A haven for health conscious diners on Hennepin

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August 2, 2013
By: Carla Waldemar
Photo by Lyon Keasler
Carla Waldemar

Is it possible that those who yearn to eat healthfully don’t know how? I doubt it, but the gurus of Mill Valley Kitchen know better, because their café is packed-packed-packed eternally.

So they were courted to take their culinary concept downtown — a menu of enticing eats that lists the calorie count, fat, carbs, protein, fiber, gluten and vegan status, political preference and horoscope sign (OK, I’m kidding about the last two).

Marin — named for the California county known for its zealots of food origins — now anchors the Chambers Hotel, planning to succeed in the space where Jean Georges and the D’ Amicos — neither exactly food sloths — couldn’t. Will the nanny kitchen be the charm that works?

Well, if the scallops were any indication, it might well be. It’s the best entrée on Hennepin Avenue, I’ll venture, and that’s saying a lot. Three oh-so-gently, quickly seared beauties, singing with their natural sweetness, anchor a plate of lobster-fingering hash, every bit as good as it sounds. It’s tossed with a corn sauce abundant with chewy kernels (390 calories, in case you’re counting).

We also adored the charred salmon belly starter — silky-smooth, all three bites of it, displayed like precious jewels on a pencil-slim plate, set among bits of cukes and fresnos, mini-dollops of black bean paste, and brightened with mint and cilantro. Precious but tasty (salads and small plates $6-13, including many that scream for a second visit).

A paper-slim flatbread of sunflower and flax seed — almost too slim to eat discreetly — proved a hit, too. Our choice wore snips of speck (gutsier than plain ol’ ham) sweetened by figs and its salt bite balanced by creamy blue cheese, along with unannounced extras: arugula, parsnips, mozzarella and onion sauce. Together, a well-tuned orchestration.

And the scallops! From among the other entrees ($20-30 range) we chose the bison strip loin, delivering ruddy, perfectly-timed slices, whose innate, mildly meaty flavor was bulldozed by a very salty crust. (What’s that doing on a health-forward menu?) A three-bean mélange and an unassertive arugula pesto completed the plate.

Also unassuming — OK, underwhelming — were the raviolis’ filling of another entrée: peas and carrots mushed like baby food, which even a sprinkle of mint and pine nuts failed to liven. One might also make a meal of side dishes ($5), cavorting from broccolini to potato salad, lentils to kale.

Or proceed to dessert. Frankly, they sounded boring — cookies, fruit, sorbets — so we opted for a couple of “Miniatures:” two $5 pudding-like bites, served in a shot glass: chocolate/lavender and huckleberry/lemon. I wouldn’t bother again. But then —surprise! — the kitchen sent out its “cake,” and the word doesn’t do it justice. The complex arrangement featured a featherlight, ultramoist lemon-semolina sponge dunked in lemon-thyme syrup, centered with lemon custard and blackberries, and sided with tart-true blackberry sorbet, sugared berries and  candied ginger ice cream.

A word about the gin and tonic list of elements, which reads like a chemistry experiment, clearly destined for buzz:  Choose your gin, then house-made tonic, such as rhubarb or lemongrass. I opted for a gin martini shaken with lemon bitters. Succinct list of craft brews, too ($6) and wines BTG.

**

Marin Restaurant & Bar
901 Hennepin Ave., 252-7000

www. marinrestaurant.com