Joan’s in the Park (St. Paul, MN)


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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Tenant III (Minneapolis)

I said in my review of our second dinner at Tenant—in July—that we were already planning a return trip in September. And for a change I was not a liar. We made reservations for the first weekend of September as soon as spots were available, and so it came to pass that at 6 pm last Saturday we sat down at their counter once again. Our second dinner had surpassed the first and we were curious to see what we would make of our third. Sorry to kill the suspense so soon but we thought it was excellent and perhaps, top to bottom, an even better meal than the previous. Indeed, it’s becoming hard to see how we will give our fine dining dollars to any other Twin Cities establishment. Herewith the details.

Continue reading

Tenant II (Minneapolis)


Tenant opened in the old Piccolo space, just a month or so after that great restaurant closed in the spring of 2017 (though in Minnesota it may still have been winter). We tried to go eat there a few times that first year but it wasn’t until the fall of 2018 that we finally managed it. We really liked that meal and wanted to go back a lot sooner than in another year and a half. Alas, between our schedules, travel and the difficulty of scoring seats at the tiny restaurant it was almost another year before we made it back for our second meal. That was last weekend. We liked this meal even more and I think we are both ready to say that it may in fact now be our favourite and quite likely the best fine dining restaurant in the Twin Cities metro. Depending on your view of fine dining in the Twin Cities you may think this faint or high praise but either way Tenant is very good indeed. And we are already plotting a return in September. Continue reading

Saint Dinette (St. Paul, MN)


St. Dinette opened in St. Paul’s Lowertown almost exactly four years ago. They immediately got a lot of good local press. Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune gave them 3.5/4 stars and that was more or less representative of the local acclaim. The restaurant’s pedigree was established—-opened by the proprietor of St. Paul’s The Strip Club (now closed) and featuring a chef and general manager from local legend, La Belle Vie. Even though our own opinion of La Belle Vie diverged dramatically from those of many people in the area (our last meal there was eaten before I started the blog), we were intrigued by Saint Dinette. In the early going, however, they did not take reservations and this was a big problem for us as our children were (and still are) young and it’s hard to do the babysitter thing not knowing how long you’re going to be away (keep in mind that any Twin Cities meal includes a two hour round trip for us). At some point, however, Saint Dinette started taking reservations and so we put them back on our list. And last weekend we finally made it there with four friends who’ve joined us at a number of other meals. What did we find? Read on. Continue reading

Popol Vuh (Minneapolis)


Popol Vuh, a high-end Mexican restaurant, opened in trendy Northeast Minneapolis—or Nordeast as the really trendy people refer to it—last autumn and we’ve been planning to eat there ever since. This even though they describe their cuisine in terms I deplore: “elevated Mexican cuisine”. Mexican cuisine does not need to be elevated. We don’t refer to high-end French or Italian or Japanese restaurants as serving “elevated” versions of those cuisines and there is really no need to justify higher prices for a high-end, cheffy iteration of Mexican cuisine by calling it “elevated”. And people who might be iffy about paying the big bucks for any form of Mexican food—alas, I am sure such people exist, and not just in the Twin Cities—are not, I think, very likely to go, “Oh, so it’s elevated Mexican food, that’s entirely different!” In other words, you’re not convincing anyone to come by billing your food as “elevated”, you’re only displaying anxiety about the status of what you do and inadvertently implying that the rest of the cuisine is down there somewhere near a gutter. Continue reading

Hai Hai (Minneapolis)


Hai Hai opened in Northeast Minneapolis in late 2017 or early 2018. It got a lot of buzz right away as the second restaurant from the chef/owners of the previously buzzy Hola Arepa, Christina Ngyuen and Birk Grudem. We have still not been to Hola Arepa and until last Saturday had not been to Hai Hai as well. The reasons for this will not be mysterious to anyone who knows my views on the Twin Cities dining scene or knows me personally. For one thing, I am always cautious about the local food media’s penchant for over-hyping any openings that might be seen as placing the Twin Cities scene in the coastal restaurant conversation; for another, they serve a pan-Asian menu and in my experience in the US that’s rarely a good thing; and for a third, restaurants like Hai Hai (and Hola Arepa) seem to me to be aimed at people (mostly white and bougie) who do not normally go out to eat at restaurants that serve more traditional iterations of their food. And experience has led me to be wary of this phenomenon. Continue reading

Grand Cafe II (Minneapolis)


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. Continue reading

Hyacinth (St. Paul, MN)


Hyacinth opened on Grand Avenue in St. Paul last autumn and quickly made a name for itself. This was partly/largely—depending on your point of view—because the owner/executive chef had previously worked in the kitchens at Corton and Franny’s in New York. Twin Cities food writers, you see, manage to both scoff at coastal inattention to/disdain for our local fine dining scene and fall over themselves with excitement when a chef from New York comes (back) to town or a local chef goes on to great success in San Francisco. Such are the contradictions of being a food critic in a third-tier food town. Continue reading

In Bloom (St. Paul, MN)


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. Continue reading

Martina (Minneapolis)


Martina opened just under a year ago in the tony Linden Hills  neighbourhood of Minneapolis. The restaurant occupies the (redone) space of the erstwhile Upton 43. We were never particularly moved to visit Upton 43 and so I cannot speak to how the interior has changed, but what is there now is a pretty standard issue contemporary “fine dining” space. That is to say, open ceilings, open kitchens, no tablecloths and a lot of sound. Unlike at a place like Spoon and Stable, the cocktail bar is right in the middle of the restaurant and seems to serve as its focal point. More than any expensive restaurant we’ve been to in the Twin Cities in a while, Martina seems like a spot for the young and well-heeled of the Twin Cities; it was still hopping when we left close to midnight on the Saturday of our visit—with the bar as crowded as when we’d got there at 9—and that’s not always the norm here. And the food? It was pretty good too.  Continue reading

Tenant (Minneapolis)


We have been trying to get to Tenant for a while now. They opened in the Spring of 2017, while we were in London for three months. When we got back we cut back on our eating out for a while on account of the reckless eating we’d engaged in for an extended period abroad. And because of their limited seating and their constrained reservation system we couldn’t find a date that worked later in 2017. We finally made reservations this April but just a few days before the weather took a turn for the worse, a blizzard was predicted and we had to cancel (the blizzard did come to pass).
Continue reading

Ngon Bistro (St. Paul)


Ngon Bistro is a St. Paul institution at this point and I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to get around to reviewing it for the blog. It’s a bit of an anomaly in the Twin Cities in that it is a high-end Asian restaurant. The much newer Hai Hai is more casual, and the same was true of the recently shuttered Rabbit Hole too. I am not suggesting that Ngon Bistro is stuffy or formal; but in terms of menu format and prices, they are much closer to places like Spoon and Stable and Meritage. In other ways, Ngon Bistro is similar to the erstwhile Rabbit Hole in that they too seek to translate an Asian cuisine—in this case Vietnamese—into the menu formats and culinary idioms of mainstream American dining. Comparing our meals at the two places it’s easy to say that Ngon Bistro does it much better.  Continue reading

Tilia, Again (Minneapolis)


Our last meal at Tilia was enjoyable in some ways, not so enjoyable in others. And while I ended that review by saying I could see us returning at some point, it took four and a half years for that to actually happen—and that on account of a mistake. I had planned to take a friend who was visiting from India to dinner at Tenant—the successor restaurant to the late, lamented Piccolo—but when we arrived there, we discovered, to my chagrin, that I had somehow in fact made a reservation for the middle of June! And they had no room for us. Casting about for a place in the relative vicinity, I called Tilia and they said they had enough space. And so off we went. Alas, being able to get a table at short notice was one of the few highlights of the meal. Continue reading