FARGO — It wasn’t that long ago when outdoor dining was virtually unheard of in Fargo. Exactly why is unclear. We, of the Upper Midwest, have always thought ourselves the rugged outdoor type who can sit in a tree stand for hours in horrific weather with little more than a ham sandwich in our hands and think it a step up from a heated garage and a bag of chips.
Then came the rooftop terrace at the Hotel Donaldson and a few tables outside the Fargo Brewing Co. downtown. Most often this reluctance to invest in outdoor dining has been explained by the weather in Fargo because, well, everything is explained by the weather in Fargo. But recently, CRAVE American Kitchen & Sushi Bar took the next step and removed the weather as an issue by setting up geodesic dining domes they have dubbed “igloo dining.”
This may have started as a response to the pandemic given that outdoor dining was a reasonable response to an airborne virus that spreads like locusts indoors. But what about dining indoor outdoors? Might that work?
And, as a bonus, it extends the fashion of outdoor dining, relatively new to urban restaurants in Fargo, into the season we all love best: winter.
When we first arrived for lunch at CRAVE, 3902 13th Ave. S., at West Acres, our igloo was spotlessly clean and, moments after we left, it was being aired out and awash with disinfectants. Exactly what good this might do is something I’ll leave to epidemiologists, but it certainly seems to be taking recommendations to be cautious farther than North Dakota’s relatively relaxed approach might require.
It’s fun, different and attractive. The interiors of the igloos are nicely lit and fitted out with piped-in music and forced air heating. Chairs are covered with throws and the entire feel is one of intimacy, a kind of rustic familiarity and a sense of adventure.
Our server was casual, friendly, always masked, well versed in the menu and a generally charming guy. So as far as service and atmosphere are concerned, it’s a nice way to spend an hour and a half with people who you don’t mind being around unmasked — which, today, is the definition of true belonging.
RELATED REVIEWS: Daeuber: One last shot at drive-in dining in Fargo-Moorhead via sidecar motorcycle | Daeuber: Follow these tips to step up your takeout meals at home | Daeuber: Outdoor dining has its moment in the sun during the pandemic
CRAVE's name is well suited to what it does. The menu is broad and includes sushi options as well as standard upscale barroom favorites such as a full slate of burgers, salads and comfort foods. There is something for everyone — a cliche that is intentionally realized at CRAVE.
If there is a fault to be found, it’s in what all larger restaurants with multiple locations rely on — a kind of common denominator that ensures consistency in tastes and menus needed to maintain a brand. The chicken apple brie sandwich ($12.95) is a good example, simple and adequate with flavors now familiar in higher-end family dining.
Elsewhere, this means much bigger flavors, salt and a tendency to include more fat. A case in point is the wagyu beef burger ($17.95) that takes its name from the Japanese way of producing a highly marbled beef from carefully raised herds bred for sustainably and overall quality.
It’s now my favorite burger in town — rich, flavorful, done rare to medium rare to take full advantage of rendered fat and served with Swiss cheese, onions and what is essentially a mushroom jam. Big flavors, but thoughtful and nicely composed.
Sides and appetizers are predictable but, in some cases, a nice treat. The truffle Parmesan fries ($8.95) are really pleasant, the tomato basil soup ($4.95) a nice rendition of a family restaurant standard, and the Caesar salad ($9.95) is served with Parmesan that was shaved much too long ago but saved by bacon and tomatoes.
Sushi is good and reasonably priced, and the sides that come with the premium bento box ($14.95) speak to CRAVE's commitment to freshness. Unlike burgers, you can’t hide anything in a simple seaweed salad and fresh fruit, and CRAVE doesn’t try. Share bits and pieces of it with your friend who ordered the wagyu beef, and it’s a sample taste of Japan all around.
The igloos need to be reserved in advance and they come with a minimum commitment to a bill of at least $150 at dinner or $100 at lunch. The maximum number of people you can squeeze comfortably into an igloo is six, and even with half that, it’s not hard to reach that total.
It may be that more such experiences are coming to Fargo soon, with the nearby Granite City Food & Brewery, 1636 42nd St. S., doing something similar. A kind of high-end ice fishing experience for urbanites and people without an auger. Perhaps Minnesota and North Dakota have found a modern-day expression for its claim of resilience in the face of our Northern climes.
CRAVE American Kitchen & Sushi Bar
Address: 3902 13th Ave. S., Fargo
Hours: call for hours on igloo dining; reservations are required for igloo dining
Alcohol: full bar
Ratings (out of 4 stars)
Food: 3 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambiance: 4 stars
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at email@example.com.