Being located inside a popular mall and being considered a “hotel restaurant” — two things that can go hand-in-hand with dining only for convenience and necessity.
FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar had both hurdles to overcome when they opened earlier this spring.
Located inside the new Radisson Blu Hotel and connected to the Mall of America, FireLake borrowed some established flavors from its original downtown Minneapolis location and expanded them, in the hopes of creating a true dining destination for more than just shoppers and travelers.
As General Manager Jay Rankin told me last Wednesday, it’s certainly worked out well for them. He said they’ve seen a growing increase in new customers coming in just for their ambiance and menu offerings.
And it’s easy to see why.
Unlike a majority of the restaurants one thinks of inside a popular suburban mall, FireLake has the design and comfort of an independent location. There are no windows looking into the hustle and bustle of shoppers galore, no expansive views of Nickelodeon Universe, nor the sounds and screams of its ride enthusiasts.
Instead, the view overlooks the calm night sky of Bloomington in a setting that’s both relaxed and upscale — modern and yet, rustic.
Inside the kitchen, veteran chef Paul Lynch continues the magic he crafted at the Minneapolis restaurant and adds a few twists and turns — combining German, Scandinavian and Mediterranean influences into a cohesive and expansive menu.
And I definitely mean expansive. The menu is huge, ensuring something for everyone and allowing any kind of visitor — from the multi-course diner to the six-top that shares a series of appetizers and small plates — to choose their own adventure.
The small plates menu is one of the most difficult to pass up, from its incredibly tender BBQ lamb ribs smothered in a sweet balsamic glaze and the alluring bison bone marrow — a menu item that’s not only adventurous for mall diners but Minnesotans, as well.
The bone marrow takes on a rich, creamy texture paired perfectly with crusty toast and topped with braised lamb and a balsamic maple jus. It’s a great compliment to the lamb ribs, a healthy portion of fall-off-the-bone perfection.
The walleye cakes, which on their own are a delicious combination of a Minnesota staple and a tasty, crunchy batter, is a solid choice but falls flat in flavor next to the dynamic flavors of the bison and lamb offerings.
Lynch, known for his focus on local, local, local, brings that same attitude to the Bloomington menu, highlighting Minnesota-raised chicken, local bison, sausage and pickled vegetables.
An entire section of the menu is devoted to his flavorful rotisserie selections, where he personally sold us on his unique preparation of duck. The hickory smoked rotisserie wild acres half duckling (which after several small plates was a generous portion) was served over a bed of wild rice, with a side of lingonberry duck glace to enhance its natural flavors.
With his technique, Lynch is able to achieve a fantastic snap to the duck’s flavorful skin, while keeping the heart and soul of the dish succulent and juicy, albeit slightly drier than what you may expect from a typical duck preparation.
If FireLake is any indication of the direction that “mall restaurants” could be heading, I’m certainly anxious for the future. What FireLake understands — and has shown in its latest offering — is that convenience and necessity also pairs well with atmosphere and inventive flavors.
For more information, full menus and hours for FireLake Grill and Cocktail Bar at Mall of America, click here.