We welcome Dreamers here in Minneapolis, the kids of immigrants who deeply enrich our city.
We’re also the lucky winners from dreamers of another sort: the folks toiling in restaurants who yearn to open a café of their own or to improve upon their mission of providing hospitality to all who crave a tasty dinner in the hands of caring servers in an inviting site.
Their dreams are our gain, fellow diners, especially during the volatile past year, which spawned a host of fine new restaurants. (They were joined by a few wannabes that thought more of pleasing themselves than pleasing guests. But I digress…)
Here’s my list of the year’s top new restaurants serving the Journals’ neighborhoods, leading off with the one, back in June, I predicted would be the top choice of the year. And it is.
It’s the Grand Café, revived this spring with new chef/owners, new menu, new décor — all of which combine to keep foodies purring. This round, the kitchen flourishes in the well-trained hands of Jamie Malone, who has cheffed in many fancy kitchens around town.
Fancy this one’s not, but oh so satisfying — from its pale pink walls (and matching water glasses) to the Dish of the Year, as far as I’m concerned. I’m talking about the foie gras mousse, of course. And the dessert of prunes — prunes, for heaven’s sake! — is equally divine.
3804 Grand Ave.
Next, continuing in no particular order, let’s start with the newly reinvented Corner Table. There’s a new chef de cuisine designing and preparing its innovative but homey menus, which have taken on a three-course, prix fixe format in the talented hands of Karyn Tomlinson.
I loved the duck confit and the sweet corn “risotto,” with its shout-out to Minnesota. Same for the duck breast, served with (what?) rye porridge.
Need I mention that every meal starts with complimentary hot popovers? No, I didn’t think so.
4537 Nicollet Ave. S.
Chef Remy Pettus escaped Corporate to work for himself (and the bank, I presume) and created Bardo in that softly swank Northeast dining room that once was Rachel’s. Just what Northeast needed: a niche of understated sophistication (plus charming outdoor patio) featuring a list of inviting entrees that include the diner-friendly option of ordering in half-portions.
Thus, I didn’t have to dither between the Skuna Bay salmon with celeriac puree and the duck breast with confit leg. I could just say yes to beef partnered with eggplant puree, burnt orange and chimichurri, following excellent gnocchi or agnoletti. See what I mean?
222 E. Hennepin Ave
Here’s another re-do. Sort of. Call it an add-on. Also call it a lot of fun.
That’s the new Café Alma, the youngest kid in Chef Alex Roberts’ brood — the spunkier new sib of mannerly Restaurant Alma adjoining it. Here you can drop in anytime — breakfast, lunch, dinner —a nd order simply a drink, a bowl of soup or a pastry rather than the full set menu next door.
Yet the kitchen’s just as addicted to doing well with the local sourcing of foods we love to eat. Small plates rule, like the lovely winter salad and spirit-warming tomato soup. The place opened in late 2016, but we’ll count it among 2017’s winners, because that’s when I got there. And because winner it is.
528 University Ave. SE
Restaurants are opening in the North Loop as fast as you can say “converted warehouse.” Best of this year’s crop is Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar, occupying — OK, not a warehouse — a former hardware building, stylishly reclaimed in gleaming, sparkly white from tiled entry to lofty ceiling.
It’s the Cheers of the millennial achievers in the hood who gather round its huge, circular bar. The sweet thing is, the glitz and glamour rest upon a menu of items you actually crave to eat and don’t need a glossary to order.
Walleye fingers, for instance. A luscious avocado spread. Porchetta. Fries to die for (as your cardiologist will caution). And — get this — for dessert: milk and cookies. And doughnut holes.
Just bring your blankie and settle in.
515 Washington Ave. N
All dressed up and nowhere to go? Not to worry. The 510 Lounge — the once-venerable grande dame of fine dining — has undergone a soft makeover, retaining the lovely bones of its cocktail lounge and inviting a new generation of imbibers (and nibblers) to settle in.
Chef/patron Don Saunders has designed a limited edition of classy eats, starting with sublime oysters. Platters of cheese and charcuterie are as well curated as a gallery at the nearby Walker Art Center. Proceed to a strip loin or salmon, honoring a recipe from the “good old days.” And cocktails, of course, of the Fred & Ginger stripe.
510 Groveland Ave.
Easy come, easy go. Then easy come again.
When Linden Hills’ Upton 43 left us waiting at the altar, sha-zam! Chef/patron David del Prado raced in with a ring and bouquet. Well, not really, but something far better — fresh, fresh seafood, done in the manner of his native Argentina, and lots of it.
That’s the welcome focus of Martina: Think scallops, calamari, tiger shrimp, Spanish mackerel. Even a combo of octopus and bone marrow, to give you talking points around the water cooler.
The room is pretty cool, too — all winter-white fringed by palm-like plants and an expanded bar. For extra credit, order the charred Brussels sprouts salad; it’s maybe the best dish on the menu.
4312 Upton Ave. S.
The good news for 2018 is that already a crop of new cafes have newly opened or are on the drawing board. We won’t go hungry.