Misa Chappell’s Top Lake Minnetonka Dishes of 2012

Restaurants writer Misa Chappell reveals her top dishes from the past year.
Yumi's ikura, tobiko and masago plate (No. 7) is best consumed with an overflowing cup of cold sake, writer Misa Chappell says.

It’s polite to say it’s agonizing to choose the best of the year. I ate so many amazing things in our area these last 11 months, but the chance to re-experience my favorites was pure, unadulterated joy. However, to choose my top dishes—11, in this case—was overwhelmingly difficult because everything was so good. But without further ado, enjoy my personal list of the best of the best the lake area had to offer in 2012.




Walleye was named Minnesota’s state fish in 1965 and it remains an ever-popular menu item. We believe that the litmus test of a good restaurant is how they treat their walleye. Birch’s cracker-crusted walleye is the platonic ideal of walleye done right: crunchy, golden exterior, mild, flaky interior, and simply adorned with nothing more than a lemon wedge and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. A bed of citrusy tartar sauce contributes the right note of sweetness without overkill. $23.95. 1935 W. Wayzata Blvd., Long Lake; 952.473.7373


Jimmy’s Food and Cocktails

These crazily tender braised beef short ribs come with buttery mashed potatoes, a gentle tomato sauce and a bright bundle of haricots verts (green beans). There are three big ones to a plate, and every morsel slides off the bone with barely a nudge. The affable owner will probably come by and say hello; deep in enchantment, you probably won’t notice. $24.95. 11000 Red Circle Dr., Minnetonka; 952.224.5858

*Editor’s note: This is a special menu item and not always available; ask your server for more details.


Bistro 11

We fondly think of Bistro 11 as the “little bistro on the prairie,” and it’s always worth the drive for creative, seasonal and very local fare—the blackberry pork is basically from down the road, which chef Andrew Smith refers to as “the Napa Valley of pork.” Hand-butchered, the fat chop is marinated for two days in mustard, molasses and balsamic vinegar, and then grilled. The marinade adds moisture and a seductive caramelization. The side dishes are just as enticing: a nutty wild rice-pistachio, crisp-tender sautéed green beans and a pretty blackberry-red onion salad. $19. 115 Railway St. W., Loretto; 952.353.4566


Licks Unlimited

How can a mere smoothie make a top 10 list? Easy—it was one of the must luscious simple pleasures we’ve encountered. The charming 32-year-old ice cream parlor welcomes guests with a heady aroma of waffle cones and cotton candy, and the smoothie flavor choices are gratifyingly straightforward: strawberry, raspberry and strawberry-banana. The ingredient list is equally streamlined: frozen fruit and frozen vanilla yogurt, period. Our raspberry smoothie was as thick as an ice-cream shake, flecked with colorful chunks of berries and drifted with snowy peaks of whipped cream under a domed lid. Too thick to sip, we dug in with a spoon. $4.25. 31 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.4791

Editor’s note: Licks is open seasonally May through October, so you’ll have to wait until next spring to enjoy this tantalizing treat.


Tonka Grill and BBQ

Owner Mike Lindahl is passionate about the craft of slow-and-low cookery, and it shows. Tonka Grill’s in-house process starts with a dry-rub marinade, moves on to half a day in the hickory wood smoker and ends with a quick finish on the grill. A minimal swipe of Tonka Grill barbecue sauce seals the deal. You can taste the whole array of meaty goodness when you order the awe-inspiring “Dingy,” which includes two full baby-back rib slabs, one-half smoked chicken, one-half smoked Texas beef slab, two pints of house-made sides (get the coleslaw) and six pieces of oversized, fluffy Texas toast. $89.95. 4016 Shoreline Dr., Spring Park; 952.471.7447



There are top 10 burger lists galore; for us, Maynard’s fat grilled meat patty on a fluffy bun was a shoo-in. The Texas BBQ burger is draped with two slices of smoked bacon, a thick slice of melted cheddar and a slathering of barbecue sauce for good measure. Their version of coleslaw is chock-full of green onion, red and green cabbage, and a thrillingly unexpected pop of cilantro. Grab a seat on the wharf patio in the warmer months and pretend you grilled this delicious burger yourself. $9.50. 685 Excelsior Blvd., Excelsior; 952.470.1800


Yumi’s Sushi Bar

This one makes the list almost on looks alone. We said almost; the array of fish roe also tasted sublime: subtle, intriguing and decadent. We sampled two kinds of tobiko, a flying-fish roe, that’s colorful, as finely grained as sand and bracingly salty. The wasabi (Japanese horseradish) variation was a sinus-clearing electric-green; the squid-infused black tobiko proved smoky and sweet. The orange masago, or smelt roe, was the briniest and tangiest of the lot, but the salmon ikura won us over with its rich essence of salmon and ocean. The parade of gleaming eggs reminded us of jewels in a black velvet display case, each piece brimming with a precious-seeming pearly bounty. Take the time to savor each one while sipping an overflowing cup (“for good luck and fortune”) of cold sake recommended by your server. Tobiko with wasabi, $5.75; masago, $4.95; ikura, $6.75. 28 Water St., Excelsior; 952.474.1720



Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge

Don’t think of this rich concoction as a mere side dish. Lord Fletcher’s turns out one of the best iterations of au gratin potatoes we’ve experienced anywhere, and we would gladly eat it as our sole entrée. It’s bold with garlic, light with cream and tightly layered with thin, tender slices of Yukon gold potatoes. It’s the inclusion of nutmeg that makes it so special; the spice is a softening complement to the pungent garlic and adds a touch of the festive. The menu lists it as a signature side for good reason. Not sold separately, so order as a side with one of your other Fletcher’s favorites. 3746 Sunset Dr., Spring Park; 952.471.8513



Spasso’s vegetarian lasagna is one of those dishes we daydream about, wondering when we’ll get to eat it again. Layers of thinly sliced zucchini, eggplant, yellow squash, mushroom and tomato cozied up with garlicky pesto, triple-cream mascarpone, melted fresh fontina cheese and a halo of crunchy frizzled sweet potatoes. It’s a vibrant excavation of vegetable, cheese, herbs and sauce with nary a noodle in sight, but we call it a gluten-free bonanza. $15. 17523 Minnetonka Blvd., Minnetonka; 952.224.9555

10. BONE-IN FILET Mignon


Gianni’s “bone-in” filet is a special find. Only two per steer, this cut has all the tenderness of a traditional filet mignon, but it comes with a nifty handle for gnawing—and it’s chock-full of that earthier, beefier flavor we adore. Get the tableside spun salad to start, since Julia Child herself said “the only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” $25. 635 E. Lake St., Wayzata; 952.404.1100



BLVD Kitchen and Bar

Of all the deliriously tempting options on BLVD’s happy hour menu, the truffle French fries steal the show, served with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Yes, you read that right: truffles and cream sauce. It’s total overkill, but in the best possible way. Crack for the palate! $3. 11544 W. Wayzata Blvd., Minnetonka; 763.398.3200