Eating Good in the Neighborhood
Levain aspired to be a destination restaurant when it opened five years ago: star-chef driven, with understated ambiance, an artful and ambitious menu, and equally ambitious prices. The model—hampered by uneven execution—didn’t take. Owner Harvey McLain (whose Turtle Bread Company had an adjacent cafÃ©) closed Levain last New Year’s Eve.
This summer, he reopened it—better positioned this time as CafÃ© Levain, another entry (CafÃ© Maude, CafÃ© Ena, Wayzata Eatery) in the growing neighborhood-restaurant category. Tables are informally set with butcher paper and ketchup bottles. Price points are much lower. And neighbors—from around the thriving commercial corner that also includes the independent Parkway Theater—and others have swarmed there.
Chef Eric Sturtz—sous-chef under his predecessor, Steven Brown—has also set a more casual tone in the kitchen and on the menu. The selections are best described as classic French bistro fare: mussels in a cream broth, crispy marinated and deep-fried frog legs, French onion soup, and braised short ribs. The most expensive items, a fish du jour and a pepper steak topped with a brandy reduction, cost just $20.
Good to Know
Levain’s rather austere and boxy interior was never destined to win any design awards, and was off-putting to some diners. CafÃ© Levain’s interior has been warmed up with minor remodeling and redecorating and the addition of a wine bar, and feels less closed in after a large new window was installed.
As 2007 got underway, the Twin Cities dining scene was jolted by the closing of three highly acclaimed spots in quick succession: Auriga, Five, and Levain. As of late August, the Auriga and Five sites are still in search of new tenants, but all three chefs have moved into new kitchens.
Doug Flicker (Auriga) is with Anoush Ansari’s Hemisphere Partners restaurant development company (see page 38). Currently assisting with Ansari’s new Via CafÃ© in Edina, Flicker will next craft a concept to increase evening traffic at Mission in the IDS Center.
Steven Brown (Levain) now heads the kitchen at Harry’s Food and Cocktails on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The focus there is on “comfort foods”—meatloaf, pot roast, pie—a far cry from the exotic fare he previously dished up.
Stewart Woodman Co-owner and presiding chef at Five (and before that, the chef at Levain), Woodman and his wife Heidi recently confirmed a long-rumored plan to open a place in the empty Pane Vino Dolce spot on 50th Street in South Minneapolis. No name yet, but talk is of an early fall opening.