St. Louis Park Woodfire Grill
One has to wonder about these restaurants with menus reaching from Italy to India to Iran. Can a chef ever do justice to multiple kinds of cuisine when he or she bounces between a pasta with Bolognese sauce one minute and a clay oven-cooked chicken kabob the next? In the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, we’ve seen the “everything for everyone” concept thrive (Crave) and dive (Ringo), and local food service management company Taher Inc. recently decided to throw its hat in the ring when it made over its Alaska Eatery off I-394 in St. Louis Park into the St. Louis Park Woodfire Grill.
Investing in a tandoori oven and grills large enough to cook a brontosaurus, the Tahers hope “YOUR SENSES ARE DELIGHTED WITH THE RICH SMELL OF THE THE WOOD FIRE GRILLS” (yes, the press release was entirely in caps), but after several visits, we walked away more with a sense of mediocrity than amazement. While only one item sampled was a complete miss, only one dish met the hype, and tellingly, it wasn’t even one cooked on the grill.
The list of appetizers circle the world from Asia (ahi tuna crisps), the Middle East (saffron chicken wings), Canada (poutine), and the good ol’ U.S. of A. While the woodfire avocado ($7) took a fun twist on a traditional guacamole by grilling a whole half directly, the slightly underripe fruit was overshadowed by the tomatillo salsa that accompanied it. A perfectly ripe avocado likely wouldn’t have held its shape on the grill, we understand, but when the avocado is the star of the dish, it’s hard to overlook its diminished flavor. More successful was the grilled house-made naan ($4) with a cilantro-mint topping that enhanced the bread’s smoky char from the grill and rendered the cucumber sauce on the side unnecessary. The Mexican chile verde soup ($4 / cup, $7 / bowl) also impressed with its tomatillo-based broth, chunks of tender chicken and fresh lime flavor.
The sandwich menu splits roughly 60 / 40 between grilled and deli-style sandwiches, and of the ones tried, the deli-inspired sammies get the nod. A tarragon chicken sandwich ($10) featured a pleasingly fresh, herby flavor that was only marred by the mealy out-of-season tomatoes tucked inside the nine-grain bread. (Hint to restaurateurs: If the tomatoes aren’t up to snuff, just don’t serve them. If they’re looking pink and pathetic, they add no flavor or appeal.) While the reuben ($12), chock full of corned beef and melty cheese, wouldn’t hold up to New York deli standards, the savory rye bread and ample filling made it a satisfying lunch. But the turkey burger’s ($10) bottom was so charred from the grill that it was hard to discern any other flavor, not even from the pepper jack cheese, and while the Asian-style slaw added a nice kick to the black bean burger ($10), the patty was the same Morningstar Farm variety I keep in my freezer.
Among the larger entrees, the grilled dishes, while not flops, often fell short of expectations. The clay-oven chicken kabob platter ($13) featured a cumin-laced bite that seemed out of place with the grilled asparagus and (again) tomatoes on the side. Though not off-putting in any way, the chicken didn’t offer any reason to order the dish again. Similarly, the grilled halibut ($19) invoked more mehs than mmms. Again, the aggressive char from the grill overpower the delicate miso glaze, and thick spears of asparagus were too tough to enjoy properly.
Thankfully, the grill lent a more gentle touch to the pizza crust, making the Rustica pie ($9) a better choice than many of the heavier dishes, but it’s no Lola or Black Sheep. The real winner of the dinner menu is the shrimp truffle mac and cheese ($11 / half order, $17 / full) — you can’t argue against such a creamy, cheesy, heart-warming bowl of love. Your arteries will tell you to get a half-order, but your tastebuds will demand a full. The truffle oil is evident but doesn’t overtake the richness of the cheddar and Gruyère, and the tender shrimp’s relative lightness make you feel just slightly less guilty than if the dish was all carbs.
While the food doesn’t merit much high praise, the waitstaff deserves applause for being friendly, knowledgeable, and flexible. Requests to be reseated or for more information about the menu are always met with a smile, and the servers know the appropriate times to stop by for a check-in. The restaurant retains much of the hearty lodge-inspired decor of its previous incarnations, making it feel especially cozy as the weather turns colder.
St. Louis Park Woodfire Grill won’t be the restaurant you look toward when you’re looking to impress your foodie in-laws or coastie friends, but it’s a valid choice if you need to feed a sippies-to-seniors crowd with varying culinary preferences. It even has the potential to become more noteworthy if the chefs get a better handle on the power of those grills. But for now, its milk-and-cookies dessert sums up the dining experience well — the food is warm and familiar, but not much better than you could make at home.
St. Louis Park Woodfire Grill
A little bit of everything in St. Louis Park
6501 Wayzata Blvd
St. Louis Park, MN 55426
CHEFS / OWNER: Eric Rudelius-Palmer and Raul Templonuevo / Taher, Inc.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes/ No
ENTREE PRICE: $10-32