Would we go back:
4762 Chicago Ave S
• Blue Mussels (small) Steamed in a light cream broth with dried chilli flake and tomato; with toasted baguette $8 (shared)
• House-made potato gnocchi with roasted butternut squash and Haralson apples; topped with fried sage leaves and shaved parmesan. $18
• Gianduja (milk chocolate hazelnut ice cream, hazelnut cake and hazelnut toffee sprinkle) $7
We thought we would be safe to arrive without a reservation at 5:30pm, but we were wrong. Luckily were able to snag the last couple of bar seats. The bar it turned out was a very comfortable place to sit, normally I don't like bars because I am a bit short and the bar stools are never really proportioned right for me, but these were very nicely proportioned and very comfortable.
I think the host was new or at least I will give him that benefit of doubt, he seated us in the middle of the four seats at the bar, which even I could see would end up being a problem. And I don't think it was even 15 minutes before it was when another couple came who had no reservations and he needed those seats. We of course moved over with no problem, but then later we had to move again to squish down to seat two more people, I would think since they clearly use the bar they would have that all figured out.
The bread was excellent and they serve it with this aioli which is not to be missed, even if you are anti carb, eat this bread. The mussels were nice, but served with the garlic croutons which I know is traditional, but I would skip it in this case and serve it with the regular bread so it is easier to sop up the juices. My gnocchi was good, the sauce was a bit vinegary which was disappointing, but didn't entirely ruin the dish and certainly did not stop me from eating it all. The dessert was another highlight, it was a perfectly sweet, balanced by the saltiness of the hazelnuts.
In the end it was very good, I would probably not drive across town for it, but that is not what it is meant to be, it is meant to be a great neighborhood restaurant. Now their Turtle Bread outlet in the skyway downtown Minneapolis is another story, I will walk across downtown for their soup and chocolate bread at least once a week when working downtown.
• Ribeye with two prawns and grilled asparagus $32
• Butter Pecan Ice Cream (with a blondie) $7
Just before our entrees arrived, I felt a hand upon my left shoulder. It was not the icy hand of death, it was the unexpected warm hand of a coworker. Over the next few minutes we exchanged pleasantries and introduced spouses. My coworker told his wife that we had created a restaurant blog before blogs were called blogs. Inevitably, the conversation included a comment about this being a special occasion, or at least that any night out and getting a babysitter was a special occasion. Then I realized how lucky we have been to have over 350 special occasions with Renee over the years. I also realized that others really do value our opinions. To them, a special occasion is planned weeks or months in advance, and they thirst for the best information available on what their experience might be like on a night out with a babysitter at home with their children.
Café Levain is a good neighborhood restaurant. You would not regret going there for your special occasion, even though other chefs and restaurants are much more creative and ambitious. Café Levain offers standard preparations of good quality ingredients that will satisfy most patrons. Our small size mussels was adequately prepared, though it did not have the best sauce we’ve ever had with mussels. The mussels themselves were above average quality, tender and flavorful. One of the shells did not open during cooking, and many chefs would be embarrassed rightfully to have the plate leave the kitchen unnoticed.
I was much more impressed with the twelve ounce rib eye that was a special that evening, albeit a few dollars pricey for the Twin Cities market. As so many have said recently, Renee among them, “Fat is flavor.” The steak was perfectly cooked medium rare, and came out sliced, which was unusual. Nevertheless, the steak was delicious, and we saw many others ordering the steak special that evening. The steak was served with two exquisite prawns that were the best prawns I have had in a long time. The grilled asparagus on the side was charred, which I did not like. This is the second restaurant in recent memory that served asparagus in November alongside a steak. I cannot help but dream of early spring when asparagus is truly back in season.
The dessert was fantastic. I had butter pecan ice cream sprinkled with pecans on top of a blondie brownie. The ice cream was homemade, and its texture was smooth and creamy like it should be. The flavor was spot on butter pecan. The blondie brownie was rich, but not overpowering.
There were some definite service foibles during the meal. It spoke toward inexperience as much as anything. We sat at the bar, but we arrived early enough that we could have easily been seated at a table and finished before reservations arrived. This may have contributed to some of the lack of attentive service, but it does not account for all of it. Waiting a considerable time for entrees may have been the fault of the kitchen, but then waiting for plates to be cleared was less than perfect service. In the end, another server cleared our plates while our server was not to be found and the host was twiddling his thumbs. Seating at the bar was interesting as well. Five chairs were set up, but clearly, most people arrived in couples. Musical chairs ensued and another chair was added that should have been set up before dinner service.
Café Levain is good in our rating system because of the price and level of difficulty of food served. As you could tell, perfect service could have raised our satisfaction with the restaurant, but probably would not have raised the overall rating. Nevertheless, we have been to many restaurants that offer a standard menu and still don’t deliver.
November 17, 2007