This would be almost impossible living up to expectations surrounding Minnesota’s newest restaurant in the Twin Cities’ first five-star hotel from our most beloved celebrity chef. So how come Gavin Kaysen’s Mara, inside the Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis, not only meets these expectations, but exceeds them?
Maybe it’s the team: Kaysen’s chef is Thony Yang, who excelled at Bellecour and Demi; the bar is run by Adam Witherspoon, who helped launch Martina and Colita’s standout programs; and wine expert Paul Hennessy brings his Bachelor Farmer experience to the ground.
From the moment you walk in you will feel a different level of service. You will be warmly welcomed at the reception. As you walk through the bar, you’ll see CEOs, Instagram celebrities, and athletes. And then you will discover how dazzling the restaurant itself is. More open and bright than you might expect from moody photos of gold-leaf walls, Mara feels warm and cozy.
Kaysen and his team vaguely describe the food as Mediterranean – you’ll love the homemade pita that comes with incredibly creamy hummus, and you won’t want to miss picking up the silky, rich labneh spiced with za’atar with curried cauliflower. vadouvan and lavash bread (both $14).
For me, Mara is more of an exploration of international flavors rooted in Minnesota sensibility. When you have visitors who come to stay at the Four Seasons, you want them to feel here, not in a generic luxury hotel in Anywhere, USA. Kaysen achieves this with two dishes in particular: chicken and beef.
Chicken raised in the Pequot Lakes is a menu staple: marinated overnight in chermoula, a North African herb sauce with lots of parsley, cilantro and garlic. Kaysen serves it with pomegranate, sumac-spiced sweet onions and charred lemon ($36). The beef comes entirely from Peterson Craftsman Meats, and the 12-ounce bone-in New York Strip arrived in nice, juicy, perfectly rare slices ($54). You’ll also find an 8-ounce filet mignon ($49) and, if you’re on someone’s expense account, a 48-ounce porterhouse steak that will cost the company $189.
The salt-baked branzino was incredibly flavorful and juicy, although the presentation left me wanting. Kaysen baked it whole in a salt-encrusted pastry, which our server brought to the table for us to see. The kitchen serves this very white fish (thankfully boneless) on a very white plate alongside a charred lemon. One small issue: the fish was glorious (it should be, for $68) but was only served with small sides of tzatziki, fennel salad, green almonds and couscous.
From top to bottom of the menu, you will find one delicacy after the next. The fatty and rich Spanish mackerel ($20) is fresh as a summer day with charred cucumber and dill in a light green cucumber broth. The lamb, spiced with Lebanese ras el hanout and topped with diced vegetables served with red lentil crackers ($19), is one of the tastiest tartars in town. The shaved Mangalica ham ($25) with lovely plump cherries surrounding mustard seeds is an explosion of contrasts: salty and sweet with the mustard tying it all together.
As with all restaurants in Kaysen, save room for dessert. An incredible value, the flourless chocolate cake is topped with a mascarpone sorbet, separated by chocolate wedges, and aptly named Chocolate Decadence ($14). The pistachio semifreddo ($12) arrives looking like a terrarium created by a florist. Flower petals in a sea of green pistachio dust hide lush whipped eggs and cream.
So, is it worth it? Absolutely. Objectively, it’s an expensive evening. Cheaper than Manny, more expensive than Spoon and Stable. Our party of four called in a $340 bill on the food and we only ordered three entrees. Add wine and cocktails, and it would be easy to double that. That said, the cocktails here are only $15, and they are some of the most amazing cocktails I’ve had in this country.
Try the most interesting Old Fashioned bourbon, with hints of fig, hazelnut and pistachio, or the knockout Cardinale, which is a gin martini with a shot of red bitter liquor. We also enjoyed a spicy tequila and pineapple delight called the Arrabiata.
Mara is a feat and shows how much our culinary scene has grown over the last decade. It also highlights how Kaysen has grown and matured as a restaurateur. You deserve to dine here as much as we all deserve to have Mara in Minnesota.
245 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, 612-895-5709, mararestaurantandbar.com
Necessary for the restaurant, not for the bar
Braised lamb shank with mint gremolata
Valet for $15