When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed required caloric labeling requirements in 2010, a wave of nervous chatter buzzed through the restaurant industry. Should patrons be inundated with information to encourage wise-dining choices? Or should dining out be considered a caloric splurge from which diners are happily oblivious? Three years later the controversial proposal has not yet been enforced — though chains like Panera Bread and Starbucks Coffee are taking the initiative to feature nutritional labeling. Locally, restauranteur Craig Bentdahl may find himself ahead of the curve with Marin, his new downtown Minneapolis endeavor at the hotel Le Méridien Chambers, a second restaurant to Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park. Much like Mill Valley Kitchen, Marin’s menu focuses on Northern California cuisine and highlights a full nutritional breakdown on its menu: calories, fat, carbs, protein, and fiber.
Though the basic structure remains unchanged, the decor is a far cry from the uber-glam, stark white interior of the space’s former occupant D’Amico Kitchen (and from Mill Valley Kitchen’s black-on-white color scheme). Marin’s design — imagine chocolate brown walls, pillars of golden-hued lights, and a heavy emphasis on natural woodwork — exudes a sense of masculinity and warmth. If you’ve dined at Mill Valley Kitchen consider it a logical precursor to the menu at Marin. The menu outline is nearly identical: heavy focus on clean-eating with a welcome number of vegetarian / pescatarian options and an overwhelming number or vegan and gluten-free dishes.
Two dishes from the small plates section stood out: spiced cauliflower hummus and pita ($7, above) and charred salmon belly ($7). It’s not difficult to concoct a decent hummus, but what sets Marin’s aside are the chunks of roasted cauliflower, spicy oil, and grainy pita. The salmon belly was fresh and buttery while maintaining a smoky charred flavor. And the ham, fig, and blue cheese flatbread ($7) was perfectly thin, textured with semolina while retaining a sense of satisfying chewiness. The toppings — lemony arugula, crispy yet moist slivers of ham, tiny plump figs, and a subtle spread of blue cheese — were a perfectly weighted against the dough, neither too heavy nor light.
The peas and carrot ravioli ($17, above) had an appropriate serving size of six pillowy, tender raviolis. A bonus was the surprising undercurrent of heat in the fresh mint pesto. The grass run filet ($33) was cooked to perfection, though the asparagus-crab salad accompaniment seemed like an odd combination of textures. Don’t skip the sweets; Marin is definitely not a restaurant that overlooks the dessert. Not only did the chocolate square ($11, below) have a gorgeous presentation, it boasted just about every taste of chocolate one could imagine and — there’s a theme here — won’t leave you feeling weighted down with regret.
Disappointments lie in a mildly uneducated waitstaff and an underwhelming wine list. On two different occasions servers were unable to answer simple questions about ingredients, hadn’t tried all the dishes, and were not able to speak to many of the wines. And on that note, the wine list seemed too predictable and safe for a restaurant of this caliber and price point. It would be a fun add to include some more unknown California vines.
Will Marin (and Mill Valley Kitchen) eventually boast of being ahead of the curve when it comes to nutritional disclosure? Perhaps. Either way, it’s unique to find full exposure from a local pair of restaurants. And if caloric information isn’t a vital part of your dining experience, simply skim over the numbers with the confidence that anything you order will be clean, green, and flavorful.
Marin Restaurant and Bar
In the Le Méridien Chambers hotel
901 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403
OWNER / CHEF: Craig Bentdahl / Michael Rakun
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $16 – $33