Between bright Mediterranean flavors, a warm atmosphere, and creatively crafted drinks, Mara packs a culinary punch worth celebrating.
Since its opening in June 2022, Gavin Kaysen’s Mediterranean-style restaurant nestled inside the luxurious downtown Four Seasons Hotel has been the talk of the Minneapolis/St. Paul food scene. Mara Restaurant and Bar is the fourth major restaurant the James Beard Award-winning chef has opened in the Twin Cities after Spoon and Stable, Bellecour Bakery, and Demi. Also available in the Four Seasons is Socca Cafe, featuring grab-and-go bites crafted by Kaysen. This week, the Star Tribune hailed Mara as the top restaurant of 2022.
The warm, sleek restaurant was packed to the brim on Thursday evening, so my boyfriend and I snagged a couple of bar seats, where we were dynamically greeted by our stellar bartender and server, Jess. After receiving menus and the juiciest green olives I’ve ever tasted, we comfortably settled in for what was sure to be an incredible culinary experience.
Mara’s scaled-down and polished cocktails align with the dinner courses. Guests are encouraged to start with a light and refreshing apertivo, such as their Bichrome Martini, a cocktail made with Kapriol gin, cardamom, chamomile, and secco (dry) vermouth. The menu also includes two mocktails and two fascinating-looking sparkling teas for guests who prefer not to consume alcohol. Upon viewing the characteristically bright orange Campari behind the bar, I opted for a Negroni, which Jess fabulously crafted.
There are three intermezzo cocktail offerings, including the most phenomenally unique old-fashioned I have ever tasted. Warm, nutty flavors, including hazelnut, pistachio, and fig, define the cocktail. Another winner is the Arpege– a fresh, floral beverage sporting a delicate sprig of flowers and incorporating jasmine, rose, almond, Pamplemousse Du Nord gin, and vodka.
Finally, Mara offers a list of calming digestivo to exhale the variety of flavors diners enjoy throughout their meal. According to our bartender, Jess, the XXX includes a cognac so incredible it could be consumed alone. The resulting concoction of cognac from Pineau Des Charentes, Cardamaro, and Seville orange settles the stomach and excites the taste buds one last time. For something a little simpler but equally unique, I enjoyed an amaro similar in mouthfeel to Amaro Montenegro called Marseille, with a bottle sporting a little plague mask I couldn’t resist.
Mara’s dinner menu features three courses meant to be consumed from left to right. On the left, diners choose from vegetables and spreads, with highlights including hummus, baba ghanoush, and beef tartare. Continuing to the center portion, guests select their second course from an array of raw and cured meats and fish, leading to the third category, the dinner section of the menu. The offering includes selections from land and sea and two plates of pasta. We opted out of the spreads, vegetables, and cured meats as we were presented with a list of delectable bar bites that were impossible to pass up.
The culinary experience matched the luxurious cocktail offerings. Our first bar bite was the Grilled Spanish Octopus. Bright with saffron and orange, this colorful dish combined beautifully with the octopus’s tender texture and taste. Fried potatoes, or papas bravas, accompanied the octopus, which certainly brought Mediterranean flavors to the forefront.
Our second appetizer, the Pinchos Morunos, combined the most perfectly grilled and seasoned lamb I have ever tasted alongside flavorful tzatziki, spring onions, and lavash, an Armenian flatbread similar to a pita. The meat was perfectly fabulously prepared and the tzatziki sauce sparkled on top of the lamb without stealing the show.
My boyfriend and I like to cook high-quality ribeye steaks in our sous vide at home. We’ve created a system of seasonings, temperature, time, and searing methods that have turned us into snobs preparing the perfect steak. If there was a restaurant that could outdo our amateur abilities, we knew it had to be Mara. We opted to split the 24-ounce ribeye for two and were blown away.
The steak, prepared with beef from Peterson Farms, was perfectly tender and had notes of woodsmoke flavor from the perfect sear. The cipollini onions and Hen of the Woods mushroom complimented the dish without overpowering the ribeye’s flavor. It was the best steak I’ve ever had and showcased the power of top-notch culinary skills– we never could have prepared a steak this flawless. A ribeye is never complete without a glass of red wine, so we chose the rossese from Liguria, Italy to accompany this course. I’m no sommelier, but the lightness of the herbal-noted wine communicated welcomed opposition to the inherent heaviness of red meat.
For dessert, we followed the recommendation of Jess and ordered the Maraklava. A straightforward take on baklava, the Greek pastry characterized by layers of phyllo dough, nuts, and spices, this dessert was the fireworks show at the end of a culinary evening unlike any other. Tucked into the perfectly flaky layers was a wintry mix of pistachios and walnuts, topped with a sweet yet herbal wildflower honey and bee pollen cremeux and served with a side of heavenly saffron ice cream. The gold flakes and rose petals shimmering on top indicated a dessert colorful in both looks and taste.
Chef Gavin Kaysen has delivered culinary excellence to Minnesotan diners again with the bright and flavorful cuisine characteristic of Mediterranean fare. Whether you’re out for drinks and dessert after a show or celebrating a special occasion, Mara has a variety of mouthwatering dishes that will keep guests returning again and again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Mara located?
Mara Restaurant and Bar is located inside the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel at 245 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55401.
How Do I Make a Reservation?
Guests can make reservations at https://www.exploretock.com/mara. The bar is first come, first serve.
How Expensive is Mara?
It depends on what you’re looking for. For drinks, dessert, or bar bites, expect to spend around $50-100 for two people. If a whole dining experience is on the table, it will likely cost $100-250 for two people.