If you look closely, the walls of the newly reopened Grand Cafe in south Minneapolis are a pinkish tint.
Suddenly, other bits of pink will pop out as well: the throw pillows on the nearby bankette seating, the drinking glasses. The effect is undeniable: This new Parisian-inflected Grand Cafe at 38th and Grand wants you to experience a bit of la vie en rose, a carefree trip into decadent, fun, and ultimately very thoughtful cuisine.
A floor-to-ceiling scroll, hand-painted in Paris, was flown to Minneapolis by chef Malone's brother.
This Grand Cafe is somewhat distinct from the former iteration owned by Dan and Mary Hunter for 10 years. That Grand Cafe served the Kingfield neighborhood with a necessary equity of sophistication and simplicity. It was a place to bring your parents or take a first date for a bit of romance; you could drop in for a brunch with your paper or drop by in the afternoon for a glass of wine on the patio. It was refined but familiar.
Sliced Raw Fish, a meaty mackerel
This Grand Cafe, opened two Fridays ago by chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson, asks a bit more of you as a diner. Namely, that you entertain a host of new culinary terms, try a spongecake flavored with prawn, possess the manual dexterity to eat foie gras out of an eggshell without cracking it into bits, and have the cash to cover this foray into uncharted territory.
If you are willing and able, you'll find many delights at this reimagined neighborhood haunt.
Red Prawn Castella
The menu is divided into five sections: Little Things (one- to three-bite items that sit just above an amuse-bouche on the portion scale), Salads, For the Table (slightly larger, shareable delicacies), Entrees, and Accompaniments. The wine list, curated by none other than the Bacchus of Minneapolis, sommelier Bill Summerville, is set up to accompany your journey.
From the section of Little Things, we ordered the Red Prawn Castella, a pinkish, savory spongecake that is both unexpected and inoffensive, if the thought of seafood pastry puts you off. The Slices of Raw Fish -- mackerel sliced just so -- were meaty and fresh. So much so that if the words "raw fish" were not very clearly printed, you might have forgotten these weren't cooked. Expert cutting yields the perfect bite.
A chicken meatball, known here as Chicken Jambonette, gave us our first peek into the playfulness sneaking out of this kitchen: the single but shareable meatball came served with mustard and skewered by a perfectly clean, white chicken bone, like a lollipop a kid might make when bored at the table. It was delightful.
The Foie Gras Royale is a similar little show-stopper: A base of rich, nutty foie gras is nestled in a hollowed-out egg shell, topped with a silky, tobacco-infused creme and served with a tiny gold spoon in a dish shaped like a duck foot. It's funny, but seriously decadent, and worth the $8.
The For the Table section includes big-ticket items like a hand-sliced Mangalitsa ham from Tennessee that sells for $21 an ounce. We love ham more than we love most people, but though our server insisted it was worth the price, we couldn't swing it this time around. Instead, we opted for the Pike Quenelle ($16), an eggy fish roll bathed in a lovely, creamy crayfish sauce we would have eaten as a soup.
Duck egg dumplings with spring onions, peas, and sauce Soubise
Classic French entrees (a roast chicken, lamb with Hollandaise) will offer more familiar fare, but even here, chefs Malone and Anderson have their ways of infusing fun. The fork-tender short ribs with sauce Bordelaise came with a Flintstone-esque bone curving off the plate. In lieu of mashed potatoes, little potato puffs -- two slices of potato pressed together and then puffed up like a balloon -- tasted like a cheffly version of Munchos. Though more straightforward, a dish of duck egg dumplings ($18) was perfectly satisfying for a lighter meal.
Short rib with potato puffs
Dessert proved what the French know and we Americans need to sort out: that prunes are not a geriatric digestive aid, but tart, sweet morsels that make for a gooey, rich jam when cooked and placed alongside vanilla ice cream. May prunes experience the resurgence they've long deserved.
Let prunes be restored to their rightful place in the dessert canon.
Whether Grand Cafe loyalists will be disappointed by this new version of their neighborhood cafe is yet to be seen. With the patio open and still serving wine, and brunch on the way, in many respects, this Grand Cafe can serve locals much as the former one did. Only this time, instead of plying them with their recognizable favorites, the cuisine will whisk them away to something new.
3804 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis
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