Author: Hutton, Rachel
Date published: October 1, 2012
The American Swedish Institute opens a chic café
Food often looks better in a photo studio, through a photographer's lens. And the American Swedish Institute's contemporary addition- all two-story windows and spare white walls- has this same artgallery effect on the dishes at its new café, Fika.
Take the ultra-Scandinavian open-face seafood sandwiches, for example. One is piled with plump shrimp (dressed with aioli and speckled with fish roe) and rippled butter lettuce, then topped with purple-onion hoops, cucumber discs, and egg with its yolk cooked to a golden putty. House -made rye comes loaded with seared salmon, beet, watercress, and creamy mustard. Both taste as good as their neat compositions look: fresh and briny, cool and crisp, earthy and rich.
Among the choices on the brief chalkboard menu, classicists will do well with the Swedish meatballs, accompanied by mashed potatoes and lingonberries. But they should be encouraged to branch out to the more demure spelt salad, which pairs the chewy nubs of grain with raw vegetables and dill yogurt. Nutritious eating rarely tasted so good, thanks to chef Michael Fitzgerald, a onetime Auriga employee who can sometimes be spotted slipping among the tables, checking on guests and bussing dishes.
Fika's weekday crowd tends to be white-haired museum-goers, but there's no reason that neighboring residents and office workers shouldn't take advantage of the place for lunch or the cafe's namesake coffee break. The dark roast pairs especially well with a thumbprint cookie or cardamom roll. * 2600 Park Ave., Mpls., 612-871-4907, asimn.org
Culinary progress stalls on Uptown's anchor corner
"Uptown food is just filler for booze." my friend declared as he nestled into one of Primebar's oversized curved booths. With a few exceptions. Lucia's and Barbette among them, he's right. And this national-chain concept didn't change his mind.
Following the Parasole restaurant group's misfire with the Figlio/Il Gatto change-up. Primebar took over Calhoun Square's catbird seat. The space is more open, with an enormous bar as its focal point, and it looks sleek, in a bland, suburban way. Wall décor consists of sports-tuned televisions and black-and-white prints of giant pairs of seductive eyes and groups of party girls, all bare shoulders and thighs.
The staff wears shirts that read, "Think local, drink local." and they do pour Uptown's best craft-beer list. But Primebar's menu- a mix of American bar food, Mexican fare, and a few upscale entrées- is less reliable. The French dip sandwich was bland (if you're craving beef, the steak-andeggs flatbread is better) while the duck-confft tacos with herbed goat cheese and sweet-and-sour sauce were a multi-flavor train wreck. The braised lamb shank is served with a lovely quinoa risotto, but why would I order it here and not at Saffron?
Because it's Uptown. And that's where your co-workers are meeting for happy hour and your friend is hosting her birthday dinner. So when you inevitably end up at Primebar. go with something Figlio simple: the terrific hangover breakfast and the gooey yellow butter cake. * 3001 Hennepin Ave.. Ste. 1200. Mpls., 612-235-4295. primebarminneapolis.com
Le Cordon Bleu's student-run dining room upgrades its digs
When I recently visited Technique, the student-run restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Mendota Heights, the sparse dining room's lone, frazzled server ignored me for a bit and then chastised me for arriving before my reservation (especially puzzling, since I was actually a few minutes late).
The experience reminded me of the last time I'd been to the restaurant, in its former location (in another part of the campus down the street), where diners waited for their tables in a spare, institutional hallway, like naughty students outside the principal's office. When a table was ready, the young host popped his head through the doorway and asked my guest and me, "Are you ladies ready to get sat?"
There are, understandably, a few aspects of the school's demonstration restaurant that could use polishing. And its airy new digs, though they are a major upgrade from their window-less predecessor, are still somewhat generic and unappealing. But when a three-course lunch costs $13 ($16 for dinner), such concerns are easier to accept
After about a year of training, students have a final, six-week stint at Technique to put their classroom skills into practice under an instructor's supervision. They learn to prepare luxury ingredients (IVe lucked into fresh oysters and foie gras) as well as more pedestrian ones (I've settled for meatloaf and cod).
When I've dined at the restaurant, the cooking technique has been respectable: of late, I've eaten delicate seafood cakes, a complex corn chowder, and an elegant lemon tartlet. Any culinary mistakes I have encountered at Technique- overzealous salting, for example- are ones the pros make, too. · 1315 Mendota Heights Rd, Mendota Heights, 651-286-2400, techniquerestaurantcom
A bright spot at Hf-Lak»
Glaciers Café on Minnehaha Avenue recently rebranded and named itself after its building's best asset, a stunning tile mosaic, created with the help of Mexican artists. (Seats on the chic oasis of a patio offer a mesmerizing view.) Sure, Mosaic is a basic neighborhood café, but the concept covers its bases well and incorporates a few unexpected perks.
The menu caters to a range of tastes- beer, Coke, and organic-milk crowds alike. Its biggest points of differentiation are its vegetarian offerings and concessions toward healthful eating, including grassfed meat and multi-grain buns. The tempeh Sloppy Joe won't beat beef, but the turkey burger might. And the veggie-patty options- a spicy beans 'n' rice blend withp/co de gallo and chili-lime crema; a lentil-walnut mix with sundried tomato pesto- are flavor-packed. Be sure to add a side of the delicious rosemary-garlic baked French fries and save room for dessert, as Mosaic wisely retained Glaciers' house-made custard. * 3019 Minnehaha Ave. S., Mpls., 612746-1504, mosaiccafemn.com