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Riverview Wine Bar

12 Feb

Riverview Wine Bar
Visited Friday, February 4th, 2011

Ryan
Lauren and I ended up at Riverview Wine Bar with friends Walsh and Sarah Friday night because I maaaaay have dropped the ball on my beautiful lovely wife’s birthday dinner. I had agreed to take Lauren anywhere she wanted for her birthday dinner, and she chose a small popular local restaurant called Alma for Friday night after work. Thursday night, I attempted to make a reservation and was dismayed to see they were totally booked. All of Lauren’s other choices also were all booked—I couldn’t believe my eyes! Needless to say, Lauren was very disappointed that I hadn’t acted sooner. After a few hours of contemplation, she announced to me that “I’ll allow you to take me to Riverview Wine Bar instead.” I knew it wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but I was quick to agree and out we headed to pick up friends Walsh and Sarah for a night at a cozy venue in south Minneapolis.

We were seated at the lone remaining table, situated right in front of the drafty entry way. This was unfortunate but couldn’t be avoided; the place is quite small to begin with and I imagine all tables felt a little rush of cold when the door opened on this frosty winter’s night. I’m warm-bodied; I got over it. The waitress took our drink orders, and all four of us tried different flights. I opted for the Espana flight, featuring four 2 oz. glasses of premium wines from the Spain region. I had one white called Las Brisas (my favorite) and three reds–Massroig, Conde Valdemur, and Mas Donis. I nursed these glasses for over an hour, attempting to get the most for my $12. I enjoyed their wine flight options… a tad spendy, but a fun treat!

The dinner menu was totally what I expected–mostly things like cheese plates and salads. But they also featured a short list of original pizzas. I scoped out the menu and deducted that the Corleone was the one for me, featuring locally produced spicy sausage, mushrooms, and olives. I hate all olives, so I picked those off and handed them to Lauren, a lover of olives. And likewise, I enjoy mushrooms, while Lauren is still a little cool on them. What a team we make! The pizza was just enough for one person, even me! It tasted good to me, but I’m not a pizza critic and won’t even begin to explain flavors to you. It was just good. Eventually the bread we ordered showed up and I gobbled about half the loaf down using their great seasoned butter. Later I had a pint of Old Speckled Hen, a delicious European beer.

I liked the ambiance of this place a lot. It was cozy, dark, and featured some vibrant yet bold colors and tasteful lighting. I commented to Lauren that I envisioned a room in our future house looking like this. The restaurant is attached to a coffee bar, which on this night featured a small jazz ensemble that we could hear through the glass doors. It had seating for maybe 30 people, tops. Our final bill was about $65, a bit spendy for a meal but considering the wine was a big part of it, I was hardly surprised.

Riverview is a place I would return to on a balmy summer night for a glass of wine, but is probably not the kind of place I would make a point to eat a full meal in the near future even though I was perfectly satisfied by the experience as a whole. I think it’s more of a girls’ place to go.

And oh, how did I possibly forget the service. If ever a centimeter of water was missing from my glass, a waitress was over immediately to fill it up. They don’t mess around with their water service there!

Lauren

Yup, my dear old husband sure dropped the stinkin’ ball on my birthday. He somehow didn’t think that any of the six, six! popular, special occasion restaurants on my birthday list would require more than 24 hours notice for a reservation.

Ahem.

I decided that he could take a step towards making it up to me by taking me out to a girly wine bar with cheese plates and appetizers that I would love but he would surely hate.

Ryan has already described our table, which was freezing cold whenever anyone walked in. Unfortunately nothing could be done about that and I’m sure that most of the cafe got some of the draft.

Riverview has a cute, almost kitschy list of wine flights like “Sauerkraut” (German wines) and “No Trees Killed” (Un-Oaked Whites). I went for the cheesy “K-Syrah, Syrah” which was four of my favorite (for now) varietal of wine. I don’t remember much of the wine, other than I liked them all… 🙂

I also ordered a pizza, which I didn’t know the name of at the time and I don’t know now. I ordered by telling the waitress “the last pizza on the list, please”. Scarpino maybe? It had bacon, prosciutto, blue cheese and three other kinds of cheeses. It was sooo salty and delicious and totally hit the spot.

The pizzas at Riverview are small and cracker-crusty, which is my favorite, but I don’t think that the crusts are house-made. For some reason I looked on the bottom of one of my slices and it had these little dimples which reminded me of commercial pizza crusts. Oh well.

After my Syrah wine flight I ordered a class of “Acrobat” Pinot Noir from Oregon which I found very nice, a little bit of spice and lots of flavors. It’s a wine I’m going to be on the lookout for in the future!

One thing that I did think was ridiculous – we ordered a side of baguette, which was $6 for ten or so slices of bread with herbed butter. Both things were very good but it seemed incredibly expensive for something that is usually free at restaurants. I don’t mind paying for bread but $6 seems pretty stiff, all things considered.

Riverview is a place I would like to return to for a glass of wine and a dessert or a bowl of olives, but I doubt it will be somewhere we go to for dinner again.

Ambiance – Very cute. They have done an outstanding job with the decor, it is very cozy. There are a couple couches around a fireplace that look like a really nice place to lounge and have a glass of wine…too bad though, that we were by the door where it was very cold.
Service – They were OUTSTANDING with the water! I loved it! I was in heaven!
Food – My pizza was delicious, very salty and savory. The bread was good but overpriced.
Overall experience – Very nice. I would return. I would like to go back in the summer to sit out on the patio.

The Necessities
Riverview Wine Bar
3745 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN
612.729.4200

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Café Levain

18 Jan

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Café Levain
Visited Friday, January 7th, 2011

Ryan
For my Christmas present, Lauren planned to take me out for a fancy French dinner on New Years Eve! Unfortunately, Lauren got violently ill that night and we were forced to put off our dinner until January 7. Lauren presented me with a list of French restaurants in the Twin Cities and told me to take my pick. Not wanting her to break the bank, I chose the one that seemed the most reasonably priced, Café Levain in south Minneapolis.

The restaurant was very inconspicuously located on a side street. The seating area was very unlike a typical restaurant; it just seemed very open, bright, quiet, and airy. Lauren made reservations, but they clearly were not needed; I would say the place was 40% full at best. Our waiter promptly greeted us and poured water and dropped off the menus. We opted for the Les Launes Croze-Hermitage Syrah (France, 2006) which was a chef’s recommendation. I believe it cost around $37, one of the lower-priced bottles on the menu.

I also chose the Cauliflower Leek Beignets as an appetizer. I did not know, and still don’t really know, what exactly that is. The menu describes it as “Piquillo Pepper Rouille, Frisée.” Whatever… they were good. I would go so far as to say the appetizer was the highlight of my meal. They were these decent-sized, breaded, fried balls that were served with some greens and a dipping sauce. At first taste they seemed relatively flavorless, but soon I was surprised by a little heat! The dish was probably meant for two people, but I ate it all and it was filling.

Cauliflower Leek Beignets

Cauliflower Leek Beignets... very tasty!

The dinner menu was succinct with basically five options: chicken, beef, steak, salmon, and vegetable dishes. There was also a special, the pork tenderloin. I am always a sucker for specials and chose the pork. It was a moderate wait for our food, which we could see being prepared in the open kitchen.

My meal arrived and I questioned if we had indeed come to a French restaurant, or rather a German restaurant! The plate consisted of two slabs of pork tenderloin, very soft mashed potatoes, red cabbage, and what I believe was some sort of tomato jam sauce. The giant bowl/plate made my portion seem deceivingly small, but in reality it was quite a lot of food. To be perfectly honest, my meal visually didn’t look very enticing. But I let my taste buds be the judge! I had never before eaten pork that was still pink in the middle and wondered if it was a mistake or not, but gave the chef the benefit of the doubt and ate it all up… and I’m here to tell about it, so it must have been alright to eat. The potatoes were tasty—nice and buttery. The cabbage was a very German addition to the meal. The tomato jam was really unusual—I may have done without it.

Cafe Levain, pork tenderloin special

The pork tenderloin special

All in all, I was happy with our meal. If we were to do it again, I would order the same appetizer but get a different entrée. Lauren’s beef was better than my pork, in my opinion. Nevertheless, for a Friday night moderately-priced ($20-range entrées) meal, I would recommend giving it a try. A very nice Christmas gift from Mrs. Wife!

Lauren
I was absolutely heartbroken when my vicious cold hit its peak on New Year’s Eve. Instead getting gussied up and heading to St Paul for a romantic dinner at Meritage’s “Celebration” 10pm seating, Ryan ran out to buy a $10 bottle of sparkling wine and we watched the Dick Clark NYE TV special, complete with a performance by NKOTBSB, in our sweatpants.

When I was feeling better I researched French-influenced restaurants in Minneapolis and sent him a list. I was happy when he chose Levain as it seemed like a nice place with good value. I made a reservation on OpenTable, which later proved to be totally unnecessary.

When we arrived, I actually thought the place was more like 25% full – honestly, as I later remarked to Ryan, Levain has way too many tables…if it had been full, it would have been insanely loud and I sincerely doubt the waiters would have been able to squeeze between tables with plates of food. But it was a really nice space with an open kitchen – I think it would be fun to go back and sit at the “bar” facing the kitchen to watch the cooks work.

Maybe it was because I was so hungry when we arrived, but the bread and butter they served when we sat down was shockingly good. They don’t advertise if they use Hope Creamery butter, but the butter we were served was so good that I would be surprised if it was from anywhere else.

Unlike Ryan, I knew exactly what I was getting for my first course – onion soup! I love onion soup and this was a faithful rendition of the old classic…not breaking any culinary barriers, but a very tasty and warming standby for a frigid January night.

imageI had a bit more trouble picking out my main course. I had talked Ryan into ordering a red wine, as I think it’s the best defense against the bitter cold that we endure during winters in Minnesota. I had been tossing around the idea of the chicken or salmon but my desire for red wine somewhat ruled those out. Enter another bistro classic, beef bourgogne (although I’ve always known it as beef burgundy). Red wine, potatoes, onions, carrots, more red wine… absolute perfection for a January night, and Levain’s interpretation did not disappoint. My only complaint, is that the cook had a heavier hand than necessary with vinegar in the jus, as the dish had too much sourness. When the liquid was mixed more with the potato puree, though, the sourness was better balanced.

imageWhen all was said and done Ryan and I were far too full to even consider dessert. Although it wasn’t the plan we had in mind, we had a lovely meal and we left, warm and content, suitably fortified to face the Minnesota winter once again.

Ambiance – Very nice modern space, light with very high ceilings. If it had been very busy I think it would be terribly loud.
Service – Our server was prompt and fairy attentive. He didn’t fill my water glass as often as I would have liked. He was also serving a party of ten a few tables over so I think they commanded more of his attention, and we were more of an afterthought.
Food – I loved mine. The soup wasn’t as salty as some I’ve had, which is a very good thing (and somewhat difficult to accomplish, it seems). My beef was on the sour side but still delicious.
Overall experience I had a really lovely meal, and an even more lovely time. It was more expensive than a typical night out for us, but it was a special occasion so we ordered a bottle of wine. The prices are not outrageous and the food, well executed.

The Necessities
Café Levain
4762 Chicago Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55407
612.823.7111