The first thing to know about Joan’s in the Park is that it is not in fact in a park. The only park-related space near them is their parking lot. One of the owners, who serves as the maitre d’, is named Joan but the second half of the name comes not from some bucolic setting—they’re across the street from a Domino’s—but from the fact that they’re in the Highland Park neighbourhood of St. Paul. They opened there in 2011, the proprietors having met while working in other restaurants in the Cities. Their food is in the general “New American” genre—which means you can expect to see a bit of everything. We’ve been meaning to eat there for a while but only got around to doing so a couple of weekends ago. We were joined at this meal by another couple who we’ve eaten with before. Between the four of us we ate a goodly portion of their current menu. Herewith my thoughts.
The restaurant is not over-large. As per their website they seat 40—I’m not sure if that includes patio dining when that’s on the go (in the third week of October it was not). The interior is compact but pleasant. There is a small bar and two dining areas separated by a half wall. The tables have white tablecloths on them but are not all as far away from each other as you might like. Our table was ready when we arrived—a rare occasion when we’ve not had to wait around for a while in the Twin Cities—and our first order of business was to order cocktails. These were uniformly very good. We had the folllowing: Lovers’ Old Fashioned (made with fig-infused bourbon); Cocchi in the Rye (Rye, Cocchi Americano etc.); Endless Summer (Cazadores, aperol, marmalade etc.); Martinez (Tattersall gin, Carpano Antica etc.). I got sips of them all and liked my Cocchi in the Rye best. Drinks in hand, we perused the dinner menu.
That menu is now presented primarily as a four course prix fixe, not including dessert. There is also an a la carte option but presumably you’d have to ask for a separate menu: prices for individual dishes are not marked on the menu that is presented. The menu reads well and we managed to order four separate dishes in every course without coming to blows. In addition to reading well the dishes were also attractively presented—though there is a bit too much of the “massive plate with a tiny bit of food on it” aesthetic. Alas, they were not uniformly successful or interesting when put in the mouth (the plates are not easily shareable but I got tastes of everything).
What did we eat?
Service was a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the atmosphere in the restaurant is genuinely warm and we liked our server who was personable and well-informed on the menu. On the other hand, it took a long time to order drinks, even longer to order the food, and quite long again to order dessert. The drinks and food themselves came out quickly once ordered, but it took some sitting around and looking for our server to get everything in.
Price: all of the above plus a glass of rosé, tax and tip came out to $420 or $105/head. And, frankly, that’s too much for what this meal was. Yes, we liked a fair number of the dishes and nothing was actively bad but there was nothing that I would be in a hurry to go back and eat again. There was also a bit of a split in the success rate, I thought, between the more traditionally conceived dishes and the more creative ones, with the former more uniformly successful than the latter. Based on our experience of the current menu it would certainly be possible to eat an excellent meal: say, walnut tart, organic beets, milled grits, filet mignon. But it would also be very easy to eat a far less than excellent meal. I’d not be pleased at all to pay $105 if the roll of the menu dice had got me a meal where three of the four courses were the chilled lobster, baked apple and corn dumplings.
On the whole the food seemed a bit like Alma-lite but the price was not too far behind. I get that Joan’s in the Park is positioning itself more as a neighbourhood restaurant than as a destination but they’re not charging like it. (Compare to Hyacinth, where we paid $65/head.) I should say that while the others in the group shared my opinion of the overall value, they were less critical of some of the dishes. And, of course, the restaurant is very popular. You may well like it a lot more than I did. And if you’ve been and had that experience (or a response closer to mine), do write in below.
Next up on the food front: two New York reviews and then a return to Keg & Case in St. Paul, this time to eat at establishments that are not In Bloom.