I’ve been traveling a lot this summer and every time I come back, it seems like there’s something new and interesting popping up right in my own back yard. Sorry/not sorry for the rush of West Fargo posts that will be coming, guys, but for the the first time since I moved here, West Fargo is beating downtown Fargo for the fun neighborhood award.
Okay, that’s not a real thing. But it should be. Because I’m all for developers, city planners and local businesses working together to create more walkable enclaves where houses, apartments, bars, shops and restaurants can hang out side by side, instead of the strip malls people seem so obsessed with building.
The latest spot to open in my neighborhood is Loren Lee’s, at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and 32nd Avenue South. The building itself isn’t new (it used to house The District), but the restaurant is.
The team at Loren Lee’s smartly kept the physical features of the space that customers loved intact (like the gracious patio and big windows that drench the open, modern dining room and bar with light), but made their concept an all ages place with a new focus on quality ingredients. Loren Lee’s is a casual fine dining restaurant for people who want to get away from the chain restaurant experience and experience a menu that nudges them just a little out of their culinary comfort zone.
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge that “casual fine dining” is a term that makes some people nervous. Don’t worry, this isn’t a “fancy” place. (If you don’t speak Midwestern, “fancy” is usually a derogative in this part of the world — often delivered with an almost imperceptible eye roll.) Loren Lee’s is special enough for a date or a business meeting, but you can still watch the game in the bar.
Speaking of the bar, it’s a good one. Loren Lee’s offers a whopping 36 beers, 16 keg wines and a handful of carefully concocted cocktails. Wine aficionados like the keg wine concept because it regulates the oxygen in the wine and ensures that you never get a glass that tastes like the bottle’s been open for a week. (Sometimes that bottle actually has been open for a week. It’s not supposed to happen but anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant or bar can tell you that it sometimes does.)
The beer menu will make craft beer fans happy. It offers a solid flavor and geographical variety, including a several from Fargo breweries and a handful on nitrous. It’ll be interesting to see if they’ll carry beer from their neighbor Flatland Brewery in the future.
The menu isn’t large, but it’s focused, divided into categories (beef, fish, fowl and pasta) with a few selections under each. I will definitely come back for the lobster risotto, seared scallops or lobster mac and cheese. There are also several small salads to sample if you’d like to make yours a multi course meal and an option to sample two of the three soups on offer (lobster bisque, french onion or the chef’s creation of the day, which struck me as a great idea. Why don’t more places offer this?
We weren’t hungry enough for any of the main dishes (which is a bummer when they look this good) so Derrick suggested we split a few appetizers to get a taste of what the place had to offer. We tried the spicy duck flatbread because our server raved about it and the duck with apricot sauce on the dinner menu had already caught my eye.
It was outstanding. The apricot sauce from the entree reappears here as a sweet compliment to the pulled duck and generous portion of melted Provolone cheese. It actually didn’t taste terribly spicy to us (but then again, we order our curry medium to hot and Derrick likes ghost peppers), but the jalepenos gave it the perfect kick to offset the sauce’s sweetenss.
And, because I’m an absolute sucker for fondue (I think I served it every single party in our first apartment — sorry lactose intolerant friends…) we had to try the Loren Lee’s version. You can see it in the photo at the top of this post. It’s a light and mellow Gouda fondue, served with fat grapes, thin slivers of green apples, tender strips of sirloin steak and house-made sourdough croutons.
It lasted all of about five minutes at our table. It wasn’t until I was spearing my last grape that we noticed that we were eating directly from our fondue forks, which is pretty much exactly what you’re not supposed to do when eating from a communal dish. I laughed and made a mental note to remember not to do that when we come back with friends next time.
And we’ll definitely be back. Loren Lee’s is a comfortable spot with an interesting menu, a great range of drink options and great food. And the staff doesn’t judge you if you exhibit terrible table manners, so that’s an added bonus.
How about you?
Have you checked out Loren Lee’s yet? What should I try the next time I’m there? What makes a neighborhood restaurant and bar great, in your book? What makes a neighborhood great?
3179 Bluestem Drive
West Fargo, ND
Bus: 23 (Please note this bus stop is about a mile from the restaurant. Bus service hasn’t quite caught up to development yet.)
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