Cue (Minneapolis, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
Apparently large enough to seat an entire Guthrie theater audience at once, the dining room at Cue is space-age cool, with glowing light pillars and silver accents seeming to float over a rich blue carpet. Forget the river view and go at night: it's a stunning dining room.
This ultra-modern space is an odd juxtaposition to the homegrown flair with which the place opened in 2006. Lenny Russo, one of several area flag-bearers for the local food movement, was Cue's original chef. And, indeed, the place garnered all sorts of awards and attention, local and national, that first year. Now that Russo has moved back to his kitchen at Heartland, the Cue kitchen turns out less inspired, but perfectly serviceable meals, with no particular emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, though they do strive to include them.
And that's too bad, because such a gorgeous dining room deserves equally stunning food.
Take these two dinner entrees: ahi tuna, served with white beans, braised tomatoes and an assortment of vegetables; and grilled pork chop, served with a onion-walnut chutney, roasted beets and whipped sweet potatoes. Both were well prepared; the tuna was seared rare and the pork chop was succulent and juicy. The accompaniments were also good, but the basic presentation of protein-starch-veg felt just a little boring.
We could say the same thing about the seared duck breast -- tasty, to be sure -- or the beef. Cue offers a choice of two grass-fed cuts, either dressed up with buttermilk blue cheese and marjoram sauce. These were fine, but we wished for something more dramatic on the plate than herb-covered potatoes and the same vegetable medley as the other dishes.
Perhaps the least interesting dish we tried was the rabbit ragout over basil fettuccini. It sounded good, but was disappointingly bland. The cassoulet was also merely OK. It's a classic French dish: meat and sausage in a rich white bean stew. Cue's comes with a spicy lamb sausage and leg of pheasant cooked confit-style in duck fat: a process that made it taste more like duck and less like pheasant.
Cue's appetizers were better: the kitchen took more chances with their smaller plates. Our favorite was the pork belly confit, intensely rich on the tongue and served with sautéed apples and bourbon sauce. The beef carpaccio, served with truffles, Parmigiano Reggiano and maché, was wonderfully flavorsome and a real treat.
We also liked the bowl of mussels in spicy tomato broth with jalapenos, pepper and chives. Even the squash and leek soup, with hints of sage and sherry, was good.
Prices reflect the décor more than the food. Dinner entrees range from $24-$32; add an appetizer, dessert, and a glass of wine and you're looking at a total bill of $60 per person. That's a lot to pay for a good, but not great, meal. You might plan to go when the theater is dark; the place is empty and you can feel extravagant and unrushed.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.