Dining Review: Marin

Dining Review: Marin

Can Marin find a constituency downtown for its refined, low-cal fare?

Marin is the downtown sib of Mill Valley Kitchen, Craig Bentdahl’s hot restaurant on the border of St. Louis Park and Minneapolis. Mill Valley’s focus is food with an emphasis on wellness. Portions are modest, especially proteins, there is less dairy and oil, and menus list calorie and nutrition counts. It’s been embraced by a predominantly female clientele with the time and disposable income to focus on such things.

Downtown, especially the checkered Chambers Hotel space, is a different animal, drawing a mix of tourists, suburbanites in for a night of Broadway or baseball, and office workers. I have concerns about the limits of the Mill Valley philosophy here, but it would be gratifying to see Marin thrive.

Shea has fixed the space, at considerable expense. The dank basement has morphed into a clubby bar. The dining room is full of warm wood, backlit pillars, and fabrics with a bit of color. The effect is institutional but pleasing.

Highlights of Chef Mike Rakun’s dinner menu (the restaurant serves morning to night) include a simple and satisfying vegetable beef soup, a superb spiced cauliflower hummus with warm pita, charred salmon-belly bites on a bed of marinated cucumber, and a slow-roasted tomato flatbread that was light on cheese but surprisingly rich-tasting.

Main courses I’d recommend include oven-roasted hen with mustard potato salad; scallops over a fingerling potato hash; a striped bass special over stone fruit tabouleh; a perfectly cooked and seasoned grass-fed beef filet alongside a delicious crab and asparagus salad; and a lunch sandwich of gravlax over egg salad. Several mains were marred by the intrusion of non-complementary flavors: Pea and carrot ravioli (carrot were best) was doused in pesto, and a superb slow-cooked salmon was overwhelmed by juices from the pickled vegetable garnish. Side dishes were light and fresh, but tended to the austere and bland.

Many dishes came less than hot or with cool sauces, including middling glazed chicken “oysters” and a filet of beef. A shrimp ceviche with a smattering of barely discernible octopus had a fishy aftertaste.

Pastry chef Matt Figueroa is a master, turning out desserts that do not have the derivative style so apparent in town. His offerings are somewhat busy but winning, including a lemon cake with frozen blackberries and a rhubarb tart with strawberry ice cream, brown butter, and crème fraîche.

The biggest issue at Marin (pronounced like the county in California) is service. Servers are awkward, seem uncomfortable, tend to either hover or disappear, don’t know the wine list, and are prone to embarrassing gaffes, such as the one who called semolina flour “salmonella flour.” Yum.

Still, this is a fresh and intriguing option downtown, built for people who eat out a lot and can’t constantly consume the lashings of butter, cream, and pork fat that drench the menus currently in vogue. I hope Marin rolls with the punches and endures. It’s the kind of restaurant we need.

What Works

Downstairs bar, desserts, good wine list, a plethora of healthy eating options.

What Doesn't

Amateurish service, dishes can be austere.

901 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis 612-252-7000 marinrestaurant.com