09 September 2007

Lunch at Spill the Wine in Minneapolis

I’ve been reading a lot about this place. It’s in a hip, developing area of Minneapolis, just about two blocks from the new Guthrie Theater. So when my guest blogger, Patty Miller, and I decided to meet for lunch recently, this was on my list of places to try.

We met on a gorgeous September afternoon for lunch. It was a great excuse to be out of the office. For me, getting to the restaurant was a little weird. In the past, I would have come south from my office on I-35W, crossed the Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota, and taken the Washington Avenue exit. But since August, that route has been impossible due to the collapse of the 35W bridge across the Mississippi. It felt strange driving south on 35W, knowing that in just a few miles, the road would end so abruptly.

I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before Patty. The décor is comfortable and casual. It has a warehouse feel with an open setting, exposed brick walls, high ceilings and hardwood floors. There weren’t many people there for lunch, so I had my choice of tables.

Some of the online reviews fault the restaurant for inconsistent service. I found the service to be friendly and accommodating. Of course, with a slow lunch crowd, that probably is to be expected. My server checked in with me, appropriately, to see if I wanted anything until Patty arrived. When she did arrive, the server also was prompt in checking to see what we wanted.

In fact, we did order the daily special flight of wine. Since both of us were returning to work after lunch, this seemed like a nice accommodation. We got to select three 2-ounce samples of wine from the specials listed on a chalk board. Our server advised that we had to try the Malbec. The other two were a Malbec rose and another French red.

For lunch, Patty ordered the Cobb salad. It was roasted chicken, bacon, tomato, gorgonzola cheese, avocado, and egg with parmesan buttermilk dressing. She said,”The Cobb salad was okay - not the best I've had. I like it when the different ingredients are more separated and you can mix them in as much or as little as you like. There were maybe 4 thin slices of avocado and a few crumbles of bacon.”

I had a niçoise salad. It had several unique features. For one, it didn’t have green beans, which seems to be generally regarded as an identifying feature of a niçoise salad. When I ordered it, the server asked how I wanted the tuna prepared. I thought that was a nice feature. I asked for it seared. I think she was a little taken aback because she asked for clarification – seared as in just cooked briefly on each side. I confirmed that’s how I wanted it. That’s how it was served, and I thought it was very good. The dressing also was unusual. Rather than a classic French vinaigrette, it was a sesame and soy sauce base. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Patty and I agreed that the portion sizes were adequate, but not generous. Actually, I’m ok with that. I don’t like it when restaurants serve huge portions that just don’t seem appropriate especially for a lunch. If you try Spill the Wine and want a bigger lunch, then I would suggest ordering a cup of soup or splitting a pizza.

Just a quick conclusion relative to service. After Patty and I ordered our wine, our server seemed surprised that we also wanted lunch. I’m not sure why she thought that maybe we just wanted wine at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon. Also, I had to ask for a basket of bread. We agreed that the bread was very ordinary. It was served with herbed butter, which was tasty, but also not particularly noteworthy.

All in all, while the overall experience had a few shortcomings, I liked Spill the Wine well enough to try again some time. I think it might be good for an after-work get together with coworkers.

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