NE Thyme Cafe (Minneapolis, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
The best news in local dining is the creativity and proximity of the new American bistros. These are small, slightly upscale, quirky, wine-friendly neighborhood restaurants with constantly changing menus, and the Twin Cities are sprinkled with examples: think Bakery on Grand, Mildred Pierce Cafe or First Course. Our neighborhood hot spot is the NE Thyme Cafe.
NE Thyme is two years old. In September 2003, chef Scott Pampuch moved from Modern Cafe to become co-owner. With Kevin Kvalsten (from Cafe Lurcat), they've revamped a once-uneven menu.
"Our goal is regional cuisine," said Pampuch. "We're trying to focus on organic as much as we can. We're both trained in classic cooking, but we're using ingredients we have here locally."
Best described as eclectic, the elegant, colorful dining room is a perfect foil for the generally well-chosen menu. Look for just a handful of choices at lunch or dinner.
We were wowed by the vegetarian pumpkin risotto with herbs, red peppers and chevre. It was warming but not too heavy. The baked chicken with truffle cream sauce was a delight.
At lunch, the lamb stew was a delicious heap of turnips, apples, squash and rice combined with hunks of lamb. Simpler was the ham and cheese sandwich with French onion soup. The anchovy, black olive and onion pissaladiere--a tiny pizza-like tart from Provence--was also delicious.
However, the kitchen can be uneven. The sea bass was good, but we were less sure about the soupy mixture it came in. A baked pasta with crab, wild mushrooms, tomato confit, and a lemon-thyme Bechamel just didn't work.
We liked the onion tart but don't know if it is supposed to be hot or room temperature. We've had it served both ways. Another dinner appetizer, the sauteed shrimp with marinated soba noodles and wasabi roe, once came undercooked. Another time it was the best appetizer on the table.
We wish we could say nice things about the dessert, but we haven't found anything we liked yet.
One of the things we do like about NE Thyme is the wine list: a good selection of food-friendly wines at reasonable prices. We recommend the Marsanne/Roussanne blend and the Bonny Doon Viogner, as well as the Gigondas and the Valpolacella. All of these are available by the glass. And if there are enough of you, order a bottle of sparkling Prosecco to start. At $29, it's a great value.
Service can be surprisingly sketchy, especially given such a small house. We prefer a snappier crew and more attention to detail.
NE Thyme Cafe is not a destination restaurant, and we wouldn't drive across town to eat there. But we're happy to walk, bike or drive to our neighborhood American bistro.
NE Thyme Cafe
4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
Brunch: Saturday and Sunday
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