Q: Can you suggest a few patios, ones that don’t get all the attention and crowds?
A: Here are two: At the Walker Art Center’s Gather (1750 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.gatherbydamico.com), there’s a long stretch of tables on the museum’s roof, just outside the restaurant. It’s a bit sun-soaked at lunch, but on Thursday evenings (the one night when chef Josh Brown serves dinner, and the Walker’s galleries are open, for free), it’s a magical setting, with extraordinary views. Great food, too. The other is at the Campus Club (300 Washington Av. SE., Mpls., www.campusclubumn.org), which is located on one of the upper floors of Coffman Union at the University of Minnesota. During the summer, when the campus is fairly sleepy, the members-only club opens itself up to the general public during happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. weekdays), and the club’s terrace, which overlooks Northrop Mall, is a thriller, especially for anyone with an affection for the U of M.
Q: Who gets gazpacho right around here? Any other cold soups worth seeking out?
A: With tomatoes finally starting to come off local farms, it’s definitely gazpacho season, and I’d start at Sandcastle (4955 Nokomis Pkwy. W., Mpls., www.sandcastlempls.com), chef Doug Flicker’s beachside concession stand. I’ve always loved the gazpacho that I’ve occasionally encountered at chef Vincent Francoual’s Vincent (1100 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., www.vincentarestaurant.com). My guess is that you’ll probably also find an excellent gazpacho — along with other beautifully prepared cold soups — at Lucia’s (1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., www.lucias.com). Oh, and here’s hoping that the chef who has a total flair with soups, Steven Brown of Tilia (2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., www.tiliampls.com), picks up the gazpacho gauntlet this month.
Q: Vacationing with family on Lake Superior’s south shore next week, midway between Duluth/Superior and Ashland, Wis., and my wife and I get to take off for a date night. We’re pretty sure we’ll be making the nearly hour trek to Duluth for that, but the most intriguing place in your recent “Destination Duluth” article this summer (the New Scenic Cafe) was a ways up the north shore. Any suggestions to save us a bit of a drive, yet is still a worthy date night?
A: Yes, while the New Scenic (5461 North Shore Dr., Duluth, www.newsceniccafe.com) is a total delight, it would be a major hike from Lake Superior’s south shore. So why not head east instead, and stay in Wisconsin? You should definitely consider Wild Rice (84860 Old San Rd., Bayfield, www.wildricerestaurant.com), which is one of the Midwest’s great destination restaurants; chef Jim Webster is an incredible talent, and the setting is extraordinary. I’m also a fan of Good Thyme Restaurant (77180 Hwy. 13, Washburn, www.goodthymerestaurant.com), where the cooking is uncomplicated and nicely done, and the rural setting is cozy and ultra-charming.
Q: My wife and I are going out for our first date night since Valentine’s Day. We are looking for someplace in or around Eagan.
A: Have you ever been to i Nonni (981 Sibley Memorial Hwy., Lilydale, www.inonnirestaurant.com)? It kind of screams “romance” to me; for starters, there’s the all-Italian wine list. For something a little more casual, you could drop in on Mendoberri Cafe & Wine Bar (730 Main St., Mendota Heights, www.mendoberri.com).
Q: What are your most memorable dishes from local restaurants? Is there something everyone here needs to try?
A: Where to begin? I’ll start at Burch Steak and Pizza Bar (1933 Colfax Av. S., Mpls., www.burchrestaurant.com) and dessert, since I have a ravenous sweet tooth; pastry chef Shawn McKenzie prepares a beyond-awesome baba rhum, a basic-looking but not basic-tasting cake that soaks up its rum sauce like a sponge. Pig Ate My Pizza (4154 W. Broadway Av., Robbinsdale) bakes up ridiculously great pizzas, including their signature, a must-have they call the Cider Ham Rules. Right now I’m craving the slow-roasted pork from Brasa (600 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., and 777 Grand Av., St. Paul, www.brasa.us), with a side of cornbread and beans. I’ve also been consumed with thoughts of the pho at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro (799 University Av. W., St. Paul, www.ngonbistro.com). But I could go on, and on, and on.
Q: What’s the cheapest 4-star restaurant in the area?
A: I’d say it’s Heidi’s (2903 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., www.heidismpls.com), where chef Stewart Woodman is currently offering an exceptional summer deal: four courses for $48. You also can have a great inexpensive experience at Salty Tart (920 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.saltytart.com) and Rustica (3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., www.rusticabakery.com). And it’s very easy to spend less than $20 and dine very well at Bar La Grassa (800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.barlagrassa.com).
Q: What’s the name of a good Indian restaurant?
A: I like to send people to a terrific Nepalese-Tibetan-Indian place called Gorkha Palace (23 4th St. NE., Mpls., www.gorkhapalace.com), which has an awesome farmers market connection; the restaurant started as a dumpling stand at the Mill City Farmers Market (704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www. millcityfarmersmarket.org), and it’s one of the many reasons why I love to hit that market on Saturday mornings.
Another favorite of mine is Curry ‘N’ Noodles (802 Mainstreet, Hopkins, www.currynnoodles.com). For a more traditional Indian-Minnesota experience, you could try Gandhi Mahal (3009 27th Av. S., Mpls., www.gandhimahal.com) and Dancing Ganesha (1100 Harmon Pl., Mpls., www.dancingganesharestaurant.com). Or check out Copper Pot Indian Grill (10 S. 5th St., Mpls., www.copperpotus.com). It’s a relative newcomer, with an impressive buffet-style lunch and a full bar, an Indian restaurant rarity.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib