yes, spheres. With the word balls lofted about so often it's hard not to have the situation at table devolve into a sort of Beavis and Butthead routine, which I think is actually much the point. You know, the spheres. The spheres are fine. I thought the beef with marinara was the best. The beer list is spectacular. Interesting choices that you can't find anywhere else downtown, like a sour cherry wheat from Green Bay, Wisconsin's Hinterland.
And now I'm running out of time for the lobster report--the next big restaurant to open in Minnesota is going to be our first food-truck turning into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, as a Smack Shack, the lobster-roll truck, turns into a 200-seat restaurant on Washington Avenue in the Warehouse district. There will be lobsters in tanks, lobster boils, beer from locals like Fulton Brewing, and fried chicken.
Tom Crann: That sounds very summery.
DMG: It is, and it will be a nice way to get the taste of summer going, once food truck season starts. And this is what we're going to be looking at in the fall, I think too. The food truck World Street Kitchen just announced that they're putting a quick-serve restaurant at 28th and Lyndale. Chef Shack, the first of the great trucks, is flirting with a fall brick-and-mortar restaurant opening too.
Till then, though, the new taste of Minnesota 2012 is: Boar, beer, lobster, and spheres.
Tom Crann: Boar, beer, lobster, and spheres. That's very memorable. Thank you, Dara.