Architecture often expresses mankind’s deepest longings, conscious or unconscious: the noble bleached Greek democratic ideal that finds expression in the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the sleek reliable purity of the IDS Center, the obvious transformation of all of Uptown into a real-life playground for the Mario in all of us. Mario, of course being the Nintendo character from Mario Bros., Super Mario, Mario & Luigi, and so on. Introduced to the world in 1981, star of dozens of blockbuster video games, and resident in tens of millions of American homes, he’s arguably the most commercially successful fictional character of all time. In fact, up against Mickey Mouse, he boasts a higher Q rating of recognizability among kids since the 1990s.
If you, for some odd reason, are not familiar with Mario, he is the fat little mustachioed plumber from Brooklyn who runs and jumps with little sproings of joyous verve as he pops from level to level, level to level, pursuing whatever you tell him to pursue. Actually, he’s not him. He’s you. You noble and tireless everyman, in the screen, running from level to level. Bopping and sproinging tirelessly, ceaselessly forging on, spending golden coins, eating magic foods that swell you with super strength, exploring caverns that might hold treasures, or annihilation, occasionally donning outfits so spectacular they make you fly. At the end of it all you, as Mario, win a kiss from someone totally out of your league, who has been patiently awaiting your arrival for however long it takes you to get there. That’s the new Uptown! It’s a giant Super Mario game for you to star in.
The first level is the ground, with fire pits, suspension bridges, a great green wall of ivy, and a giant head: That’s the Mozaic Art Park plaza, which hosts thrifty beer bar Bar Louie and more genteel Origami sushi. The next level up, literally, on the first-floor roof decks, is the Uptown Tavern and now Coup d’État. Beyond that, the third- and fourth-floor genuine roof decks beckon, at Cafeteria and Stella’s Fish Café. And then there are the hidden caverns to explore, in this case Chino Latino, Williams Peanut Bar, Republic, Chiang Mai Thai, Bar Abilene, and Sushi Tango. Think about it. Uptown is nothing except a great Super Mario set for the 1,200 new units of young-professional, post-college, Melrose Place–like housing that now string along the Midtown Greenway. It’s powerful architecture for a powerful archetype. Grab a drink on the patio at Coup d’État this summer and see if you don’t agree. If you don’t and Uptown’s layers of levels and caverns, each dense with drink and food, don’t spark a desire to sproing along into all of them, then Coup d’État may not be for you.
The restaurant is the second high-profile cultural-anchor effort from the team behind last year’s downtown Minneapolis sensation Borough and Parlour, Jester Concepts. The owners are Brent Frederick and Jacob Toledo (who also own The Pourhouse), with important bartender Jesse Held leading the cocktail program and the same rising star cooking team that led Borough to citywide acclaim, namely Tyler Shipton and Nick O’Leary. With 300 seats, balconies inside, outside, and lacing through the open interior, and a sort of Victorian chocolate shop via the psychedelic 1970s vibe, the place feels like the see-and-be-seen center of the universe: Manny’s for the Snapchat-set.
Jesse Held’s cocktails are fantastic, as always. The Duck Duck Grey Duck is an ethereally fragrant concoction of Earl Grey tea–infused tequila and lemon, delicate and direct. The Not As Cool Hand Luke, a sort of whiskey sour, offers top notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and every pie spice, in very easy-to-like fizzy highball form. Imports from Parlour, like the famous old-fashioned that somehow tastes like transparent smoked cherry velvet, easily best every other comparable offering in Uptown.
Chefs Shipton and O’Leary are great talents, and some of the Coup d’État offerings are beautiful and simple. The big bowl of mussels and clams, nicely perked up with ginger and garlic in a classic white wine preparation and served with pretty slices of grilled bread, is good and just right. The roasted marrowbones, crisp and brown, salty, smoky, and elemental, are sensual and so good. The gnocchi are beautiful, buttery, and delicate pillows. I liked the paper-thin-crust pizzas, especially the one with homemade sausage and truffle cream. The best thing on the menu might be the creamy polenta, slightly al dente white corn porridge served in a personal copper pot and glorified with a remarkable perky puddle of garlic parmesan cream.
But I encountered as many odd missteps as hits at Coup d’État: The spicy honey glaze on the otherwise flawless tempura frog legs was so sweet, goopy, and salty it reminded me of nothing but the worst cafeteria Chinese food. Roast chicken was dry and overcooked, slicked with a sticky brown sauce that tasted burnt, served on a wildly oversalted bed of eggplant confit. Pork osso buco was underseasoned, subtle notes of orange and fennel lost in what tasted like a very dull slow cooker dish. The chocolate cake and the carrot cake for dessert taste like generic placeholders, though the hot brioche donut holes are an absolute delight.
I went to Coup d’État four times searching for the magic combination of dishes that I could wholeheartedly recommend, but I kept coming back with an irritating combination of hits and misses. A textbook-perfect light and elegant skate meunière with capers was delicate and lovely; a baked branzino lay listlessly on the plate like something unseasoned and forgotten. Most vexingly, it’s hard to get dinner at Coup d’État for less than $30. The first time I had the fish and chips, I thought, eureka, everyday dinner in Uptown! The fish was light and fresh, the batter a bubble of crisp, the bed of French fries simple and hot, a home run out of the park as far as dinner before a movie at the Lagoon goes. By the next visit the fries were gone, replaced with three little discs of sour glazed potatoes, so now with a side of fries you’re at $20. After six appetizers for four people, a server warned one of my guests one night that the gnocchi she was ordering was really a primi portion, so she’d better get an entrée if she wanted dinner.
I suspect the reason the restaurant ends up pulling these anti-hospitality maneuvers is because of the strange undercurrent that runs through all of Uptown now, in which restaurants do weird things to try to stay in compliance with the city requirement that they generate 60 percent of their income from food sales, not liquor. (In more residential areas the requirement can be 70 percent.) The more Coup d’État tries to inch the check average up to overcome the $12 cocktails, the less it succeeds. I actually have no problem with the 60/40 rule; I like the café culture the rule has spawned, and I shudder to think what would happen if it was taken away—the neighborhood would be overrun by dollar beer bars, and I fear it could all become less young professional and more about drinking dollar beers till we all fall into the greenway in a giant moat of young drunk bodies.
I like the solutions some restaurants come up with to get their food revenues up; for instance, the 10 tacos for $25 offer at Chino Latino. I would die to see what Shipton and O’Leary could do with a 10-taco platter. And we would all do well to look at what the great levels of Uptown are built around: a McDonald’s that supports its enormous half-block parking lot on the unshakable firmament of a dollar menu.
Whether Coup d’État tweaks itself from very good to very great is probably of academic interest to most Uptown goers, who are truly poised to have the best summer ever—ever, ever, ever! A dozen excellent places all in walking distance, plus Coup d’État providing the best cocktails and people-watching in the history of Uptown—that’s this summer. So everyone make a happy noise and sproing ahead into the joyous fray. 2923 Girard Ave. S., Mpls., 612-354-3575, coupdetatmpls.com