Myriel opened just about a year ago in St. Paul and has quickly garnered a strong reputation. The chef-owner is Karyn Tomlinson who was previously the head chef at Corner Table in Minneapolis. I have to admit we were not hugely impressed by our one dinner at Corner Table (which closed before the pandemic) but given the acclaim for Myriel we were looking forward to eventually eating there. We were first set to do so in May but those plans were scuppered by a late-breaking positive test among the staff (we ended up at Saint Genevieve that evening where we had a very nice dinner). We got rescheduled to early-mid June and when our friends couldn’t make it on that date we decided to take our boys along for another fine dining outing (which is a development they are hugely enjoying). Here is how it went.
Myriel is located in the Highland Park neighbourhood of St. Paul (also home to Joan’s in the Park). It feels very much like a cosy neighbourhood restaurant, divided into a small bar and a slightly larger dining room, with a table or two on the sidewalk as well. Its reputation and ambitions, however, go well beyond that of being a cosy neighbourhood spot. This is testified to in the coverage of the restaurant and also in the general vibe of the place. It is the kind of restaurant where all the staff seem to have decided before you even sit down that you are going to completely love everything about your meal and more or less tell you so at various points during it. All that seems to be left for you to do is chew, swallow and digest. At the risk of upsetting this system—and possibly some people as well—I am going to tell you what we thought of the meal anyway.
The restaurant offers both an a la carte menu and a more extended tasting menu. The tasting menu is something you pay for ahead of time and it runs $135/head. The restaurant’s website offers no details on what this menu might look like. Nor does it offer any detail on the a la carte menu. This because both menus change often etc. etc. But for some reason the restaurant does not either give you any indication of how much an a la carte meal is likely to run you. As it turns out, the a la carte menu is a far more reasonably priced proposition than the tasting menu. I was relieved to learn this before I made our reservation as there was no way I was going to book the tasting menu. This both because I am wary of entrusting $135/head to relatively unknown (to me) quantities and because the thought of a two and a half hour tasting menu experience at any price now makes my eyes glaze over. But the few reports I read of a la carte meals at the restaurant suggested it was quite a bit cheaper and with a reasonable variety of selections to choose from and so I finalized our reservations.
As we had the boys with us, we were dining early. We got there at 6.15 to find a restaurant that was not quite full. It was busier by the time we left but not yet packed and there were plenty of seats available at the bar. It appeared as though the later seatings were reserved for those getting the tasting menu. We, however, were not getting the tasting menu. What did we get?
We began with an order each of their bread and butter (pain rustique, cultured butter) and a small charcuterie board. Our server seemed to think that a small would not be large enough for the four of us but it was plenty big for two adults and two children with more dishes to come. We loved the bread and butter and quite liked a couple of things on the charcuterie board, particularly the pickled cauliflower and the paté; the local blue cheese was very good too (I am embarrassed to say I don’t recall the name of the maker). So, a good start.
Up next were orders of steak tartare, petite potatoes with duck fat (with an optional poached egg on top) and rye gnocchi with “pistou of the moment”. Our server went on at some length about the use of dairy cow meat for the tartare but I’m afraid we found the tartare itself to be unremarkable; and the crackers it came with were barely sufficient for eating it all with. The pistou the gnocchi were tossed in was very tasty but the gnocchi themselves were a bit too dense. The execution on the poached egg on the potatoes was off as well: the egg was overcooked with the yolk barely runny. We had absolutely no complaints about the potatoes themselves which were rather excellent.
We got all three of the mains on offer. Two of these had similar problems as the previous course. The great lakes walleye featured an excellent sauce (a beurre monté with foraged greens) but the fish itself was more than a touch overdone. The lamb meatball was served atop excellent creamed dandelion greens but the meatballs themselves were too dense. The third main, however, was excellent all around: duck breast with ginger and smoked maple caramel.
And so to dessert. We got the rhubarb pie and the hot milk cake (with lemon sorbet and meringue). Both were solid; neither left us in raptures.
Cocktails: The missus got the Sunshine Recorder (white blossom vodka, quinquina, apricot and lemon) and liked it a lot (I enjoyed my sip of it very much too). My first cocktail was not as much to my taste: the Bamboo (amontillado sherry, bianco vemouth, bermutto). It wasn’t bad but it was really something I would have enjoyed more as an aperitif in a much smaller size. My second cocktail—an Old Fashioned—was much better. The boys had lemonades.
For a look at the restaurant and the food, launch the slideshow below. For thoughts on cost, service and our overall estimation of our meal, scroll down.
Our server’s enthusiastic and sustained boosting of the restaurant we found charming at first and a little overbearing soon after (I fully admit that we are horrible people; I can’t believe we were allowed to have children). That apart, he was present, informed about the menu and on top of things. I will say that when a server asks two children directly if they would like a second lemonade each—to which the answer of course is an enthusiastic “yes!”—it’s a bit surprising to see on the check that each of those cost a further $7 each. (I’m not saying that a fine dining restaurant should offer free refills; I’m saying servers shouldn’t ask children directly if they want more sugary drinks with the demeanour of one offering free refills.)
Well, the boys drank the equivalent of a cocktail each price-wise and our total with tax and tip was $294 or just short of $75 each. On the one hand, this does not seem egregiously high for the Twin Cities—but keep in mind that while the boys held their own, four adults would have ordered one more app and entree at the least and more drinks. The true per head cost for four adults would thus likely have been closer to $100. The bigger issue though is that while we liked a number of things we ate a lot, on the whole, the food did not quite live up to either the billing or the bill. I don’t know that we’re in a hurry to return; and the meal certainly didn’t encourage us to place $135 each before drinks, tax and tip down for the tasting menu. Then again given the rate at which the menu apparently turns over, none of what I have described may be on the menu now—and I certainly hope the execution on everything that’s on there now is tighter.
Alright: what’s next on the Twin Cities dinner front? Probably another dinner in St. Paul. We’re scheduled to eat with friends on Wednesday at another, even newer place. But before that, on the weekend, I’ll have both a Los Angeles and another Hawaii meal report.