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DINING OUT: Elegant and quiet dining at Restaurant 301

Butter: A trio of house-made butters: banana-brandy, lemon-basil and raspberry-lime. Jana Hollingsworth / jhollingsworth@duluthnews.com1 / 4
The balsamic-glazed chicken with jasmine rice, grape tomatoes, peas, carrot slivers and baby greens. Jana Hollingsworth / jhollingsworth@duluthnews.com2 / 4
The “coastal crab cakes” with sriracha yogurt sauce. Jana Hollingsworth / jhollingsworth@duluthnews.com3 / 4
The yellow curry seafood stew with mussels, scallops, shrimp, blue crab and calamari. Jana Hollingsworth / jhollingsworth@duluthnews.com4 / 4

Restaurant 301 might be the best, least-visited restaurant in Duluth.

The elegant, quiet dining room tucked into the corner of the Sheraton Hotel has tall, Superior Street-facing windows and a fireplace in the center that makes dining there during the cold months of the year a lovely, cozy idea. And in the summer, watching the world go by from a window seat with wine is one of Duluth’s great pleasures.

So why aren’t more people consistently eating here? Save for weekends, the dining room has often been nearly empty at various night-time visits. It can’t entirely be because of the prices, which roughly match other fine-dining offerings in town and heading up the shore. And it can’t be because of the food, with many dishes changing with the seasons and a menu that leans imaginative. Sauces and soups are special here. Even with the early June loss of its chef — Kevin Ilenda, to Bluefin Bay’s Bluefin Grille — the restaurant has maintained consistency.

Sous chef Shawn Carey has ably taken over while a replacement was sought. It was announced late last week that Tom Malone was hired as executive chef. He has cooked at resorts in Wyoming and Key West but most recently for Spirit Mountain.

Carey, in the interim, continued the Sunday night tradition of a chef-created $35 four-course tasting menu. (Five courses if you include the amuse bouche, a fun little bite to start the meal.) Each week is different.

The Maryland-style crab cakes ($11) off the regular menu one recent night were packed with large swaths of crab and fell apart with the touch of a fork — a sign of very little binder. They were plated over a sriracha yogurt sauce with a bulb of roasted garlic. We squeezed out the garlic and mixed it in with the cakes. The ubiquitous sriracha mixed with anything is bound to be good, and this sauce didn’t disappoint. Asking for a bowl would have been awkward, but I longed for one.

Another good starter choice is the smoked Lake Superior whitefish, which comes with Havarti, capers, crackers and grapes.

The thick, yellow curry seafood stew ($25) is the well-edited menu’s trip to Thailand. The dish is a showcase for the kitchen’s knowledge of seafood preparation. A shallow bowl brims with nicely seared scallops, shrimp, mussels, blue crab and calamari: kind of a curry cioppino.

Fresno chili pepper lights up the coconut curry broth, which also holds sautéed grape tomatoes, scallion and cilantro. You would think at least one ingredient would be overpowered with the number of flavors sharing space. But, as with so much Thai cooking, they worked in harmony with each other.

The balsamic-glazed chicken ($25) was what you’d put in front of someone who asked for a light, summer lunch while overlooking an infinity pool at a country club on a hot summer day. Grilled and sliced chicken atop baby greens and jasmine rice, peas and tiny tomatoes: All very good, but hard to justify the price in Duluth or any city, really.

Service is usually unaffected and knowledgeable. Kitchen staff have been known to wander the dining room to discuss the food, which is a nice touch and something I rarely see in the Northland.

One warning: there are lovely, warm baguette slices laid out upon seating. They come with a house-made butter or two. On one recent visit, we were presented with a trio: banana brandy, lemon basil and raspberry lime. On other visits, the butter has been savory. It’s always been irresistible.

Maybe the fact you don’t wait for a table is a good thing in a city with so few fine-dining restaurants. Here is the ideal place for peaceful solitude with your salmon.

Restaurant301.com

(218) 336-2705

301 E. Superior St.

The Sunday tasting menu is posted to the restaurant’s Facebook page weekly.

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