Postcard From Tom: Minneapolis

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Along with the relaunch of the Guthrie Theater and a $90 million makeover for the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis has gained some fine restaurants in the past year. Here are a handful of hits.

SPOONRIVER (750 S. Second St., 612-436-2236)

A spinoff of the beloved green-leaning Cafe Brenda, Spoonriver follows suit with a good-for-you menu that relies on fresh herbs, vegetable stocks, whole grains and worldly accents. So there are terrines made with wild mushrooms and nuts, ravioli bulging with Indian-spiced potatoes and peas (but draped in a green Thai curry) and broiled Wisconsin trout served with quinoa. Long, narrow and light-filled, the newcomer shares its block in the Mill District with the state-of-the-art Guthrie. Entrees $14-$21.

TOWN TALK DINER (2707 E. Lake St., 612-722-1312)

The comedians behind the counter alone are worth the price of admission. "Just had to get the lipstick off your mug first," one of them says as he belatedly hands me my coffee. A quartet of restaurant vets bought this landmark '40s diner, added a dining room and began offering a menu that runs to lusty pork hash at brunch, cheese curds on the bar menu and eclectic dinner fare, including free-range fried chicken and -- this being Minnesota -- a salmon lefse roll, which an owner refers to as "Norwegian sushi." Entrees $16.50-$19.95.

20-21 (1750 Hennepin Ave., 612-253-3410)

Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck extends his brand with this starkly modern restaurant in the renovated Walker Art Center, home to a collection of works from the 20th century "presented in the 21st" (hence the restaurant's name). The best tables hug expansive windows with views of Loring Park; the best (lunch) dishes include chili-spiked chicken in lettuce cups, fiery Szechuan shrimp and a stir-fry of pork, Thai basil and red curry. Hot, hot, hot. Entrees $13-$22.

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