Chambers, Solera, Manhattan's and Bank

By anne
June 6, 2007 - 01:25.

This Tuesday evening restaurant tour sounds like a law firm but it’s strictly for epicures, not esquires. My friend Deb is new to Minneapolis, by way of New York City and San Fran, so first impressions are important. When she asked where I’d like to have dinner, I pulled out the big guns right away. (With apologies to my #1 fave 112 Eatery and close second La Belle Vie, plus art venue-ensconced Cue and 20.21…we’ll get her to all of you next time around.)

“Meet me at Manhattan’s,” I said into my cell phone as I bolted from work around 5:30. This new resident of the LaSalle Plaza space formerly occupied by Zeno’s will open tomorrow, but I tend to show up early for the sneak peek. (Just ask Karl and Katie at Spill the Wine, or Kam and Kevyan at Crave, or Kevin and Kyle at Café Maude, all of whom entertained me and my friends at their restaurants prior to opening night. Hmm, seems one’s name must start with “K” to get a restaurant permit in this town.)

In any case, Manhattan’s GM Dan Dinovis was more than accommodating, not only shoving a ladder and an as-yet-unattached banquette away from the wall to reveal the executive boardroom, but imploring his spankin’ new bartender to fix us up a signature cocktail. My toast: To long life (which is relative, given that other bars and restaurants have struggled in this space).

Next stop, Bank at the new Westin hotel in the historic Farmers & Mechanics Bank building at 6th and Marquette. Had we heard a train a’ comin’, it surely would have put us in mind of the elegant oyster bar at NYC’s Grand Central Station. And if they’d thought to add some gold leaf…oh well, the general vibe is very east-of-here.

On a tip from hipster Tammy Hauser, Deb and I tried Bank’s fresh blueberry mojitos and were not disappointed. The berries are just tart enough to balance the sugar cane, and shaken until frothy, these libations say, Finally—summer!

The dinner menu sounded pretty good at the old F&M, but we opted instead for the sunnier Solera at 9th and Hennepin. Besides, we needed the walk. And we just happened to follow the scenic route past M&S Grill and then Ike’s, both of which had outdoor tables filled mostly with men-after-work. Love that loose tie look with sleeves rolled up and shoes kicked off under the table. Is this what warmer-climed Californians get to look at all year long? Sigh.

At Solera, we received a warm welcome from owner Josh Thoma, who seated us. A golden Spanish sherry and a mango juice arrived within minutes, followed closely by our tapas picks: shrimp and fennel salad, calamari, grilled asparagus, and spicy patatas bravas with aioli (always, always order that one!).

Sated, we had one more important stop to make for the new girl in town: Chambers Hotel. The fifth-floor “red white and f*ing blue lounge” and its balcony over the street aren’t open on Tuesday nights, but we got a tour anyway, courtesy of Steve, the handsome head of security. Every time I go there, I find more to admire in the artwork collected by developer extraordinaire Ralph Burnet. Now on exhibit: Angela Strassheim photographs, through August 4. Next up, according to Steve: a showcase of local artists’ work.

At Chambers, we toured the Rock Star Suite ($3,500/night) and the courtyard with its gorilla sculpture centerpiece (A Couple of Differences Between Thinking and Feeling, by “YBA”—young British artist—Angus Fairhurst). Deb was impressed. “I’d bring people here,” she said, in reference to her steady stream of visitors from both coasts. And I thought, Just wait ‘til the Ivy and the W arrive! We have a very cool city here. It’s true—between its attention to art and architecture… its offerings of comfort and cuisine… Minneapolis rocks, especially downtown. I may not live in that zip code, but I’ll take every opportunity to show it off with pride!

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