Updated: Jun 30
In our journey to provide you with only the finest foodie experience possible, we are back to review another restaurant for you to visit! This time, we put Vann under scrutiny.
Vann has one location in Spring Park right along the beautiful Lake Minnetonka. Having visited in the winter, we had a fantastic view of ice and snow, but I can assure you, Lake Minnetonka in the Spring, Summer, and Fall is a beautiful sight. Nonetheless, the 11-table dining room was intimate, classy, and tailored to our experience.
Here is what they have to say about themselves:
"Vann (pronounced "von" and Norwegian for 'water') is located on Lake Minnetonka in Spring Park, MN. Local chef Erik Skaar returned to the western suburbs of Minneapolis after perfecting his cooking skills in some of the country's best kitchens. The name pays homage to Erik's Norwegian roots and his love of fish, seafood, and waterfowl."
"The food. The food at Vann is described as "delectable," "phenomenal," and "fresh and exciting."
"The menu. Because ingredients are fresh daily, so is the menu. By design, offerings are limited to a single page—typically three starters/small plates, three entrees, and two desserts. This allows Skaar and his team to properly prepare each item."
Before we begin, I must preface the type of restaurant Vann is. This is a fine dining restaurant, not there to stuff you full. If you want that, find some family restaurant elsewhere. Vann is there for those wishing to truly taste what food is- it's about the flavors—quality over quantity.
We also want to mention the amount of attention this restaurant and Chef Skarr have gotten. Vann has received much attention from National Geographic and The Lake Minnetonka Magazine to Chef Skaar being nominated for the Best Chef Midwest Region by James Beard. Be sure to take a look at their website for all their features.
My first impressions were ok. The interior was designed beautifully, with a cozy atmosphere that wasn't all too busy in decorations. There was a cozy, intimate feel with limited tables and large candles on each table. The table was set well, and each had a small coat hook on the wall that was folded down by the host when you arrived. It's these small details that make the difference.
Now, I said first impressions were ok. We were greeted fast, and the interior was cozy. Though the restaurant was on Lake Minnetonka, the exterior wasn't all that impressive—a generic white building. I understand the restaurant business is difficult, and finding a location on Lake Minnetonka with reasonable rent is even more so. But it had an underwhelming exterior for a high-class restaurant such as Vann. Even more disappointing is the lack of customers in the restaurant. Not the restaurant's fault, and to be honest, given the fantastic experience, it should have been full, but still disappointing. During our visit, we were one of perhaps five parties.
The service was terrific. Our server was attentive in refilling our drinks and was very kind. He wasn't overly attentive but ensured that each dish was to our liking. What was most impressive, though, was his knowledge of the food. It can be challenging to keep up with a menu that changes often. Our server explained each dish and its elements before leaving us. Keep in mind; I don't tell the restaurant I'm writing a review on them when I arrive, so the service I receive should be comparable to what you can expect.
This was one of my favorite restaurants to review; the food was actual food. It was fresh, artisanal, and crafted with skill. For the most part, each flavor could be picked out and enjoyed. Vann is unique in that the menu only has six items. You may ask yourself, what if I don't like the menu items? Give them a try anyway; Vann is the restaurant you want to have your first experience with more exotic foods. The menu also changes often, sometimes even daily. I love this idea- genuinely showing the chef's personality and creativity across various ingredients.
Getting straight into the food, we tasted Hokkigai Clam, Smoked Sturgeon, Black Cod, Beef, Custard, and Semifreddo.
This dish had its ups and downs. The Clam lacked seasoning and was overly chewy. The Late de Mer, or sea lettuce, lacked flavor. Served within a so-called caramelized onion broth, its definition is significantly off. This broth had no flavor of onion but rather a taste of the fish stock. Now, I will say the small slices of onion, which seemed to be cooked in white wine, were absolutely to die for.
Served cold, this dish was good overall. The fish had good flavor, seasoned well, and the pickled cucumber worked well with the subtle smokiness of the fish. The garum, a fish sauce, was harder to pick up on. There was also a Shiitake gelée that sat atop the cucumber- rather underwhelming. Excellent for decoration but didn't add much flavor to the dish. If anything, it just picked up its flavor from the cucumber.
A major hit, the fish was flakey, cooked to perfection with nice golden color. There was a slight fishy taste but just the right amount. Served to stop daikon, a mild radish, trout roe, and dill pollen, this dish had flavors that bounced off each other. What was particularly interesting was the use of dill pollen. In this case, Dill historically goes very well with fish, but it is also tied together with the daikon and trout roe. I do have two concerns, though. The accompaniments to the fish were ever so slightly over-seasoned, and the texture didn't work for me. Had there been a smaller serving of it, it would have been more satisfactory. However, I would have liked to see a smoother texture with the amount that was served.
This was the highlight of the night. The beef consisted of Wagyu from Texas, sunchoke- a root vegetable, horseradish, artichoke, and a demi-glace. The meat was cooked to perfection- rare. And had the most fantastic char atop it. The butteriness of the beef was well established, and the demi-glace was made with skill with each traditional element present. The artichoke puree was the highlight. Cooked in caramel with a touch of cream, the artichoke was on the sweeter side and helped to highlight and cut through the butteriness of the beef. My only criticism comes from the horseradish. There wasn't a taste to it, and the flavor was hard to find.
A butternut squash custard served with pistachio and allspice ice cream. This dish had its ups and downs. With my specialty in desserts, I'm very particular here. The butternut squash custard was ok. The flavors were relatively subtle, and it seemed to have too much gelatin making the texture a little too thick for my liking. The pistachio sauce, per se, lacked flavor; it didn't add much to the dish. The allspice ice cream, however... was delicious. Never would I have thought to add allspice into ice cream. It was flavorful and tasted almost like I was eating gingerbread. If one thing needs to return to this menu, it's the allspice ice cream.
Overall decent. The flavors were decent and served in a ramekin with layers of crumble, and from what what I remember to be a black plum gel and meringue. The coffee flavor was too subtle, the brown butter was at the forefront, and the black plum gel was too sweet. The meringue was good, but it's difficult to go wrong there. Overall decent but could have been better. Perhaps a layer of vanilla custard could have toned down the sweet flavors.
My honest opinion and rating of Vann, would I go back? Yes! The atmosphere was intimate, the service was spot-on, and the food was excellent overall. With a menu that changes often, I am excited to see what Vann creates. Though the $80 price tag per person is steep, every dollar was worth it for this fine dining experience. The menu explores what food should be and what food has the potential to be if we stick to good ingredients.
If you haven't visited Vann, I highly recommend trying them. You'll look at food differently—combined with an extensive wine collection and parings, you are in for a fantastic experience.
I can think of plenty of other high-class restaurants that don't even come close to Vann. I give them 3.75 stars out of 5. Why not 4 or 5? Let's break down how my scale works. I grade restaurants on what they are trying to be. I'll grade an Irish Gastropub with the idea that they aren't trying to serve a 12-course French meal, I'll be strict, but I won't compare it to a $100 per-person meal. On the other hand, I will grade fine dining harshly and pick apart every detail I'm unsatisfied with. Vann is trying to be a fine dining restaurant, so I graded it as a fine dining restaurant; everything was examined. 1/1 star for service, 1/1 star for ambiance, 1.75/2 stars for food, and 0/1 for cohesiveness. The last one is all-or-nothing; had the restaurant been filled and at a better location with perfect food, this would have been slightly different.
Overall, my experience at Vann was nothing short of amazing. I am excited to return and try out their next menu. I will leave you with one less thought that I found particularly inspiring. Our server told us when discussing our food, "It's not what we do; it's what we don't do." Let the ingredients do the work, and the results will follow.
"The Flying Chef"