I spent a few days in late May visiting family and rediscovering the Twin Cities restaurant scene (I grew up in Minneapolis but now live in Brooklyn). Many thanks to all the Twin Cities chow posters; I got some good ideas and suggestions. And here's where I ate:
Z Cafe: Had a pleasant lunch at this Zander offshoot. The space was nice, but I was not crazy about ordering at the counter and then sitting down to regular waiter service. I had a cup of turkey noodle soup and a salad, and my friend had meatloaf and a caesar salad. Adequate, but nothing to rave about. Soup was a little blah, could have used more seasoning or more interesting vegetables (seemed dominated by canned tomatoes). Meatloaf was retro, standard-issue comfort food. Apples and toasted almond slivers were a nice touch in my mesclun salad, but overall I thought the food lacked a certain polish. Still, I decided to give the Z team another chance, and I had dinner at Zander a couple nights later.
Zander: After reading so many rave reviews on this board and elsewhere, I had to go. Again, everything was adequate but not stunning. I had salmon with ginger-wasabi sauce, served with a snow-pea, pear, and shiitake mushroom concoction. The server made a point of emphasizing that my salmon would be medium-rare (perfect! I said), but then it arrived a little dry and overcooked, not juicy from searing as I had hoped. But it was still quite delicious, and the ginger-wasabi sauce was very lively and piquant. I admired the creativity of the side dish, but the tastes clashed, and the sesame oil in the dressing was also unpleasant. The juliened pears actually tasted wonderful, and I wished the watery mushrooms and snow peas had not been included. My friend had mussels, which were served with a very nice tomato-garlic broth. Unfortunately, the mussels were not steaming hot but lukewarm. But then, it's hard to find decent mussels outside of Belgian restaurants. I have to admire Zander for its aspirations and spunk, and I'm glad they're providing St. Paul with creative tastes. Still, I think someone could raise the bar higher. Perhaps I should have gone to Homeland instead.
Shuang Cheng: after walking by the psuedo-chicness of Loring Pasta Bar, I opted for my old college hangout, Shuang Cheng. And Shuang Cheng never lets me down. Had a perfect rendition of chicken with black bean sauce: lightly carmelized sweet onions, hints of ginger and garlic, lightly cooked crunchy green peppers, and plenty of salty fermented black beans. Delicious!
Aquavit: I keep meaning to go to New York's Aquavit, and when I heard that Minneapolis offers a $10 lunch, I had to go. $10 barely buys a deli sandwich in New York, after all. I probably should have gone for dinner instead; you get what you pay for. I had penne with fiddleheads and mushrooms and carmelized onion. My friend had grilled chicken with curried rice and asparagus. The decor was classy. The service lacked sophistication. The pasta was overcooked, but the fiddleheads were absolutely sublime. The curried rice and asparagus were undercooked, the chicken was overcooked, but the coconut sauce was delicious. The bread basket was stale. The complimentary shredded romaine salad was bland and pale. But hey, for $20 plus tax and tip, we could hardly complain. Still, Aquavit has such a great reputation in New York, I was a little surprised at the Minneapolis sloppiness.
I wish I had stayed a few more days. Next time I'm in town, I can't wait to try Vincent, Restaurant Alma, and all the new places on Eat Street. And I wish I could have visited a few old favorites--Lucia's, Auriga.... Glad to see the Twin Cities restaurant scene is thriving!