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Meanwhile, the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, that sterile early-1980s pile of white concrete on the south end of Nicollet Mall, is enjoying the fruits of its recent $25 million rehab.
Its vast and vacuous lobby once had all the appeal of an airline hangar. Now? With its warm tan-and-gray color palette and dramatic fireplace, it’s an environment where humans actually enjoy congregating. The lobby’s former restaurant — an enterprise so forgettable that I can’t recall its name — has been replaced by Prairie Kitchen & Bar. While it’s far from perfect, the restaurant is also an enormous improvement over its predecessor.
There’s a lot to appreciate, looks-wise, including handsome Danish Modern-esque furniture, a comfortable center-of-the-room bar, massive industrial-inspired light fixtures and an abundance of natural light pouring in from windows fronting both Nicollet Mall and the Loring Greenway.
If only the cooking lived up to the surroundings. Well, it does, occasionally, particularly when the efforts remain on the simple side. Breakfast is a strong suit. Innovation is not on the menu, but no one dines at a Hyatt for cutting-edge cuisine. Instead, expect to encounter straight-up versions of egg dishes and griddle favorites.
There’s an agreeable design-your-own salad program at lunch, an idea that blossoms at dinner, when it becomes a terrific appetizer: Create-your-own crostini, featuring such items as cured salmon, succulent smoked duck, hard-cooked eggs, goat cheese and tangy lingonberry jam.
There’s a decent veal meatball, served in appetizer and entree portions, and an eye-catching beet salad.
Still, many dishes would have benefited from modest tweaks. Is no one paying attention to basics? A little salt and pepper would have punched a chicken salad sandwich from rote to remarkable. In a generously stuffed hoagie, turkey meatballs, nicely grilled, were crying out for garlic, pepper, an herb or two, anything. If someone had paid attention to removing bones, a colorful and flavorful fish-bacon stew would have been lovely.
Indifference seems to be the kitchen’s default position. A squash soup was billed as “silky” but arrived unappealingly gloppy and entirely without nuance, its overriding flavor profiles merely sweet and fat.
Pan-roasted salmon was burned outside, raw inside, and served with the most flavorless asparagus imaginable (sampled in February, definitely not asparagus season). A bison osso bucco — nice idea — was chewy and flavorless. I can’t recall a more amateurish roast chicken, the dried-out skin falling off the overcooked meat, the pan juices little more than water. Desserts? Thanks, but no thanks.
As a barometer of the room’s draftiness, we were forced to fend off a particularly chilly night by dining in our coats and ordering coffee, not to drink (it was awful, by the way), but to transform the cup into an impromptu hand-warmer. Service was all over the place, from brusque and largely absent to well-meaning if unpolished.
Prairie Kitchen & Bar isn’t a total cookie-cutter chain hotel effort. For starters, the space tries to reflect the region’s cultural history, and someone is making an attempt, cursory as it might seem, to source locally made ingredients.
But is that enough for locals to want to make a habit of the restaurant? Doubtful.
1300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-596-4640, www.prairiekitchenandbar.com. Open for breakfast 6:30-11 a.m., open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Bar open to midnight.
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