Four of us descended upon this new restaurant Saturday night to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary. For those not familiar, The Restaurant occupies the space that had been Chez Bananas. Since we got engaged at Chez Bananas, the space holds special memories.
The main praise for The Restaurant to date has been the decor. Gone is the bamboo-like wallpaper, the black iron and duct work. The room is not decorated in deep rust-red, golds, and browns. The banquette particularly has lovely fabric.
You enter through The Lounge itself and meander through the back hallway (that used to lead from Chez Bananas to the restrooms) into the restaurant. The hallway has been cleaned up, and it's no longer the marginal walk it used to be.
The food was quite good, which had not always been the case. When the Star Tribune first went to review The Restaurant, Jeremy Iggers showed mercy and didn't make his experience public. When he visited a second time, the rated it 3.5 (out of 4) stars. Our experience was probably mor like 2.5. The menu is limited, but the preparations are well done and well presented. My wife ordered the three course vegetarian menu (a steal at $20). The rest of us each ordered a starter, split a middle course, and ordered an entree.
Two people had the sweet potato soup with chorizo. The soup was velvety and flavorful, with just the right amount of kick. One person who ordered it always asks for crushed red pepper. She was surprised she didn't need any for this soup. I ordered the grilled asparagus salad, which came with fresh goat cheese and a fried quail egg. Great flavor and texture combinations. My wife's first course was a chickpea ragout, which had a lot going on, but was somewhat overshadowed by a heavy hand with the salt in the kitchen.
Four our second course, three of us split a bucatini with crushed tomatoes, basil, and chorizo along with a smoked ham hock who-knows-what-it-was-but-it-was-good. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the flavors in the sauce were fun. My wife's second vegetarian entree was a salad that she enjoyed very much.
For entrees, two of us ordered the hanger steak, which came over whipped potatoes, with red wine jelly, and field greens. The jelly was a nice flavor addition. One person got the beef tenderloin. I didn't try it, but was told it was good. My wife's entree was a risotto that saw a return to being a little too salty. And I thought the rice had been overcooked.
There was one dessert option, which we all shared, a caramelized pineapple type thing. The pineapple chunks were on the small side; bite-size portions would've been better. There was also a cheese plate on the menu, but we took a pass.
So overall, the food was mostly a hit. Service, on the other hand, missed the boat a number of times. Since this was a special occasion, we had made arrangements to bring our own wine. Surprisingly, the server handled this very well. Some people prefer to have their own wine served by the staff; others prefer to do it themselves. He acutally asked what we preferred, which I thought was good of him to do. We also ordered a bottle off the list. This is where it fell apart. We were brought a different wine than what I had ordered. I ordered a Beaujolais-Villages, and he showed up with a Bordeaux Superieur. He did not show the bottle to me, but just opened it and poured. He also poured it for someone else to taste even though I had ordered it. When I told him that this wasn't the wine we ordered, he assured me that this was better. I tasted it, and told him it was only okay, and was way too warm (they obviously don't keep there wine in a temperature controlled environment). He apologized, and didn't charge us for it, which was good recovery. But the mistake should not have happened in a place that is trying to be what this place is trying to be.
There were other service gaffes. My wife's first course came in a bowl, with a broth, but she was not given a spoon. The stemware for wine is not good (not our server's fault), but I had also brought my own glasses, so were were fine. They do not have decanters available for aerating wine. The server didn't know what bucatini was when someone at our table asked (but I was able to answer the question). We also had to ask for a steak knife. My wife made the reservations, and undoubtedly mentioned that we were coming for our wedding anniversary. No mention was made of this (no "congratualations") by any of the staff. All that said, our server was very well meaning and friendly. I think what is missing is some training is all.
The dining room is entirely smoke-free. Walking back into the hallway heading to The Lounge, though, you are greeted by the smoke for the bar in full force. Some smoke may trickle into the dining room closest to the hallway, so be sure to ask for a table further back. There are still some bugs to be worked out, mostly with service and wine, but also with food. And I hope they do get worked out. The Restaurant is such a cool concept, and there aren't really many extravagant settings like this in the Twin Cities that aren't affiliated with hotels.