Café Levain

 March 8, 2012

4762 Chicago Ave. Minneapolis, MN | www.cafelevain.com

Being a recent inductee into the local group of foodies known as the “Minnesota Food Bloggers“, I’ve seen a lot of suggestions for Twin Cities dining spots. In the short two weeks that I’ve been a part of the group, there were one or two restaurants in town that I kept seeing mentioned time and time again. One of these, Café Levain, peaked my immediate interest. Adding to my interest was the fairly regular local Twitter chatter about the skills of the restaurant’s executive chef, Adam Vickerman. With all of the high praises, I did not hesitate to book a reservation to see Chef Vickerman’s work first hand.

Attached to the very popular Turtle Bread Company, Café Levain is a bright, inviting, and rather cozy establishment. I had heard previous mention about Café Levain’s Sunday supper special, which features a very reasonably priced 3-course prix fixe menu. Arriving at the restaurant and taking a look at the menu, we ordered a couple of items to start along with the Sunday prix fixe.

Frites – Ketchup, mustard aioli

My family has a very strong obsession with pomme frites. I don’t know why, but we can’t resist trying them almost everywhere we go. I’ve sampled frites from various other local restaurants, even one that touted itself as the “best frites in the Twin Cities”, and am not afraid to say that Café Levain’s version is the best I’ve had in the Twin Cities so far. These frites were not overly oily, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with just the right touch of salt.

Mussels – Cream, white wine, shallot, garlic, herbs, lemon, baguette

For the second appetizer before our prix fixe menu, we decided to try another favorite of ours. Chef Vickerman pleased us once again with a delicious and aromatic bowl of mussels. The broth of white wine, garlic, herbs, and cream went perfectly with the mussels. The flavor was spot on, leading me to keep the bowl of leftover broth at the table (and asking for more house bread) well after the mussels were gone. I also appreciated the care to prepare the mussels properly, as none of them had any grit or sand within.

1st Course: Pearl Barley Baked Risotto – Sunchoke, candied walnuts, parsnip, parsley salad

The first course of the Sunday special dinner menu was an interesting interpretation of risotto prepared with barley in place of the usual rice. Although they did not absorb flavor quite like rice normally would, I enjoyed the earthiness of the barley. The candied walnuts added a nice crunch along with a little sweetness to cut the richness of the dish.

2nd Course: Riverbend Farms Polenta – Sunny side up egg, Rogue Creamery “Smoked Blue”, preserved lemon, chive

I had seen mention of Café Levain’s polenta online, and was pleased to see it as our second course of the night. Creamy and rich, the polenta married well with the saltiness of the blue cheese. The egg was perfectly cooked, releasing all of its delicious yolk as you cut into it. My only criticism would be that this course, while delicious, was similarly rich to the first. The two courses back-to-back were a bit heavy on the palate.

3rd Course: Roasted Chicken / Hanger Steak – Bread pudding, mustard vinaigrette, Upland Cress, crispy shallot

The third course of the menu gave you an option of two proteins prepared in similar fashion. The steak and chicken were both cooked very well. Either protein had great sear and/or crust on the outside while remaining very moist and tender on the inside. The roasted chicken was perhaps one of the moistest preparations of chicken breast I’ve ever had. The other elements on the plate were also well prepared. I’m not much of a bread pudding fan, but Chef Vickerman did a great job of exceeding my expectations in its preparation. The vinaigrette added a welcomed tang to the overall flavor of each bite as well.

Dessert – Chocolate Cremeux

A complimentary dish from Chef Vickerman, this chocolaty dessert was the final course of the night. The chocolate cremeux had good flavor and contrasting textural elements.

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Coming off of my two previous nights of Michelin dining in Chicago (Alinea & Schwa), Chef Vickerman was in for an uphill battle of sorts. Reflecting on the various dishes, I would say that he performed with flying colors. Although there were one or two minor criticisms to be made, I thought that the level of quality in Café Levain’s food was every bit worthy of the praise it has received from my fellow Minnesota food bloggers. Considering the level of food quality, price, and portion size of the Sunday supper special, I would argue that this is one of the best dining values you’ll find here in the Twin Cities.

I am very glad that I decided to try Café Levain and the food of Chef Vickerman. We’re sure to be back for more!

Café Levain
4762 Chicago Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55407-3515
612.823.7111

Cafe Levain on Urbanspoon

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