Q: You recently gave Restaurant Alma and Cafe Alma (528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909, almampls.com) a four-star review. What other Twin Cities restaurants are members of the four-star club?
A: Let’s see. The next previous four-star review dates to May 2015, and it was Spoon and Stable (211 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-224-9850, spoonandstable.com). There were two in 2014: Travail Kitchen & Amusements (4124 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131 travailkitchen.com), and Heyday (2700 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-200-9369, heydayeats.com).
Burch Steak and Pizza Bar (1933 Colfax Av. S., Mpls., 612-843-1500, burchrestaurant.com) got its four stars in 2013, and Butcher & the Boar (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-238-8888, butcherandtheboar.com) was 2012’s high-water mark. Two made the grade in 2011: the Bachelor Farmer (50 2nd Av. N., Mpls., 612-206-3920, thebachelorfarmer.com) and Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stp.com).
In 2009, it was all about Bar La Grassa (800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-3837, barlagrass.com). If you want to reach way, way back, two bakeries were awarded four stars: the Salty Tart (920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-874-9206, saltytart.com) in 2008, and Rustica (3220 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-822-1119, rusticabakery.com) in 2004.
In the past 18 months, we’ve lost four four-star restaurants — La Belle Vie, Brasserie Zentral, Heartland Restaurant & Wine Bar, and Piccolo — and how depressing is that?
Q: We’re seeing “Wicked” at the Orpheum Theatre this week. Where should we have a preshow dinner?
A: In terms of proximity, you can’t beat stylish Mercy (901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-252-7000, mercympls.com), chef/owner Mike Rakun’s recently opened remake of Marin; it’s across the street from the theater. The eclectic menu features beer can chicken, a supperclub-esque wedge salad, crab-filled empanadas, scallops with a bacon vinaigrette and a triple-chocolate sundae. Hit happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. and post-9 p.m., daily) for a $10 cheeseburger and $4 tap beers.
Q: How about a Mother’s Day brunch suggestion?
A: On what is one of the dining industry’s busiest days, consider avoiding a restaurant and heading to the Oswald Visitor Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (3675 Arboretum Dr. Chaska, 612-301-7602, arboretum.umn.edu). The buffet-style spread will include garlic-crusted prime rib, Caesar salad, smoked salmon, omelets, waffles, salads, biscuits and gravy, desserts and more. A bonus: lilacs, crabapple blossoms, wildflowers and 38,000 tulips in bloom, along with browsing at the Auxiliary Spring Plant Sale. May 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cost is $36 ($33 for members), $16 for ages 12 and under. Reservations required.
Q: Sunday is our date night. Any dining ideas?
A: You might try romantic Cafe Lurcat (1624 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-486-5500, cafelurcat.com), because chef Jordan Swiler prepares a three-course Sunday dinner; cost is $50 per couple. The bar gets into the act, too, cutting the price in half for all bottles of wine under $100. At charming Muffuletta (2260 Como Av., St. Paul, 651-644-9116, muffuletta.com), the kitchen turns out three courses (with several options in each course) for $28. Here’s some good news: Cooks of Crocus Hill (877 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-228-1333, cooksofcrocushill.com) has revived its once-a-month Sunday Supper program, offering a demonstration class and dinner for $45 per person. The next gathering is May 21, with a summer picnic menu of barbecue chicken, mac-and-cheese with collard greens, buttermilk biscuits with honey butter and whiskey-glazed grilled peaches with vanilla bean ice cream.
Q: What’s the most delicious dish you’ve tasted in the last month?
A: This might sound nuts, but I think I’m going to go with the quiche Lorraine that I encountered at a special Easter brunch at Bellecour (739 E. Lake St., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com). I know, quiche. Such a ’70s, cliché, right? But honestly, it was a revelation. The luscious custard, with its occasional pops of bacon, rose high off the delicate, flaky crust, and it was served with an ideal foil, a palate-cleansing handful of bitter greens. So simple, and so technically astute (pastry chef Diane Yang’s collection of baked goodies was similarly superb). Weekly brunch service is still in the works, but here’s the good news: Chef/owner Gavin Kaysen serves that same quiche on the Sunday brunch menu at his Spoon and Stable.
Q: That summer-only restaurant on the Mississippi River near the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. When is it opening?
A: I’m guessing that you’re referring to the terrific Red River Kitchen at City House (258 Mill St., St. Paul, redriverkitchen.com), and it’s launching its 2017 season on May 1.
Q: I have a 13-year-old grandson who has a developing passion for cooking. Could you give me a few suggestions of Twin Cities restaurants with interesting food vibe that we could take him to that also have a patron view of cooks working the grill and finishing plates?
A: Fortunately, kitchen counters are all the rage, so you have plenty of front-row options. The small number of counter seats at Tilia (2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2806, tiliampls.com) and Borough (730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-354-3135, boroughmpls.com) are overshadowed by their reach-out-and-touch proximity to the stoves. I’m a big fan of the long counter that faces the wood-burning hearth at Young Joni (165 13th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-345-5719, youngjoni.com), and it’s fun to watch the chefs go through their dumpling- and noodle-making tasks from a counter perch at newcomer Jun (730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-208-0706, junnorthloop.com). For casual experience, take a seat at the counter at Nighthawks (3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-248-8111, nighthawksdiner.com) and observe some serious pancake-griddling. I suspect that your grandson will really soak up the show from the counter at the infectiously theatrical Travail Kitchen & Amusements, where a tasting menu-only format ($75 to $115) is served Wednesday through Saturday. Oh, and when it opens next month, Tenant (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-8111, tenantmpls.com) will be serving a six-course dinner ($50, Tuesday through Saturday) and the restaurant will feature a kitchen counter.
Q: Any thoughts on the upcoming James Beard awards?
A: Only to say that I hope to hear that the names of either Steven Brown of Tilia or Jorge Guzman of Surly Brewing Co. (520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040, surlybrewing.com) are called out at Chicago’s Civic Opera House when the award for Best Chef: Midwest is announced. Because Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart isn’t in consideration (she was a 2017 semifinalist) for Outstanding Baker, I’d be happy to see the award go to Ken Forkish, owner of the amazing Ken’s Artisan Bakery in Portland, Ore. And in the Outstanding Chef category, I’m rooting for Michael Solomonov of Philadelphia’s extraordinary Zahav. We’ll find out on May 1.