In Bloom, Again (St. Paul, MN)

We really enjoyed our dinner at In Bloom this past March and had been talking about going back ever since. Well, it took six months but we finally kept our promise to ourselves. We had dinner there again this past Saturday with a few friends, two of whom had been with us at that first dinner. I was curious to see how the restaurant is doing. The current menu on their website is quite pared down from what we saw in March and I noticed there was absolutely no game on it. I had been under the impression that game was part of their signature—and I’ll admit that part of my strong desire to return was due to having missed out on the roasted leg of venison in March. I hoped therefore that it, and perhaps other game dishes, might make an appearance as specials. Well, it turned out that there were some deviations from the website menu at the restaurant but there was no game of any kind and indeed no specials. It was a fine meal anyway. Details follow.

Our previous reservation had been at 9.30; this time we sat down at 6.30. It was a lot brighter outside in late September than it had been in March and the interior of the restaurant seemed a lot more well lit too. Our memory—and the photos from my first review bear this out—is of a fairly dark restaurant. On this occasion, however, it was positively bright. The main dining room was quite full as was the bar—we were seated at a six-top in the upper area, overlooking the main dining room and the wood fires of the kitchen. Perhaps because we were not in the larger dining room, the restaurant also did not seem as loud as it had been in March. As old people we enjoyed all of this.

Having sat down and rested our weary bones and discussed the young kids and their crazy rock and roll music for a bit we turned to the menu. First, drinks. I was very pleased to see that the Scofflaw, a standout cocktail special at our last visit, was now on the menu. I got one of those to start as did the friend who’d had it the last time and from whom I’d stolen a sweet, sweet taste. The only other cocktail we remembered from the menu in March was the Florodoro and nobody was tempted by that this time. One member of the party got the pineapple daiquiri (very good), another got the Vin D’Orange (good) and the missus got the Mezcal (very good). Details on components can be seen in the cocktails menu in the slideshow below. The sixth member of the party got a glass of pinot noir. Somehow we didn’t drink very much at this meal: I got their house Negroni to follow a bit later (very nice) and my friend who’d got the daiquiri doubled up, but everyone else rested.

Okay, food. As usual, we got everything to share. These being people we dine with often there was zero friction. Then again, this is what all toddlers and dictators like to believe. We started with the mussels, a very different iteration than the dish we loved in March. This one was in a green sorrel and coconut milk broth. The broth was excellent (though the bread we’d ordered to mop it up with didn’t arrive till much later) but the mussels were rather tiny and sad. The seasonal special salmon tartare was fine but didn’t really make much of an impression on me. Much better were the fire-roasted chicken wings with a Szechuan-inflected chile sauce (these are three to the order and so we got two orders).

We followed these with the selections from the “Vegetables” section. There were four dishes there and we ordered all four. Towards the end of the meal we realized only three had shown up. Being full then we didn’t ask for the fourth and were glad to see it wasn’t on the bill either. Which were the three that showed up: a crisp radish salad with lettuce and buttermilk dressing (good but lighter on the radish than I’d expected would be the case—it was more like a green salad with some sliced radish on top); a grilled fennel salad with ricotta and pea shoots (very, very good); the roasted mushrooms with taleggio over socca, a chickpea flatbread (this was excellent; we got two orders).

On to the “Plates”. First, the chicken thigh over barley-leek risotto was very good indeed though the chicken was I thought the least of what was on the plate; this was quite a large portion. Then the gnocchi a la Romana. The gnocchi was singular (should that be gnocco?), a large piece, almost alu tikki’ish in size, and was just fine; however, the corn veloute it was floating on and the pork sugo sitting on it were both dynamite. Finally, a large piece of slow-cooked salmon covered in shaved king trumpet mushrooms and sitting on a hazelnut vinaigrette. The salmon was cooked perfectly and the vinaigrette was very good; the mushrooms made no impression.

And from the “A la carte” section we got just the one dish: the pork belly. The pork belly at our previous dinner had been a major highlight. Like that one, this version was cooked with Asian accents, served with nuoc cham and Thai basil. The belly was cooked very well but the dish as a whole suffered in comparison to the previous. I also regret having let the server talk me into ordering two of these on the grounds that we might not have ordered enough. As it happens we were all quite sated by the time the second plate of this came out and a huge piece of fatty pork belly is not the easiest thing to finish when you’re full (though we did manage). Oh yes, the bread (miche) is also listed in the “A la carte” section for some reason. It was good but would have been better served up top and available to sop up various sauces with.

Desserts. Their selection remains compact: three on the menu plus a special. From the menu we got the Coconut Panna Cotta with lime curd and roasted pineapple (very good); and we got the special toffee pudding (quite good). A couple of French press coffees and we were done.

Launch the slideshow below for a look at the food and drinks and another look at the space. Scroll down for thoughts on service, to see how much it all cost and what we thought of the value, and for some holistic thoughts.

Service was friendly and informed and reliably present. The missteps were the forgotten order of the broccolini and the misjudgment of our order resulting in one pork belly dish that was strictly speaking surplus to requirements.

What did I make of it on the whole? Well, it was a good meal but it didn’t thrill me as much as the previous. The baseline was solid and nothing was close to bad (though the tiny mussels were unforgivable) but the highs didn’t get as high as they had in March. There was also a bit of a presentational sameness: almost everything seemed to be covered with a heap of greens. And it was also hard to figure out the effective difference between the “Plates” and “A la carte” dishes. Everything in the “Plates” section was large enough to be one person’s main course—including the gnocchi, which our server also tried to talk me into two of but which was easily shared by 6—whereas none of us could imagine anyone without a death wish eating an entire order of the pork belly on their own. I will also say that while everything tasted good the meal didn’t seem to have as clear of an original identity as our first one had. A few dishes aside, I could imagine being served most of this at a number of places in the Cities. Still, as I say, it was a very good meal on the whole and we’d be happy to come back again next year—especially if that venison leg comes back on.

Cost: all of the above food and drink plus tax and tip came to almost exactly $75/head. Not cheap but pretty good for a meal of this quality in the Cities. Recommended if you like meat-centric meals with the note that the vegetable dishes are highlights as well.

I was also happy to see on our way in and out that the Keg and Case complex as a whole seems to be doing well. While some of the merchants seems rather niche (and were not busy) others were doing solid business both when we arrived and when we left after 9 pm. The establishment that caught my eye in particular was Pimento Jamaican Kitchen. I think we’re going to have to visit them very soon.

Up next on the food front: a couple more New York reviews from our August trip.

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