Based on my single dinner at Porter & Frye, my impression is that chef Steven Brown has finally found a big-bucks sponsor that his particular gifts deserve: the luxe new Ivy Hotel + Residences in downtown Minneapolis.
Brown's spirited cooking combines color, sculptural form and technical prowess, all with an uncanny knack for pairing seemingly disparate ingredients and then making the union feel inevitable. Oh, yeah: It tastes great, too. Tiny slices of preserved lemon and sweet-hot roasted shishito peppers garnished velvety wedges of barely seared tuna. A fragrant celery bisque, its pale green suggesting spring's far-away arrival, was accented with wonderfully fatty pork and crispy puffed wild rice.
Kumquats, beets and spicy arugula made for the prettiest salad imaginable, although a plate of roasted peppers and thin-sliced cured meats ran a close second. Lobster was a glossy footnote to a creamy risotto paired with crisp-skinned walleye, and a vivid tomato marmalade was the perfect foil to meltingly rare lamb. A modern twist on butter brickle ice cream was the crowning touch on an ultra-moist almond cake. At dinner, salads and soups are in the $7 to $9 range, most appetizers land in the teens and entrees average $26.
The restaurant occupies the first floor and lower level of the Ivy Tower, the quirky, diminuitive 1930 landmark that is now surrounded -- overwhelmed, actually -- by a beige box housing a hotel, spa and condominiums. The spare dining room (by Walsh Bishop Architects of Minneapolis), all espresso-tinted oak, exposed pebbled concrete and blood-orange and mocha accents, is below, accessed from the street-level bar by a sleek staircase.
The around-the-world wine list includes 37 choices served in 3- and 6-ounce pours and sold in a wide range of prices.