5416 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-926-0105, inseasonrestaurant.com
Those who mourned the demise of Fugaise (I loved its food but not its odd space) will rejoice at In Season, Don Saunders’s new place in the former Armatage Room across from Café Maude. The cozy shoebox adds a star to our constellation of neighborhood bistros defined by seasonal ingredients, straightforward presentation, and dining that’s more casual and satisfying than showy and exhilarating.
In Season exudes a friendly, low-key vibe, its aesthetic reflected in the bright art adorning the stark walls, easy banquettes, and small, cramped tables. Upon entering, you may recognize a server—many, like Chef Saunders, have been around town.
Saunders is a hometown boy who was schooled at Le Cordon Bleu in London before captaining the much-missed A Rebours, pre-Fugaise. His cooking shines with a restrained and refreshing elegance. Consider how kale plays so confidently on different plates. It provides the right bitter edge to cumin-spiced oxtail crowned with a serrano chip; it defines a bluntly nourishing stew of black lentils, roots, and fennel-flecked sausages. Each plate answers the howl of winter hungers, transforming familiar fare with a note of surprise. The pretty pink tang of Rio Star Grapefruit enlivens seared scallops. Crisp semolina-crusted and fried oysters and unctuous pork belly, brightened by sweet-and-sour red cabbage, are truly seductive. It’s heartening to see frumpy salsify tantalizingly caramelized aside pillowy, house-made ricotta-stuffed ravioli. Saunders’s diligence and skill are manifest in the juicy roasted Amish chicken, its plate brimming with creamy sunchoke gratin and braised endive sparked by orange butter. Lightly seared wild striped sea bass is balanced with crispy potatoes and buttery leeks. Saunders’s concern for the provenance of ingredients comes through in the tenderloin of Limousin beef, meat that is remarkably lean yet deeply flavorful and exquisitely tender.
The menu’s flip side, listing ingredients in season, offers a glimpse into the chef’s brainstorming sessions. “There are plenty of local foods even through winter: beef, pork, poultry, game, butter, eggs, cheese, roots, and winter squash,” says Saunders. “These provide inspiration; they’re not a restriction.” Deftly edited, the offerings are focused and varied, without a dud in the lot. Just slightly out of step, the servers can seem disorganized, perhaps surprised by sudden success. Yet their genuine desire to please can quickly put that to rest.
Desserts spin pure indulgence. Go for an achingly dense chocolate chestnut cake with bitter dark chocolate mousse and port syrup, or the standout, a spiced persimmon flan served warm and quivering, nursery food at its sumptuous best.
In Season’s refined approach to local and seasonal eating pays homage to the likes of Lucia’s and Restaurant Alma. Given time and a little more seasoning, this place will share the same high ground. So raise a glass—it seems winsome neighborhood bistros have truly arrived.
Beth’s rating: 91 See In Season’s RestaurantRater score at mspmag.com.
3 Great Plates ...
1 Butternut Squash Soup
It's both creamy and light, its sweetness enriched with nutty pumpkinseed oil and Manchego cheese
2 Braised Pork Shank
Sided with chili-spiked winter squash and Chimichurri-seasoned rice, this is sure-fire comfort, earthy and elegant.
3 Honey Crisp Apple Bread Pudding
Laced with maple caramel, it’s delicate and custardy, at once humble and lofty.
GETTING THERE, GETTING IN: Tiny parking lot and street parking that fills quickly. Reservations strongly suggested on weekends. HOURS: Su, Tu–Th 5 pm–10 pm, F–Sa 5 pm–11 pm NOISE LEVEL: Moderate KIDS: Service is casual, but the food is haute and there’s no kids menu. CARDS: Amex, Discover, MC, Visa ENTRÉE PRICES: $7–$28 S ACCESSIBLE