Never underestimate the power of a great-looking restaurant. Cov Wayzata, for instance. Its Cape Cod-by-way-of-Lake Minnetonka setting is akin to dining in Diane Keaton’s beach house in “Something’s Gotta Give,” crossed with Meryl Streep’s bakery in “It’s Complicated.”
Fortunately, the restaurant isn’t supermodel skin-deep. The kitchen can turn out appealing iterations of familiar, slightly upscale fare, with an emphasis on seafood.
First of all, Cov is ready, willing and able to touch the very depths of the western suburbs’ crabcake-craving soul. Executive chef Clay Gibbins’ rendition is a bruiser that’s roughly 95 percent lumpy crab meat, loosely formed into a patty and barely held together by a whisper of breadcrumbs, seasoned mayonnaise and egg. It’s baked in a skillet until it achieves a lightly browned, fall-apart monument to the glory that is sweet, freshly harvested crab. It’s worth every penny of its $19 price tag.
Another standout is the thick, creamy guacamole, punched with plenty of lime and salt. It’s brimming with generous chunks of tender, juicy lobster that’s tossed in a delicate citrus-cilantro dressing, and all laid out on a crunchy jicama slaw.
The monster of a prime rib is a thing of beefy beauty, nurtured in a smoker until it barely nudges the outer edges of medium-rare, each tender bite teased with a hint of smoke. The meat, shaved thin, becomes the star in a terrific French dip sandwich dressed with a zippy horseradish sauce.
I loved the ribs, too, which also get a skilled spin through the smoker before they’re blackened on the wood-fired grill until the succulent meat is easily nudged off the bone.
A lighter touch would improve the overdressed flatbreads, as would a tweak to the too-tough crust. Gnocchi’s well-prepared attributes are buried under an avalanche of pesto cream sauce. The idea of bruschetta topped with goat cheese and deeply colorful, flavorful bite-size tomatoes is fine on paper, but what arrives is a way-too-much exercise in oily basil pesto and balsamic vinegar. It’s hard to say which made a less favorable impression: the tragically overcooked swordfish or the overwhelming pile-on of finishing touches.
But then Gibbins, who hails from McCormick & Schmick’s, regains his footing with a number of flat-out crowd pleasers: a gleefully overstuffed shrimp roll; a handsomely rendered wedge salad; roasted beets accented by tarragon and avocado, and big, meaty and well-seasoned poached shrimp, served with a lively cocktail sauce.
There’s a limited oyster selection, but they’re wonderfully fresh and briny. And anyone in search of addictive chicken wings, take a seat at the comfortable bar and get eating.
At Sunday brunch, that crabcake is the centerpiece of a fantastic, carefully built Benedict. Gibbins presses on with a fairly standard but spot-on assortment, turning out fluffy and golden pancakes, a multilayered huevos rancheros, well-stuffed omelets paired with richly addictive hash browns, even a sharply rendered edition of the classic two eggs, bacon and toast combination.
Come summertime, Cov will kick open the restaurant’s boardwalk-style lakeside patio. There’s one caveat: A railroad line separates the diners from the water. But each time another string of boxcars lumbers past, a bartender clangs an overhead bell, and voilà: What could be a scenery-blocking negative becomes all jaunty and fun-loving, a transformative sleight-of-hand.
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Where: 700 E. Lake St., Wayzata. 952-473-5253; www.covwayzata.com.
Recommended: Crabcake, lobster guacamole, ribs, prime rib, prime rib sandwich, shrimp roll, crabcake Benedict.