Give Me Libertine, or….

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August 12, 2014 // UPDATED 4:15 pm - August 12, 2014
By: Carla Waldemar
Carla Waldemar

Libertine
3001 Hennepin Ave. S. 877-7263
www.libertinempls.com

Lake & Hennepin boasts one of the most densely trafficked intersection in the metro (foot, bike, bus, auto). So launch a watering hole on that prime real estate and load up the Brink’s truck — right? Figlio was legendary. Then its top brass shuttered it and reclaimed the space as Cafeteria, whose rooftop defined the urban party life. This round, they’re back with Libertine, with a more muted, city-slicker look, a meat-centric menu and (of course) booze galore.

What’s the life expectancy this round? Gen Ys will continue to crowd the rooftop; but as for foodies in the dead of winter? I’ll map out the territory, then let you judge.

Uber-chef Tim McKee designed the menu (and patrols the room with a welcoming smile). It’s akin to the set-up at Burch, a half-mile north, with a demographic where Gen X leaves off: lots of cuts of meat, served naked, abetted by intriguing add-ons a la carte. But here’s one vital way they differ: At Libertine, the kitchen, not the diner, runs the show. Order, say, a couple of apps, a salad, a veg and/or potato on the side, and your slice-o-meat, and they arrive in an unnatural sequence. Mercifully, dessert can be ordered later. Oh, and one app failed to appear at all. (“We’ll take it off your bill.” Darn right.)

Oysters are a specialty here. We ordered ours charbroiled (or choose raw, shots, or fried), at three for $12. ) Memo to chefs: Why serve apps in threes? Diners hate the odd number: “You take it.” “No you…really.”) Anyway, these were smallish and limpid but fairly flavor-free; ours came topped with linguine: sausage, garlic and paprika.

Then the meat showed up and, gotta say, boy was it tasty! Per Chef Tim’s recommendation, we opted for the lamb saddle chop, insanely delicious, perfectly grilled and juicy, but a bit of a budget-breaker at $24. The bacon chop ($20) gave my companion a sizeable pork chop, gently smoky, dressed in an ivory collar of fat: tender, tasty — but $20??

Ten minutes later came our veg, another winner: a skillet of burly kale ($7), finely snipped, scented with garlic, and stirred into a rich Manchego cream. Irresistible. Finally, guess what? Our salad. I’d chosen the avocado number ($11), a petite and dainty collage of that ripe, creamy fruit arranged with a scooplet of crabmeat tendrils, along with fingernail-thin rounds of radish and red pepper, all flavored with mandarin orange and olive oil. Oh, and a tiny edible flower. After all the hearty, in-your-face flavors preceding it, this salad didn’t stand a chance. (We’d also ordered the crispy pigs’ ears, but that’s the dish than never made it.) An adjoining table was spread with a ham steak ($19), lamb rib ($18) and caramelized cauliflower ($12), among other items — looked good, but just as haphazard.

The cocktail list read well — inventive yet with an eye to simpatico ingredients — wine choices average, and lots of beers, including local brews.

And dessert: Five choices, $7–$9. We went with the smoked-chocolate tart because of the must-try description — Bourbon caramel, smoked sea salt — but it proved a run-of-the-pastry-kitchen creation, and a little too chi-chi for what had preceded. What should we have chosen? Maybe the rum baba with grilled stone fruit, or the strawberry crumble?

Hard to comment on service, because they run orders on command from the kitchen, not by customers’ requests. We left wishing we had been the libertine in mind.