The Oak Grill, located in the Macy's in downtown Minneapolis, in 2007.

Steve Rice, Star Tribune

Restaurant news: Agra Culture Kitchen & Press, Oak Grill

  • Article by: Rick Nelson
  • Star Tribune
  • November 6, 2013 - 4:36 PM

Salads, fast, for Uptown

Spouses Andrea and Aaron Switz, owners of the growth-minded Yogurt Lab chain, are entering the world of quick-service restaurants.

Right now the working name for their new enterprise is Agra Culture Kitchen & Press, with the first outlet scheduled to open in February in Uptown Minneapolis, in the Walkway apartment-retail project at Lake Street and Girard Avenue. A second location is planned for the 50th-and-France neighborhood.

Executive chef Tim Scott — who spent nearly 20 years running restaurants at Dayton’s, then Marshall Field’s and then Macy’s — is focusing on quickly prepared (as in three minutes or less) salads featuring fresh ingredients and cooked-to-order chicken, beef, scallops, tuna, salmon, shrimp and other proteins.

Picture a kale Caesar salad, using grilled chicken that had been marinated in lemon zest, garlic and thyme. Or seared scallops, first marinated in chile paste, garlic, ginger and sesame oil and then dressed with a caramelized pineapple vinaigrette.

“It’s going to be all about making good food, fast,” said Scott. “But we’ll be building flavor into every step. Who doesn’t like flavorful food?”

All salads — which will fall in the $10 to $14 range — will also be available as wraps. Breakfast will include quinoa porridge, oatmeal, egg white sandwiches, yogurt parfaits and other health-minded fare. The restaurant will also feature a juice bar and will serve coffee, beer, wine and Puck’s fountain sodas.

Freshening up a classic

One of Minneapolis’ longest-running restaurants, the Oak Grill (700 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.,, is getting a new look.

Traditionalists, relax. It’s a refresh, not a gut-and-start-over remake. The namesake oak paneling remains, as does the 17th-century carved oak fireplace mantel that has been the room’s anchor since the restaurant’s opening day on Oct. 2, 1947.

The biggest change is definitely the color palette: Burgundy is out, replaced by elegant bronzes, golds, grays and creams in the carpet, paint, wallpaper and upholstery.

Look for the addition of, yes, a communal dining table. Will reserved Minnesotans take to enjoying their popovers in such proximity with one another? Time will tell.

The project is moving along in stages, and should be more or less complete by the end of next week. Here’s what you won’t see: the massive Waterford chandeliers that once graced the River Room, the Oak Grill’s sister establishment in Macy’s downtown St. Paul store, which closed earlier this year. The Oak Grill’s ceilings are too low to accommodate their height.

“The chandeliers are an important piece of history for Macy’s and the Twin Cities,” said Macy’s spokeswoman Kamal Bosamia. “They have been stored safely and we are working to find a home for them so that Minnesotans will be able to view and experience them again.” (My guess: Ridgedale shoppers will enjoy their glamour when that store’s remade restaurant opens in a few months.)

So far, the room looks spiffy, and that’s before the holiday decorations appear. “I do believe that this is going to be the best Christmas in this room, ever,” said Oak Grill general manager Iwona Costigan.

In memoriam

How sad to learn the news of the death of Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who died on Tuesday at age 54. The influential, world-famous Trotter closed his eponymous restaurant in August 2012 after 25 years.

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