Went to Restaurant Levain in south Minneapolis last Saturday for an anniversary dinner. It was my second visit there in two weeks, the first time being a work-related dinner. Here is a report on my most recent dinner.
The short version of this review: the food is very, very good, among the best in the Twin Cities, but not as consistently excellent as the very best places, Belle Vie, for instance. However, the service, although friendly, is just not up to snuff for a restaurant of Levain's ambitions (not to mention prices).
We arrived just in time for our 7:45 reservation, and had to wait 5 minutes for our table, which was of course perfectly reasonable. We were seated at a table big enough for four in the middle of the room- nice from the space point of view, but MUCH louder than the tables by the wall- I checked. The loudness of the dining room is a big flaw of Levain, in my opinion. My wife and I could barely hear each other, and it is not like there were any big noisy parties in the room.
We ordered glasses of champagne (Veuve Clicquot- the only champagne choice by the glass, although they also have Cava by the glass). The champagne came properly chilled, but our server poured it into the glasses from a height of about 6 inches, enough for the foam in one of the glasses to begin to spill over. Not what I would expect.
The service lapses continued. After we had enjoyed our champagne and amuse bouches (an ethereal leek and potato soup), we ordered our food (a starter and a main course each), as well as a bottle of wine (David Duband, Hautes Cotes-de-Nuit, 2002- delicious but a bit overpriced at $72). The wine was a long time coming, and in fact our server had to come back to retake our order, because he had forgotten what we ordered- again, not what I would expect. Throughout the meal, the wine glasses were not consistently filled, and I had to refill them myself more than once- I don't mind doing that at places like the Modern Cafe, but not when I am paying more than $200 for dinner for two.
While waiting for our starters, we were given some salads of fresh radishes in a beet reduction- fantastic!
Starters came- and our server did not know which was mine and which was my wife's- another service lapse. My starter- spring pea soup with lavender "bubbles" was off-scale; I could have licked the bowl. Deborah had asparagus "shoots," which turned out to be fresh asparagus spears, peeled and tender. They were served with proschiutto and a head-on prawn. Her opinion was that the individual components were delicious, but that they did not really marry.
Next came our main courses- lamb three ways for me, and halibut for my wife. The food had been carefully arranged on our plates, but when the server basically dropped the plates on our table, and the food sort of fell over- once more, not what I pay that much money for. My lamb was very good, but my wife's fish was very undercooked, almost raw. After much waving of hands, we finally got the attention of the hostess. She was happy to take the food back, but not before saying, "We do cook it rare, you know. Do you want it medium?" Well rare fish we are used to, but this was more akin to tepid sushi. In any case, could the hostess not figure out that the fact of my wife sending it back indicated that she did not want it rare? They did not offer to keep my plate hot while her new food was prepared, so I had two choices: either keep eating or let my food get cold. I kept eating. (Manners are not my strong suit, I guess). When my Deborahs food came back, the server came up to our table and asked in a loud voice, "Are you the medium halibut?" I was thinking, what is this, a diner?
After our main courses, we were brought lemon / grapefruit sorbets, very nice.
My wife had cheesecake for dessert, which she said was delicious. I had a dessert wine and the cheese plate. The cheese was good once I let it come to room temperature: do they have to serve it cold, as though it just came from a refrigerator?
Coffee was very good, but we had to instruct them to bring it after dessert: who wants coffee with their cheese?
So there you have it: good sometimes great food, but so-so service. I would probably go back, but I would be more inclined to do so on a weeknight, when- presumably- they are not so busy, the room is quieter, and the service lapses are (one hopes) less numerous.