New restaurants arrive and how the Downtown lunch business survives

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March 1, 2004 // UPDATED 9:21 am - April 25, 2007
By: Tammy Sproule Kaplan
Tammy Sproule Kaplan

Also, a Downtown-area grocery may expand into gourmet goods

Red hot

The aptly timed debut of Red came just before Valentine's Day. The sleek-looking new hotspot is in the Foshay Tower, 9th & Marquette, where the former un deux trois once stood.

The menu arrangement is element-inspired, with four headings: Earth (vegetarian), Ocean (seafood), Land (meat) and Air (fowl). Although owners Alex Margolin and Boris Fridkin are Russian and the logo contains a hammer and sickle, Executive Chef Marianne Miller insists, "it is not a Russian restaurant, repeat, it's not a Russian restaurant."

Still, there are hints of Russia in caviar pairings like Beluga Caviar and Lemon Sorbet ($30), or the deluxe All Black ($150), served a la carte (meaning the caviar is accompanied by crme fraiche, granit/, fresh bread and champagne). However, the menu is categorically international, from its Asian influences, like Duck Potstickers ($9.75), to a Morroccan-style braised Breast of Squab ($21), accented with olives, preserved Meyer lemons and cinnamon oil.

The happy hour, from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays, is an excellent way to taste infused vodkas like fiery 3-Pepper or tart Blood Orange. The 5-for-$5 special lets you devise your own combination of five items from an abbreviated menu of small plates and samplings of the vodkas. Throughout the bar and dining area, vibrant red hues and new furniture warm up the place, and the light house music thumping in the background deadens the brassy echoes that impeded conversation at un deux trois. With its original menu and trendy-looking crowd, let's hope this space won't return to vacancy for a long time to come.

Growing grocery

In the Nicollet Island/East Bank neighborhood between Hennepin and Central avenues, Vitala Tea, 312 E. Hennepin Ave., closed in January, soon to be replaced by Bone Adventure, a doggie boutique. As the neighborhood continues to spruce itself up, rumor has it that Rick's Market in the Eastgate Plaza, 313 Central Ave., will expand the current 11,000-square-foot store to 25,000 square feet, likely adding more organic and gourmet grocery items. The expansion would fill a major void for the north and east sides of Downtown.

Not losing at lunch

The Imperial Room, 417 1st Ave. N., discontinued its lunch service this week, with a possible return planned for spring. It is not the first full-service Downtown restaurant to struggle with lunch business. Aquavit tried a $10 lunch menu, clearly not enough to sustain its livelihood, even in a very central Downtown location. Last year also marked the loss of un deux trois and Rock Star, other more upscale restaurants that were open for lunch. Recent additions such as Caf/ Lurcat, Tiburon and The Melting Pot have opted not to open for lunch from the beginning. Outside of the obvious grab-and-go, low-cost lunch options, what is the formula for a successful lunch business Downtown?

Having a connection to the skyway helps a lot, especially in winter, according to Kari Jo Hurst, manager, Goodfellow's, 40 S. 7th St. A selection of lunch menu items at $10 or less can't hurt either. For instance, the daily Forum Special (a reference to the Forum Cafeteria that occupied Goodfellows' space in the Art Deco era) features staples such as an open-faced ground beef tenderloin burger with onion rings.

Bargain lunch prices are an enticement, but not a prerequisite. Morton's of Chicago, 555 Nicollet Mall, capitalizes on its convenient skyway connection and hearty, Minnesotan appetites during the winter months. And the attorneys and financial professionals that frequent it don't seem to mind the slightly higher price range. The steakhouse offers fixed daily specials that range from $15 to $20, such as the Chicago-style pepper steak on Mondays, and entrees including a 10-ounce filet ($27).

While the winter season benefits some, others, such as The Local, 931 Nicollet Mall, boost lunchtime business during the summer with outdoor seating. The restaurant offers lunch seven days a week with a brunch menu on weekends. For the price-conscious, the special $9.99 lunch is a sandwich served with choice of fries, mashed potatoes or salad and a soda, with tax and tip included. The pot roast beef sandwich in particular, is a best seller.

Being in the heart of Downtown is not essential, though having a solid base of businesses nearby is. Warehouse District restaurants such as Loon Caf/, 521 1st Ave. N., with its selection of chilis and sandwiches, and Caf/ Brenda, 300 1st Ave. N., with its health-conscious, vegetarian and seafood-focused menu, draw on neighboring architecture, design and photography firms. Caf/ Brenda's owner, Brenda Langton, supplements her lunch business by offering box lunches to go.

Sapor, 428 Washington Ave. N., though slightly off the beaten path, benefits from ample, on-street parking, attracting clientele from area design studios and even as far as the U of M. The signature entr/e, miso-baked salmon served with a wasabi potato cake and gingered vegetables ($11.25), reflects the menu's ethnic influences, though it is not a fusion menu, says owner Julie Steenerson. Outdoor seating in the summer also lifts lunch business.

The Loring Grill, 1614 Harmon Place, wins over a good-sized crowd for its lunch starting at 11 a.m. and all-day breakfast. Owner Bob Johnson, formerly of Palomino, notes that the crowd on Loring Park differs from that of central Downtown. Students from the nearby community college, businesses on the block and area residents make up most of the daytime scene. Though the restaurant goes a bit fancier at night, most lunch items like pizzas and omelets are $10 and under. "We really focus on 'bang-for-the-buck' for breakfast and lunch," says Johnson.

Grand Italian

Bellanotte, a grand-scale Italian restaurant, was recently introduced to Block E, with an opening benefit for the Children's Cancer Research Fund. The restaurant is located on the corner of 6th Street and 1st Avenue North.