23 December 2013

Check in at the Chambers Hotel–Marin Restaurant

I’ve only been there for lunch, so far. But I’m encouraged by the new restaurant in the Chambers Hotel. Marin is the sister restaurant to Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park. Catch the northern California parallelism? The town of Mill Valley, CA, is in Marin County.

I still miss the original Chambers Kitchen. Before it closed, it was one of my two favorite, special occasion restaurants in the Twin Cities. After it closed, D’Amico & Sons took over the space, calling the restaurant D’Amico Kitchen. I ate there several times for lunches and dinners. Quite out of character for D’Amico, each experience was uneven. There would be some dishes that were amazingly good, and someone else at the same meal would be served a dish that was disappointingly ordinary.

My first visit to Marin was with my brother for our mutual birthday celebration. His birthday is in October. Mine is in November. We’ve established a tradition of meeting for lunch sometime in between. In fact, Mike and I had one of our birthday lunches at D’Amico Kitchen. If you want to read my review, click here.

When Marin opened, I recommended that we try it. We really liked it for lunch.Marin2

Mike started with soup of the day. It was a sweet potato puree, very thick with chunks of bacon. I had grilled romaine with marinated vegetables, olives and feta. I actually question if the romaine was grilled. If it was, it was very lightly grilled. I’ve made grilled romaine at home, and I think it ought to be grilled just to the edge of charring the outside leaves. Otherwise why bother? But in any case, this was a very delicious starter. The marinated vegetables were excellent, and I loved the olives and feta.

If you wanted to turn a salad into an entrée, the menu offers to add chicken, tuna, salmon, or steak.

If I have any complaint about the lunch menu at Marin, it’s hard to put together a strategy for lunch without ordering too much food. The menu offers a selection of flatbreads. They all looked tempting, and I suppose we could have split one just to get a sample. But the sandwiches are served with a choice of a side dish, and all of them looked equally as interesting. And that doesn’t even mention a list of luncheon entrées that are available.

So Mike and I decided to go with sandwiches. He had smoked chicken with blue cheese and fig jam. It was served on two sandwich rolls that looked very light and airy; perhaps they were brioche rolls. For a side, he had Brussels sprouts with pickled mushrooms.

My sandwich was egg salad and lox. It was very good. The salty lox added a nice dimension to the egg salad. The bread was substantial enough to support the egg salad and lox without distracting from them. My side was lemon quinoa. It sounded great on the menu, and it was good. But it was a little bland. Mike’s Brussels sprouts was better; the pickled mushrooms added an interesting contrast to the sprouts. I also thought the gingered lentils on the menu would have been an interesting side. Marin1

Our server was friendly and reasonably attentive. But she was a little unprofessional. We ordered a bottle of wine. That maybe unusual for Marin’s usual clientele, but we were celebrating. Mike picked the wine, and it was great. We sipped the wine and talked for a while before we ordered the food. As it turns out, we finished the bottle before our sandwiches arrived. Mike decided to order a second bottle so we could have another glass with our food. The server seemed surprised and actually made a comment like, “Oh really?” I didn’t think that was called for.

The other quibble is the space. The original Chambers Kitchen was located downstairs, in sort of an industrial basement with eclectic art on the walls and pillars. D’Amico moved the main dining room upstairs off the lobby of the hotel, and Marin also uses that space. To me, it feels too much like a lobby bar/café for the hotel, rather than a dining destination. It may be ok for breakfast and lunch, but I’m reserving judgment until after I’ve tried it for dinner.

I will try it for dinner. As I said at the beginning, I’m encouraged. I’d love to be able to add Marin to my short list of creative restaurants in the Twin Cities.

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