Cafe Levain

As promised, Levain owner Havery McLain has reopened as an affordable neighborhood bistro. If there's a place for a spur-of-the-moment Tuesday-night dinner, this is definitely it, with the kitchen coaxing flavors out of everyday ingredients -- chicken, less-expensive cuts of beef and pork, root vegetables -- and then treating them in time-tested ways. Short ribs,fall-apart tender, have such a primal appeal that the minute you take a bite you know you won't be sharing a morsel, not even if your beloved threatens banishment to the guest room. Gnocchi are served with an apple-squash combo (and bits of fresh and fried sage, a lovely touch). There's a fine rosemary-kissed roast chicken, the leg and the breast still on the bone, the skin crispy, the meat juicy. A hearty beef stew, brimming with carrots and potatoes, hit just the right balance of blended and distinct flavors. A hanger steak has an appropriately robust bite, heck, even the two-fisted burger is a fine example of how well-prepared basics genuinely hit the spot. Even the back-to-basics salads are a pleasure, particularly the arugula jazzed with delicate celery leaves and pert lemon. And I love the homey, generously portioned side dishes, each a well-prepared sidekick to the main attraction: skin-on fries, sauteed Swiss chard, deeply caramelized Brussels sprouts, sweet corn finished with a dollop of creme fraiche. The bread basket aims to please, not a surprise given the restaurant is part of the Turtle Bread Co. family. Daily specials were disappointing, as was the dessert menu, with the exception of a marvelous, multi-layered chocolate-hazelnut cake and a fine tarte Tatin. Service is another weak spot. This is not the bistro for you if you are in anything approaching a hurry.

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4762 Chicago Av. S. Minneapolis, MN 55407
Sun, Tue.-Thu.: 5-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat.: 5-10 p.m.