I ate dinner at Grand Cafe in South Minneapolis almost 3 years ago and reviewed it then. I liked that meal fine—especially at the price—even though I noted that the restaurant had no particular identity. Not too long after that the identity of the restaurant changed entirely. The owners sold it and under new chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson the restaurant moved in a haute and French direction. Not too long after that Anderson moved to the Bay Area to head the kitchen at Coi, leaving Malone solely in charge. The local reviews were strong when they were both involved and continued to be so after his departure. However, local reviews in the Twin Cities are always strong for high-end openings, especially from local darlings like Malone and Anderson—the local media had seemingly been waiting breathlessly for them to open a restaurant for a few years before their Grand Cafe debuts. Between our skepticism of local hype, the high prices and the fact that we’d not been particularly impressed by our meals at Sea Change when Malone was there, we weren’t in a huge hurry to go take the measure of the changes at the current incarnation of Grand Cafe. We did finally get there this past weekend, however, and I am now kicking myself for having waited that long. Yes, it was a very good dinner, probably the best high-end meal we’ve had in the Cities recently.
On my visit in 2016 I did not make it inside the restaurant: we ate outside on a summer evening. I have no idea if the current version of Grand Cafe (I don’t mean to imply that I think there will soon be another) has sidewalk seating as well, but it was certainly too cold for it last Saturday night. We were seated inside but I obviously cannot give you any sense of how the interior has transformed. I can tell you that there are three dining rooms. The first is the most informal: a few small tables and booths right by the bar and open kitchen (and one two-top by the window right by the host’s station that I would not like to be at). Past this is another dining room that looks attractive but also seems a bit cramped. And in the rear is what I think is the room they use for private dining reservations. We were very happy to be seated there as there were only three tables in the whole large space and we had a very large one to the four of us (we were joined by friends we eat out with often). This was, however, the darkest room in the restaurant and it’s not like the rest was very bright either. All of it was rather loud, between the sound generated by us diners and the music, which seemed entirely unnecessary.
Beyond the darkness and the noise, it’s an attractive space; our only other complaint—spontaneously shared with me by a few others in line—is that they have but the one large gender-neutral restroom (which has both a commode and a urinal; can’t imagine they’re used at the same time very often); it would be much better if they remodeled it into two smaller gender-neutral restrooms.
All this talk of toilets probably has you wondering what we ate. We got at least one thing from every section of the menu and we got things to share.
- Island Creek Oysters on the Half Shell with Seaweed Mignonette…3.50/ea: We started with one each of these. The oysters were nothing to write home about but the mignonette was very good.
- Grilled Oysters with Shallot Cream and Black Pepper…3.75/ea.: We got one each of these as well. The shallot cream was very good but once again the oysters didn’t make too much of an impression. Still, we preferred the cooked version to the raw (which is unusual for us).
Salads & Appetizers
- Endive with Bandaged Cheddar, Pecans and Smoked Apple…11.00: Despite being billed as an endive salad this plate seemed to be far more about the other elements, served together in a little boat of baked dough. Very tasty though.
- Raw Hokkaido Scallop on Pommes Paillasson with Soubise and Dill…10.00*: The scallops were not as sweet as we would have liked but everything else on the plate was excellent (pommes paillasson=ultra-fancy tater tots).
- Beef Tartare with Boquerones Mayonnaise and Caper Berries…15.00*: This was rather good with the breaded and fried boquerones working as an excellent textural contrast and complementing the tartare very well in terms of flavour.
- Pork Pâté en Croûte with Savora Mustard, Celery and Onions…18.00: Also very good.
- Roast Chicken with Bacon Aigre Doux, Sweet Corn and Braised Bacon…28.00: We had wanted to get one each of the four individual entrees but they were out of the trout that’s on the current menu. This was a bit of a surprise as our reservation was for 8 pm, which is hardly the end of the service. We therefore got two orders of the roast chicken and when it arrived we were very happy we had done so. The chicken itself was cooked perfectly, with a layer of confit meat between the breast and the crispy skin. But the highlight on the plate was the bacon aigre doux. This was served with a sweet corn soufflé which was also very good, if slightly redundant (i.e the chicken didn’t really need it).
- Poached Eggs with Leeks, Roasted Mushrooms, Walnuts and Beurre Rouge…26.00*: This, I am sorry to say, was just okay. It was tasty enough but not very interesting and the eggs were over-cooked: the yolks were far from runny.
- King Crab Stuffed Jidori Egg Omelet with Shokupan Toast…35.00: The crab did not make a huge impression here but the omlette was very good and the sauce was even better, mopped up with the milk-bread toast.
- Poached Leeks with Sauce Gribiche…7.00: This was probably a bit superfluous but was very tasty in its own right. Why superfluous? Well, because none of the mains particularly called for it or went harmoniously with it.
We were rather full and so split two desserts between the four of us. This was a good decision as the desserts are rather large.
- Brown Butter Apple Galette with Vanilla Ice Cream…7.00: This was excellent.
- Bourbon Baba with Tonka Bean and Chantilly…9.00: My first bite, which was rather dry, was not promising but the rest was properly drenched in bourbon (which one, I don’t know) and the whole ended up being pretty good.
We washed all of this down with a bottle of rosé to start followed by a bottle of cinsault. And we had a few half-pours of sherry with the dessert.
For a look at the space and the food (plus some more comments on it), launch the slideshow below. Despite the darkness, I managed to take decent pictures on my dslr with the ISO cranked up, with my Android phone on the Night Sight mode as a backup. Scroll down for thoughts on service, the overall experience and value (it was not a cheap meal).
I have already indicated my reservations about the darkness and noise-levels above. I will also note that the service was not entirely to our taste. Many of the staff had a stand-offish air to them that did not seem entirely organic—I guess what I’m saying is that some of them seemed like they were trying to perform being staff at a haute French restaurant, but it just didn’t go well with the feel of the place. This was combined with our server’s over-enthusiasm for describing the menu. This ranged from “explaining how the menu works”—you’ll be shocked to discover that the hors d’oeuvres are small, the appetizers/salads a bit larger, and the entrees the largest—to then describing pretty much every dish in detail even though we had not asked. A query about wine was similarly not met with convincing responses (even though it’ a very edited list) and we were given recommendations only on the high-end.
And it was not a cheap meal—though I do think the prices are a little lower now than when the regime change first happened. Yes, we ordered a lot and drank two bottles of wine plus some sherry between the four of us but after tax and tip it came to about $110/head. In comparison, our recent meals at In Bloom and Hyacinth came to $72/head and $65/head respectively. Now, the cooking at Grand Cafe is at a level above both those places—we enjoyed both those meals a lot, especially at In Bloom, but both of those meals fell largely in the comfort food end of the spectrum; they were done well but they featured big flavours and easy-to-like plates. The cooking at Grand Cafe was more sophisticated and the dishes far more thoughtful and intricate. We didn’t love everything but it was all executed very well. But $110/head still seems a bit much (even before taking the curse of Joe Beef into account). It’s true we paid roughly the same amount for our last meal at Spoon and Stable but that’s a much nicer space (and I think I’d take the cooking there over Grand Cafe, though not by much).
Still, we liked it enough to want to come back once a year—the menu doesn’t change so very often, seemingly. And I would recommend it to anyone looking for a place for a special dinner (though you might want to make sure you don’t get seated behind/beside the hostess). They also do lunch and brunch but I have no clue as to how those menus compare to dinner. If you’ve been, please write in below.