As I drove past Psycho Suzie’s and the throngs of cars serpentining into the valet parking area ($5 valet parking at a motel pizza place?) I was glad that I chose The Sample Room, a more subdued restaurant, for my first night of this visit to MSP. Parking was incredible easy on this Monday evening and numerous spots were available on the street (and free).
As you approach the red brick stand-alone building you notice the awning covered terrace on the left that seats 20, and any of these would be a great seat in the warmer summer months. I originally tried sitting on the terrace, but each time the wind gave a little gust, it was just a little too chilly and there were plenty of tables inside where I could focus on the food versus the weather.
The interior is very cool. There are regular height tables that seat 22, three booths, three high-top tables for 12 more guests, plus 12 seats at the bar. On one wall, the infamous mug shot photo of Frank Sinatra overlooks the entire room (coming from NJ I felt right at home) plus paintings from a local artist, in the tradition of Picasso, adorn the other walls.
The prices are incredibly reasonable. Appetizers are in the high single digits, and most entrees are priced in the mid-teens.
For my appetizer I ordered the “Short Ribs,” described as stout braised grass fed beef short rib with cauliflower & yam purée and demi-glace. The single boneless rib was perfectly prepared; fall off the bone tender (well I guess it already did) with a deep flavor from the braising liquid. The cauliflower/yam puree was delightful; a sweet complement to the deep flavor of the beef and then the demi-glace was drizzled atop for another flavor component. The server told me that many split this dish, the dish was not large enough to share unless the entire meal is a shared tapas-style event amongst friends. And it was so good to share.
For my entrée I chose the “Bottineau Burger,” one-half pound of house-cut and ground grass-fed beef, pork belly, cheddar, fried onions, mustard aioli served on a toasted bun. This was full of various and bold flavors; unfortunately they were too bold and fought each other. This combination was better on paper than palate. The meat was less flavorful than many other grass-fed burgers that I have enjoyed; the Cheddar cheese was excellent, and I really liked the bun. The mustard aioli was way too strong, overwhelming all the other aspects of the burger and the fried onions were not fried to order and were cold and soggy. Likewise as much as I thought the addition of a slice of pork belly was a nice idea, it added nothing to the burger.
For dessert I wanted something sweet and ordered the “Bunet” described as Northern Italian (Piedmont) light chocolate custard with cacao powder, amaretto cookies, eggs, milk, and cream…basically this is a chocolate terrine. This was good, but not great. It almost felt it was prepared a day earlier. The cake aspect brought a weird texture, but I really liked the custard portion. And the texture of the two chocolate custards was excellent.
My overall impression was that this neighborhood is very lucky to have the Sample Room. For the price, the food is a great deal. The chef is not afraid of flavors, which is a huge positive. As he learns to balance the components, the restaurant should grow into a go-to northern suburb restaurant.