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

Spoon and Stable II


After a long run of reviews of more affordable places in the Twin Cities metro area, here is a review of a recent dinner at one of the top contenders to be the Twin Cities’ best fine dining restaurant: Spoon and Stable. We enjoyed our first dinner there in late 2015, less than a year after they opened, and had always meant to go back soon for another meal. However, more than three years past their opening they remain a difficult reservation and so it took almost 2.5 years for us to finally get back (I don’t mean to suggest that we were trying to get a table every month after that first meal). I guess it’s a positive development that we were able to get in on a Friday this time—but even booking a month ahead, the best we could do was 9.15. Anyway, this dinner was as good as the first in some ways, lesser and better in others.  Continue reading

Restaurant Alma, Fall 2017


I’ve reviewed two previous dinners at Alma (one from 2014 and one from 2015). As I’ve said previously, before Piccolo became our favourite high-end restaurant in the Twin Cities, and a place we returned to again and again, Alma used to be the place we ate at most often. Now, of course, Piccolo is gone. And so, when the missus’ birthday rolled around earlier this month, we decided to go back again to Alma, for our first expensive meal in the Cities since Piccolo closed and we left for London. This was also our first meal there since Alma closed and reopened late last year after an extensive remodel. Continue reading

Piccolo XI (One Last Time with Feeling)


Piccolo serves their last dinner tomorrow. Here now is my writeup of our last dinner at Piccolo.

Ever since we found out about the impending closing back in December we’ve gone back with a number of friends who enjoy the restaurant as much as we do, and we did so again last Friday. We are going to miss this jewel of a restaurant dearly. Yes, there are some other excellent fine dining restaurants in the Twin Cities—and yes, we’ll go back more often to some of them now (Alma and Spoon and Stable especially)—but what Chef Flicker and his team have accomplished at Piccolo is something quite unique. Yes, his mark is on Esker Grove at the Walker and will doubtless be on Tenant, the new restaurant from two members of his Piccolo team which will take over the Piccolo space, but of all the major closings in recent years this is, in my view, the most irreplaceable. Chef Flicker himself will be moving on to something altogether more informal and while I’m sure it will be excellent it is not going to be Piccolo. God knows he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants but this is a big loss for our dining scene.  Continue reading

Piccolo X

Piccolo: Beef Tartare with Mushroom Puree
Will this be an account of our last meal at Piccolo? I hope not but they seem to be entirely booked up from now through their closing on March 11. I’m hoping we can get in one more time but if not, at least our last meal there will have been excellent. After eating there in mid-December and again over the New Year’s weekend, we went back again in late-January with another set of friends who are also big fans and we were all well pleased.

This review and, if we can indeed get in one more time, that of our next meal there will be the exceptions to my recent shift of emphasis to smaller immigrant-run restaurants. Piccolo was our favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities and I wanted to say farewell. Next week we’ll be back to Somali food.  Continue reading

Piccolo IX

Piccolo: Sunchoke Consommé
I don’t have a whole lot left to say about Piccolo except that this is my ninth review of a meal there in the last few years and that I still am depressed about the fact that they will be open for less than two more months. We last ate there in the second week of December and when we found out at that meal that they were going to have a special New Year’s weekend menu, and that Doug Flicker would be in the kitchen cooking it, it took about 3 seconds for us to decide that we’d be back soon to eat it. This is a brief account of that meal. We were joined by friends we’ve eaten there with before, and who are also big fans. It turned out to be one of the best meals any of us had eaten there—which is saying something, as the last meal we ate there together was pretty amazing too.  Continue reading