The opening of Keg and Case, a high-end food hall and market in the old Schmidt Brewery premises in St. Paul was one of the big events in the Twin Cities food scene last year. And the excitement ramped up when the space’s anchor restaurant, In Bloom finally opened towards the end of the year. A new venture by the team behind Corner Table and Revival, In Bloom features local produce and game, almost all of the menu being cooked over giant wood fires. Indeed, I believe the kitchen has no other source of cooking heat. We’d heard good reports of it from colleagues and had been looking forward to eating there. And this past weekend we finally got around to it. We descended upon them late on Saturday in a large group and ate rather a lot of the menu. Here is how it went.
This was the first time at Keg and Case for all of us. And late at night on the heels of a very snowy and cold February is probably not when it offers the best first impression. The neighbourhood was particularly desolate and the parking lot was an ode to grey snow and ice. And, of course, most of the vendors had closed down. Still, the look of it on the inside was very enticing indeed and we agreed that we needed to come back during the day in the spring (if it ever arrives) and explore further. In Bloom, however, was very far from being desolate. It was packed—Twin Citizens do seem to be eating out later these days than they were a decade ago—and the energy of the room was high. We got there a little early for our 9.30 reservation but our table was ready and so we sat down right away and got down to bidness.
While figuring out our food plan of attack we got cocktail orders in. Two members of the party got the Scofflaw, two got the Prince of Wales, and two got the Florodoro; I got their Old Fashioned (the eighth is a teetotaler, in case you’re counting). My Old Fashioned was a bit too sweet for my liking and the Florodoro seemed more like a poolside drink for a summer day than to accompany the menu at a restaurant like this one. The Prince of Wales was very good but the showstopper was the Scofflaw (I was afforded sips of everything). It’s not on the menu on the website but if they have it when you go, I recommend it highly (details on cocktail ingredients are in the slideshow captions below).
And now, the food. The menu is divided into sections for “Seafood”, “Birds”, “Vegetables” and “Venison”, with small and large plates in each section. In addition, there is a section for larger plates meant for sharing. In practice, however, the best approach is probably to get everything to share. We managed to do this with a party of eight without getting multiples of too many things and without any ensuing unhappiness. Though I must admit unhappiness did make an appearance early on when we learnt that they did not have their whole venison leg that night (this may be a danger of eating late). But we recovered. What did we get?
- Mussles (sic), Goan chorizo, celery, créme fraiche. We got two orders of this and man, were we glad we did. This was just excellent. Perfect mussels, perfectly cooked in a wonderfully tasty broth.
- Pheasant Boudin Blanc, Porcini veloute, beech mushrooms, puffed wild rice. Designed as a large plate but lends itself to very easy sharing among a group. All of this was very good.
- Duck Hearts, Butter, garlic, chervil. This is a little harder to share among eight people as there are six duck hearts to an order but we coped. It is cooked and presented a la escargot and I recommend it highly as a starter for a group—it almost worked like an amuse for us.
- Butter-basted Poussin (for two), Potato rosemary stuffing, black truffle. Another large plate that makes for easy sharing, this was just dynamite. The chicken was roasted perfectly and the stuffing was excellent.
- Cocoa Scented Backstrap, Chestnut, shallot, bacon, mole. Just great. The venison was cooked to a perfect medium rare and there wasn’t a thing on the plate that was out of place. The mole will not scratch a hardcore Oaxacan itch but as a sauce for the venison it is very good indeed. We got two orders of this.
- Tartar, Preserved lemon aioli, egg mimosa, pistachio, cracker. Also wonderful. The bright acidic notes of the lemon aioli set up the earthy pleasures of the meat just right. My only complaint is that I would rather have spread the tartar on toast than on the provided cracker.
- Grilled Broccolini, Romesco sauce, garlic chips, almonds. The broccolini was fine, the romesco was excellent.
- Roasted Carrots, Whipped ricotta, thyme, fennel pollen. I think some of the group were indifferent to the carrots but I rather liked them, especially with the whipped ricotta.
- Roasted Mushrooms, Buckwheat polenta, L’Adarre Reserve cheese. The mushrooms were very good but man, the polenta was the star: it was almost my favourite of everything I ate.
For the Table
- Pork Belly, Fermented black garlic sauce. Just excellent. Tender meat, melting fat, crispy skin. The fermented black garlic sauce turned it into an unexpectedly excellent Chinese dish.
- Charcuterie Plate, Rotating charcuterie and pickled vegetables. Now this I was less enthused by. Frankly, the meats were all unremarkable (so much so that I can’t even remember what they were). Much better were the olives, capers, marcona almonds and especially the grain mustard.
- Bread Service, Rosemary potato loaf. The bread was good for sopping up the sauces of the various dishes we got in the first wave. The butter was very good but I forgot to ask what exactly its story was.
I’ve listed the above by where they show up in each menu section but we got the charcuterie plate, the mussels, the duck hearts and the tartare to start (along with the bread) and everything else came after. With only five of us drinking past the round of cocktails we got a nice Gamay to accompany the meats (details in the slideshow)—we would have got a second bottle but see the comments after the slideshow to see why we didn’t.
They only have four desserts on the menu and we figured we’d get one of each. However, one of the four was sold out (eating late is indeed dangerous) and so we settled for the other three.
- Hickory Nut Tart, Smoked hickory nut, sorghum, apple butter mousse. Quite good.
- Chocolate Cremeaux, Hazelnut praline, whipped creme fraiche. Very good.
- Coconut Risotto, Grilled spiced pear, cashew streusel. Blah.
For pictures of the space and the food and drink please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service, to see what it all cost and what we thought of the value proposition.
How was the service? Well, our server was very friendly and very well-informed about the menu. I suspect, however, that either because it was late on a Saturday or because they might be a bit under-staffed he was run a bit ragged. His check-ins got spread out more and more as the meal went on and we ended up not ordering a second bottle of wine as a result. We couldn’t find him or get his attention when we were ready and when he did show up we were almost done with the meal (though one member of the party did get another wine by the glass). I will also say that the larger plates could have been spaced out a little more. The table got very crowded very fast and it would probably have been better to get what we ordered (before dessert) as three courses rather than two. And the person (not our primary server) who brought the charcuterie plate over, rattled off what was on it before we even knew she was doing it and took off at a high speed before we could ask her to repeat it. I note these issues because they happened but I will also note that none of them came close to ruining our evening.
As for cost, it was both rather reasonable in the abstract for “fine dining” in the Twin Cities and a very good value for what it was. After a couple of coffees, tax and tip, it worked out to $72/head. That’s quite a bit cheaper than we paid for our meal at Martina last fall—a restaurant that comes pretty close to In Bloom in terms of an aesthetic. It’s also quite a bit cheaper than our last meals at Alma or Spoon and Stable. And if you weren’t ordering as much as we did or drinking wine (they also have a good beer selection) you could probably get out close to $60/head.
As you will not be surprised to hear, I recommend In Bloom highly. Indeed, we’re already talking about going back to try other things on their menu—especially that venison leg. We were told the menu will be changing with the seasons so if any of what we ate particularly grabs your fancy you should get over there soon.
Coming up next: the last of my London reports and then the last of my Bombay reports. But if the weather this weekend spares us more snow/ice I might have another local Indian restaurant report next week as well. Stay tuned!