Just a couple of miles west of Chanhassen is the quiet village of Victoria, A place you could easily breeze through on your way to Waconia’s J. Carver Distillery and not think twice about. But you know what? There are some interesting food things going on in Victoria that make it worth the stop. Last year we visited Floyd’s Bar with happy results. Now there’s a new kid on Floyd’s block: The Noble Lion.
The Noble Lion is the brainchild of Marc Huebner, former Food Network America’s Best Cook competitor. He lives in the western suburbs and felt that they have grown enough to deserve an eatery with more sophistication. The space he launched in Victoria is small and cozy with quiet lighting and restrained decor. The kitchen itself is quite small, with no walk-in chiller, so the changing menu is designed with overlapping ingredients and freshness in mind.
Huebner brought in Patrick Donelan, a former Blue Point chef, to run the kitchen, and the two have come up with a menu that is upscale while paying homage to the area’s meat-and-potato, Scandinavian and German heritage.
That means the small but thoughtful menu (which changes every couple of months) includes Brie Curds ($9), a take on the State Fair classic. The curds are lightly battered and need to be eaten quickly — Brie isn’t as sturdy as the classic cheddar curd — but melted Brie dipped in a slightly sweet fruit compote seems both old-fashioned and fun and decadent at the same time. The Scallops & Bacon ($16 for 3 scallops, $24 for 6) is a lovely plate of beautifully seared, melting scallops served with a dish of homemade creamed corn, the kernels sweet with a little crispness.
A tip of the hat to local heritage is apparent in an entree of Jager Schnitzel ($25). A thin slice of pork loin was lightly breaded and fried and served over fresh, tender spaetzle in a resonant wild mushroom sauce. The portion wasn’t ridiculously huge, and the dish seemed surprisingly delicate for such a sturdy set of components. The pork was tender and juicy — a nice accomplishment, given how thin the slice was and how easy it would have been to cook it to dust. The spaetzle were light and the mushroom sauce flavorful but not overwhelming.
There were several seafood items on the menu, including Lake Superior Whitefish Cakes ($14), but when we asked our server what she’d recommend, she didn’t hesitate to point to the Seared Halibut ($29, above). To be fair, it didn’t sound like much on paper, especially compared to Sea Bass En Pappilotte ($30) or Seafood Risotto ($29). But the server seemed quite certain, so we went with her recommendation.
It was a textbook case of a simple dish beautifully prepared and shining in its own quiet, excellent way. The fish was perfectly cooked with a meaty char. The accompanying lemon buerre blanc was judiciously applied, adding just a light, creamy touch of citrus. The seasonal risotto was earthy with a nice accent of sauteed scallions.
Our two desserts were thoughtfully done. The Fall Panna Cotta ($6) was a creamy berry custard, sweet and deceptively light. The Chocolate & Raspberry ($7) was sumptuous and rich, a nicely executed version of a flourless chocolate cake.
The cocktail menu was full of interesting combinations, and the one we tried — the Blood Orange Manhattan ($10) was a smoky, savory concoction of Roknar Rye (from Far North Spirits) paired with vermouth and blood orange amaro, not the least bit sweet, but very complex and sippable.
The Noble Lion
Upscale heritage fare in Victoria
7940 Victoria Drive
Victoria, MN 55368
OWNERS: Marc Huebner
Tues-Thu 4-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 4-11 p.m.
Sun 4-9 p.m.
RESERVATIONS?: For groups of 6 or more
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Not so much
ENTREE RANGE: $11-$35
NOISE LEVEL: Reasonable, although noise can mount when the room is packed
PARKING: Free street and lot parking