Xavi started things off with a great first impression when owner James Elm greeted us and walked us through the philosophy behind the restaurant. It’s always fun to get insights into the food you’re about to enjoy, especially from one of the minds behind the concept. Then the pickles came, and those we’re legit. Our server bragged that the chef Michael Agan has over 70 pickle recipes, we had no idea how to respond to that, so we just ate our pickled beets and other stuff he placed in front of us, good choice.
The New American style menu is broken into small plates and entrees, at first glance there seems to be a ton of food most people would enjoy. However, this is not a place Andrew Zimmern would write home about. Everything is familiar, but with a slight twist to give some nuance and surprise.
We started our meal off, at the recommendations of our server, who was, let’s just say, a bit overwhelming, with the frisee salad, roasted lamb ribs, shrimp and grits and blistered shishito peppers.
The highlight of this round was the frisee salad. The apple mostarda had the right amount of punch from the mustard and sweet from the candied apple to play nicely with the candied walnuts and goat cheese dressing and who doesn’t love frisee? It’s the best version of lettuce to win friends with. However, when the salad is the highlight out of 4 dishes, that’s probably not a good sign……
The roasted lamb ribs, which conceptually were awesome, but in reality left something to be desired. We all agreed that the char on the ribs and cilantro sauce it came with were tasty, but the ribs were pretty sparse, which made the meat that was on the rib a bit dry and tough, so the flavor of the meat ended up getting lost in the sauce out of necessity and made the dish a bit of a letdown.
Third place in round one was the blistered shishito peppers. Chris was immensely curious to try the peppers which were lightly dressed in lemon and sea salt. The most memorable thing about this dish was the fact that you had no clue if the pepper you were about to eat would have no spice or burn your face off, it was like Russian roulette with spicy peppers, kind of crazy. The consensus was that this dish was fine, nothing exciting and we all got a bit tired of eating it mid-way through, there were a ton of peppers.
Bringing up the rear in round one was the shrimp and grits and for good reason. Southern food has become super trendy in MSP, so if you’re going to do a classic dish like shrimp & grits, you best do it right. This one completely missed the mark, the grits were bland and had a soupy/mealy texture that was a bit off putting and the shrimp didn’t bring much flavor. Overall this was a big disappointment.
Next up came our entrees. Not feeling seafood, we opted for the grilled pork loin and the kalbi marinated hanger steak. Both were very solid dishes that we enjoyed consuming, nothing blew us away, but we did really enjoy the balance of both flavor and texture that each dish brought to the table.
The grilled pork loin came with a miso cauliflower puree, riesling poached asian pear and roasted cauliflower. Dedicated readers of FDC will remember how much Drew loves cauliflower, so being that this dish had not one but TWO preparations of cauliflower, we had to order it in honor of one of our founders. Suffice to say, everything on this plate worked wonderfully together. The pork loin was super flavorful and both versions of cauliflower would make Drew happy. However, the highlight of this dish was watching the J get super excited over the pepper placement. The “precariously perched pepper” was for sure the high moment for this dish and probably the entire meal.
Entrée #2, kalbi marinated hanger steak with green beans, fermented black bean garlic sauce and kimchi. Also, super good. The steak was cooked to perfection. We all truly enjoyed this dish, but it didn’t blow us away, it was slightly different, yet really familiar. Not that this matters all that much, but the plating was a bit of a letdown, it looked kind of thrown together, and when everything else was plated nicely, it stood out for not being given the same treatment.
Dessert, we had high hopes for you. Following the trend of the meal, the dessert was good but not great. The pound cake with yuzu whipped cream was good, the yuzu gave the whipped cream a nice tanginess and the pound cake was moist, but again, neither was truly special. We also ordered the apple pie, with no cheddar cheese because why would you do that to apple pie? This was also tasty, the crust was flaky and the apples still crisp, but apple pie is always better served hot. When it shows up in a mini cast iron pan, we all figured it would be at least warm, but it was chilled, making it kind of feel like leftovers, tasty leftover, but still leftovers.
A quick note on the service. It was attentive, but at times a bit uncomfortable. Our server did not really know when to stop talking and was often awkward with his phrasing and tended to recommend everything, so that was annoying. It didn’t sour the meal, but was definitely strange.
If this review comes across as a bit boring, then it properly reflects our meal. It was fine, the modest highs were outweighed by the deeper lows and it all kind of evens out to quality but unremarkable meal. The food that we enjoyed was all prepared with finesse and had small things that made it unique. We all left being moderately satisfied and agree that this is the perfect restaurant to bring friends and family who are not adventurous eaters but want a higher end meal at a local restaurant.
In the end, I give it 2 out of 4 noms.