Guiding light

The Beacon restaurant

As a travel writer, I’m on the road a lot. Here’s a quick synopsis of my latest getaway, a trek that led from a world-class art museum to chamber music concert to dinner divine in a sweet hotel, followed by a morning riverside jog and a cool-down stroll through a charming college campus.

Heidelberg? Nah. Bologna? Wrong again. Try Minneapolis.

This was a staycation right in my hometown, where I overnighted at Graduate Hotel on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank, in a room where walleye swam across the wallpaper. On another wall, a prof’s tweed jacket was framed as Art (along with a poster of Loni Anderson). Hockey players skated across the bedspread, and my room key posed as a student I.D.

The museum was the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman, the concert at the School of Music (both free), and the stroll took me through a campus upgraded from my student days in the Middle Ages with promenades banked by daffodils, inviting benches and public art.

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One word about the Graduate? It isn’t “plastics.” It’s “Beacon.”

That’s where Mrs. Robinson, if she had a hankering for a locovore-focused menu, would be dining.

I confess that I’d expected chain restaurant fare, but no. Students aren’t dinner guests here, their professors are — plus visiting dignitaries, conference speakers and knowing locals before a Northrop performance. (Sure, there’s a section suitable to Feed Your Student for those whose parents pick up the tab, but here even the Bucket O Fries comes with house-made béarnaise, the onion rings with sriracha aioli and the cheese curds with curry ketchup.)

My starter of wild mushroom toast ($9) featured more morels on a plate than I’ve seen in my lifetime. They rest upon a deeply flavored olive tapenade and swipe of sweet tomato pesto under shingles of Pecorino cheese.

Add a beer ($4 at happy hour), such as my George Hunter Stout from Two Harbors, and smile.

Next I summoned a Caesar salad, embellished with hardboiled eggs, tomato wedges and kalamata olives (anchovies optional).

The Beacon restaurant

The Pub Grub entrees ($18–$27) are not what you might expect (unless you’re less naïve than I): coconut-lemongrass sea bass; pecan-crusted walleye; Amish chicken; bangers (from Kramarczuk’s) and mash (with roasted garlic); and — what’s this? — lemongrass-sweet potato moussaka. Bring it on! (Alas, the kitchen couldn’t; it was so popular that it had sold out.)

OK, then: the house-made gnocchi. They’re festooned with a banner of prosciutto and dollops of braised kale and herb-roasted tomatoes, but something got lost in translation (into Swedish?). The dumplings themselves proved bready rather than the airy balloons of Italian kitchens, anchored in a paste of melted Gorgonzola.

The Simply Grilled section ($24–$35) delivered on its promise, however. My generous, eight-bone rack of lamb proved a tender and rosy celebration, on the mild end of the meat’s usual flavor spectrum. It rested upon a mountain of grilled veggies: potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onions, asparagus, tomatoes and probably a few more I forgot to write down. Blame it on the side of béarnaise, that ultra-luxe use of good butter.

Desserts ($8) fail to include the usual molten chocolate cake — bonus points right there. Instead, a slice of bread pudding studded with morsels of deep, dark, ultra-delicious chocolate and intense, Grand Marnier-like jolts of orange, all clouded with actual freshly, gently whipped cream. Or choose apple pie a la mode with salted caramel-Bourbon sauce or house-made ice creams.

Then there’s breakfast.

The Beacon breakfast

Let’s just say that the restaurant’s tostada — poached eggs timed to the minute, huge hunks of perfectly-ripe avocado, lots of olives (kalamatas — what a swell upgrade) and more — was Best of Class.

The Beacon at Graduate Hotel

615 Washington Ave. SE

362-6666

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