Wayzata's Blue Point expands its menu to Bloomington. It isn't breaking any new ground, but it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
A pitfall of this line of work is the constant expectation of innovation. Or at least reinvention. So when a tradition-minded restaurant like Blue Point comes along, the knee-jerk response can be to knock it for the very qualities that make it appealing. That would be a mistake.
Owners John and Margaret McDonald have operated their original Blue Point in downtown Wayzata for more than 20 years. Theirs is a success story because they've adhered to a long-term strategy of warm hospitality, tried-and-true food-and-drink and reasonable prices. That the couple are replicating that same business plan in a second location should come as a surprise to no one.
No, Son of Blue Point isn't breaking any new ground. But it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood. The address is best described as quirky, the lobby of one of those vacuous glass office towers that have sprouted at Interstate 494 and France Avenue S. in Bloomington. This particular tower, perched at the edge of an industrial park along the freeway's frontage road, feels a little forlorn, as if it's the initial phase of a development where the later stages were dashed by the real estate collapse. Step inside its vast, impersonal lobby, and the building feels as if it needs the Blue Point a lot more than the Blue Point needs it.
Chef Patrick Donelan, a longtime Blue Point veteran, doesn't concern himself with edgy culinary trends, and isn't one to haunt his vendors for little-known fish species. Instead, his kitchen concentrates on familiar, crowd-pleasing cooking.
The results are often quite appealing. Halibut, an almost iridescent white, was crusted with crunchy pistachios, pan-seared into sigh-inducing succulence and accented with shades-of- autumn yam and pumpkin flavors. A gorgeous slab of terra cotta-colored salmon, so moist and rich it melted in my mouth, its skin blackened to taut crispness, had a just-right smokiness.
Pink, velvety tuna received a not-unexpected Asian treatment, with sesame, tamari and ginger embellishments, but it worked; ditto a similar treatment for grilled mahi mahi. Crab cakes had a marvelous crisp exterior and plenty of sweet crab punch. There's a fine shrimp cocktail, and a nearly foot-long walleye sandwich was distinguished by perfectly fried fish and a bright swipe of coriander-infused aioli.
Small, admirable details -- a vibrant coleslaw, well-made skin-on French fries, a Caesar that actually tastes like one, a Minnesota rarity -- are often overshadowed by curious choices. Oysters are pristine and lovingly presented, but for a restaurant named for a bivalve, there's a disappointingly paltry selection, just three widely distributed choices. Broiled tomato slices, topped with salmon and a flash of thickly reduced balsamic vinegar, were a sloppy, we're-throwing-our-first-dinner-party way to start a meal.
A juicy New York strip, which boasted a bold, beefy flavor, was ordered medium-rare but arrived so bloody my first instinct was to check for a pulse, yet littleneck clams were steamed into rubbery oblivion. I've rarely encountered more flavorful duck, and pairing that intensely flavorful bird with scallops is always a smart idea, but those scallops -- seared until they defined "caramel goodness" -- were gritty and oddly flavorless. Another not-quite-there dish: fish and chips, where light and moist cod was weighed down by a ponderous batter and served barely lukewarm. Love those fries, though.
I'm not sure that Donelan should expend energy on pizzas. Nuance can be a lost cause here, too; a Cheddar-stuffed burger had a glaring jalapeño bite.
Both failings point to a larger concern: When it comes to lunch (and to a lesser degree, the value-oriented happy hour roster), the menu defaults to turkey sliders, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken Alfredo and other Panera Bread-ish items. Enough with the chicken satays, already. You're a seafood restaurant. Own that fact, don't run away from it.
The Wayzata location's chowder-shack charm has been usurped by a more contemporary setting that's blandly handsome, in a soap opera actor kind of way. It's nothing if not multipurpose: business lunches, family dinners, happy hour drop-ins, they all fit in. Service is right on the money, a top-down effort that no doubt starts with the McDonalds and general manager Lorin Zinter, who started his career at the original Blue Point prior to stints at La Belle Vie and Sea Change.
Another definite highlight is the work of pastry chef Nicolas Gonzalez, who distinguishes himself not just with a fine bread basket -- and terrific sandwich rolls and buns -- but also by turning out understated, skillfully crafted classic desserts. Just seeing the word "tiramisu" makes me want to run for the exit, but Gonzalez tidies up the frequently sloppy classic, and renews it with a refreshing citrus finish; chocolate and orange, a marriage that never fails, right?
A puff pastry apple tart hits all the right fall-colors notes, and twinkles of sea salt balance out the sweet side of a supple caramel sauce. Best is a chiffon-style Key lime pie. With its mouth-puckering citrus bite and dollop of thick whipped cream, it embodies the restaurant's core value that simple and steady sometimes steals the race.
Poll: Which 2013 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest entry do you most want to try?