IN THIS ISSUE
DINING OUT BEFORE AND
AFTER THE SUPER BOWL
IN THE TWIN CITIES
By John Mariani
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
ROSÉ CHAMPAGNES FOR VALENTINE'S DAY
By Geoff Kalish
DINING OUT BEFORE AND
AFTER THE SUPER BOWL
IN THE TWIN CITIES
By John Mariani
Meritage, St. Paul
Minneapolis’s food scene has received far more attention than St. Paul’s from food media seeking news out of the Midwest, with much of the attention focused on the return of hometown boy Gavin Kaysen to open the oddly named Spoon and Stable. Yet there is a great deal more happening in both cities, not least in Asian and African eateries.
I’m sad that so many of the old-time restaurants that once reflected the Twin Cities’ immigrant heritage are gone, like Ernie’s Scandinavian and Nye’s Polonaise—though Black Forest Inn lives on—but you can get a taste of the cities’ culinary depth at the huge Midtown Global Market (right), whose stalls manifest just about every ethnic cuisine you’d seek, from Holy Land Grivery, Butcher Shop & Deli and Taqueria Los Ocampo to Moroccan Flavors and Hot Indian Foods.
During my time in the Twin Cities I ate splendidly
from morning till night. Here’s what I liked, and
what you may want to try if you’re going to next
month’s Super Bowl.
410 St. Peter Street
Meritage, whose named refers to a union of “merit” and “heritage,” looks very close to a true Parisian brasserie, modern while wearing its original 1919 décor well. Chef Russell Klein, a native New Yorker, and his wife, Desta Maree, from Mississippi (below), who as Wine Director oversees the wine program and school, are celebrating the restaurant’s tenth anniversary, and for the past two years the restaurant has won MSP Magazine’s “Reader’s Choice as the Best Restaurant” in the Twin Cities. That kind of accolade is owed not just to the quality of food at Meritage but to the comfort and cosseting guests receive upon arrival, during dinner and at departure. It is palpable that the Kleins love what they do. And Russell's training at New York’s La Caravelle and Bouley is evident in every dish.
It’s a beautiful space, beginning with an oyster bar and moving into a high-ceilinged room with tilted mirrors, tile floors, an effusion of flowers, and lantern chandeliers. It’s the kind of place to celebrate something as much as a favorite spot you go to when you need a bistro-fare fix.
I let Russell cook whatever he wished for me. Dish after dish emerging from the kitchen had exactly the right look that revered French classics should have, but more important were the superb flavors involved, from an intense onion soup gratinée ($12.50) as good as any I’ve had in Paris to a shooter of billi bi ($4), a creamy saffron-scented mussel soup not much seen on menus any more but deserving of a return to eminence. A puff of foie gras ($3.50) made for a good amuse.
moved on to impeccably cooked, juicy sturgeon
roasted in duck fat
with sweetbreads, celeriac, wild mushrooms,
apple and a beautiful red wine reduction ($37). Then
came another French classic that was once
ubiquitous on menus and is now in recession:
Tournedos Rossini, that over-the-top layering of
rare filet mignon with seared Minnesota foie gras
in a lush Madeira sauce and a shower of black
For dessert the almond sponge-and-chocolate opera cake is the way to go (left).
One of the great joys of my job is finding places like Meritage where I least expect them, so that I can say with little fear of contradiction, this is easily one of the finest French restaurants in the United States.
2726 West 43rd Street
On my first bitter cold night in Minneapolis, this warm, 50-seat gastro-pub was just what I needed, a place to slump into a booth and chat with owner-chef Steven Brown about the food scene in town, which is thriving in the casual sector, where price is a prime consideration in people’s choice of where to eat.
Tilia’s success has as much to do with its drop-in atmosphere and very friendly young staff as with a menu aiming to please a wide range of people, from those who just come for a cheeseburger—a towering edifice with tiger sauce mayo, griddled onions, cheese and dill pickles ($13)—and a local beer called Surly, to those who begin with a striped bass crudo with avocado, pistachio and lime ($15) and a delicious, creamy chicken liver mousse with a fried baguette ($10) and a bottle of wine.
Sadly, Tilia has no liquor license, but it does have a dream list of well-chosen wines under $70, with a multitude by the glass.
The best of the pastas I tried were plump agnolotti stuffed
with butternut squash, sage, sorghum and blue
cheese ($25), but I winced at Brown’s sprinkling
fennel pollen on that simplest of Roman pastas, cacio e pepe
($19). Most of all I liked the pan-roasted chicken
thighs, a nice meaty portion, that retained its
pan juices, along with polenta, baby onions,
olives and the sweetness of figs ($27).
ZEN BOX IZAKAYA
602 Washington Avenue South
Minneapolis hasn’t a heck of a lot of good restaurants open for lunch, so it’s easy enough to see why Zen Box Izikaya is always full. Beyond its convenience, however—and it’s near U.S. Bank Stadium—the real draw is the tantalizing Japanese and Asian food and the engaging personalities of wife-and-husband owners Lina Goh and John Ng, who opened Zen Box in 2012 with a riot of colors, Japanese calligraphy and Japanese toys arrayed along the counter.
Lina is out front, greeting, coaxing, making sure you’re happy, and John and his crew are turning out a broad menu that ranges from excellent tuna poke ($11.50) and a ramen box ($13-$14) to all kinds of novel ideas like avocado tempura with a spicy mayo ($8) and fabulous Korean-style short ribs with skewered tofu ($6). One of the most rightly popular dishes is the chasu yaki ($8.50), a bowl of thick, succulent pork belly with onions and ponzu sauce.
Everything is beautifully and colorfully presented and most dishes can happily be shared; the low prices mean you can order up a storm with friends and still not feel light in the wallet. It would be easy enough to eat at Zen Box twice a week and it might still take a month to work your way through the entire menu. And every time you come through the door, Lina will be there to welcome you back.
261 East 5th Street
Located in what’s called Lowertown, Saint Dinette is devoted largely to a small plate menu, though, as you might imagine, plates in Minnesota are quite a bit larger than they might be on the coasts. And the ingredients themselves are gathered largely from the region from the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes to the Mississippi and down to Louisiana by Chef Adam Eaton.
One of the best dishes I had all last year was the
bone marrow (right),
which of itself is a nice idea but by adding
corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and
Swiss cheese ($12) to it, it becomes a
tantalizingly delicious concept. There is so much
on the menu that delivers big flavors, from tender
octopus with patatas
peppers and the acidic bite of aïoli ($14) to
first-rate fried chicken—Nashville style, but not
overpoweringly hot ($18)--with crisp skin that
doesn't fall off the meat. Have a well-made
cocktail and nibble on the charred shishito
made like a Caesar salad with bonito flakes ($8).
combines with a lusty venison and wild boar ragù ($15).
The Midwestern staple of bologna and American
cheese and pickles is cute idea but not a very savory one
From the outside, through tall windows, Saint Dinette looks like a place to have a fine meal without fuss. The decor is minimal, semi-industrial and gray, but the sunlight at daytime and shadows at night give it a duality of style and ambiance. Inside the care taken by manager Laurel Elm and owner-partner Tim Niver make this a place you’ll tell others about and want to bring them back to.
NEW YORK CORNER
By John Mariani
50 East 86th Street
A good family-owned French bistro is a pleasure at any time of the year, but right now, with the winds of winter whipping their way through every body and soul, the idea of pulling open the door of a warm, cozy spot like Demarchelier puts most other restaurants out of mind.
Since 1978, originally on Lexington Avenue but
for the past 25 years located a mile north on
East 86th Street, Demarchelier has been a
fixture of the Upper East Side, and, according
to our waiter, probably 70 percent of the
clientele on any given night are locals and
Most who come through the bistro’s red
door are greeted by name.
So, you hang your coat on a hook and sit down to a table set with linens topped with white paper. You get the menu and wine list right away and find a slew of apéritifs, wines by the glass—which include a good number of Bordeaux Supérieurs and Cru Bourgeois—beer, even cider. A very French waiter named Philippe tells you the night’s specials, and soon the cold weather is a distant memory as you break off a piece of good bread.
The menu has changed little in four decades; it is a compilation of bistro classics that never go out of style, only out of fashion, and each night there are additions that Chef Marc Tagournet creates from the day’s market.
These are the kinds of dishes now made with ingredients far superior and far fresher than in 1978, when white mushrooms were all you could find and foie gras came out of a can. Now a chef can find an array of goat’s cheeses, excellent herring, and fresh foie gras (left), and Tagournet puts them to good use. His torchon of foie gras is creamy and very flavorful, served with what seems half a loaf of toasted bread. The pâté de campagne in a flaky crust is moist and textured ($12.75).
There is always a “quiche of the day” ($13.50), which is almost always a quiche Lorraine, and it’s the kind of dish you recall with fondness from years ago, when it was the quintessential brunch dish. But my favorite dish on a bitter cold night was an impeccably made fondue (below), just the right temperature, just the right texture, made with white wine and three cheeses of varying intensity, including Comté, Gruyère and Emmental. It’s another dish that has faded in popularity, but not at Demarchelier, where it sets a standard for rich, gooey goodness. It comes in a half ($21.50) or full portion ($38.50), and the four of us at our table couldn’t stop sticking our bread-spiked long forks into the molten mass until every last lick of the fondue was gone.
There are four beef cuts, steak tartare and two burgers offered, and my friend ordered steak frites with a grilled ribeye ($34.50), beautifully cooked, with both Béarnaise and peppercorn sauces; the frites showed how forty-plus years can add up to perfection.
Jumbo sea scallops ($38) of fine quality came with baked leeks and a moutarde à l’ancienne. A special of the evening was snow-white filet of cod with a pea puree that unfortunately had little flavor.
As at any true bistro, there are dishes served only one day a week—couscous, cassoulet, bouillabaisse, and so on. On the Wednesday night I visited Philippe told us as soon as he gave us the menu that the night’s canard à l’orange had gone fast—it was only 7 p.m.—with only one portion left, which I immediately claimed. It came crisp and had a not-too-sweet orange sauce (rather than a cloying glaze) but the meat was not very hot and had a slightly liverish flavor; perhaps ordering the last duck of the evening wasn’t such a great idea.
I asked our server to choose four desserts, and every one was yet another reminder of French bourgeois home cooking: three fat profiteroles ($10; left), a slice of decadent chocolate mousse cake ($10.50), a well-wrought crème brûlée ($8.75), and—what a surprise!—crêpes Suzette au Grand Marnier ($975), flamed with flourish right on the plate.
Before going to Demarchelier, I plucked a 1979
guide to French restaurants in NYC from my files;
there were a hundred of them, including once
popular, now closed bistros like Les Sans
Culottes, Frère Jacques, and La Cocotte. The guide
described Demarchelier thus: “For the young and
lovely, the lively bar and terrace tables are
favorite places to see and be seen.”
Demarchelier is open for lunch Mon.-Fri.; dinner nightly; brunch on Sunday.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
ROSÉ BUBBLY FOR VALENTINE’S DAY
They Invented Champagne" from Gigi (1958)
They Invented Champagne" from Gigi (1958)
With the rising popularity of pink wines as well as bubbly it’s no wonder that most retail shops are well stocked now for pre-Valentine’s Day sales, especially rosé Champagne (the real stuff from a demarcated area in France). Moreover, many of these bubblies offer enjoyment not only as romantic toasts but also as mates for a wide range of fare.
There is, however, many a clunker out there, generally too fruity and/or lacking enough refreshing acidity to provide pleasure as a toast or with all but sweet desserts. So, as a guide to consumers, culled from a series of tastings, particularly one held recently by NYC’s Wine Media Guild (an organization of professional wine communicators), the following are my comments on ten widely available, top-notch rosé Champagnes for Valentine’s Day.
Collet Brut Rosé ($48)
Made of 40% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, this non-vintage bubbly is a great bargain. It shows a fresh, yet delicate bouquet and taste of peaches and raspberries, with hints of honey in its velvety finish – perfect to pair with flavorful cheeses and grilled seafood.
Henriot Brut Rosé ($57)
Fashioned from 50% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier, this non-vintage bubbly has a bouquet of raspberries and a taste of black currants and lime, with notes of anise in its elegant finish. It makes a good mate for pasta with white sauce as well as chicken and duck dishes.
2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut Rosé ($185)
One of my all time favorite bubblies, this effervescent wine contains 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir. It shows a lush, ripe cherry and cranberry bouquet and taste with hints of toasted hazelnuts and orange peel and a lush, silky finish. This wine makes a perfect mate for lobster or langoustines and should be drinking well for another 10 years.
2011 Louis Roederer Brut Rosé ($70)
This bubbly was made from 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay, with a quarter of the wine fermented in oak casks. It shows a lively bouquet and taste of strawberries and peaches with hints of orange in its finish and marries well with flavorful seafood like swordfish and tuna.
Deutz Brut Rosé ($55)
This non-vintage bubbly, from 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, has a bouquet and taste of ripe berries that starts sweet and finishes on a fresh, crisp note. It pairs well with smoked seafood and blue-veined cheeses.
Lamiable Grand Cru Brut Rosé ($43)
Flavors of strawberry and ginger dominate this almost ruby-colored non-vintage sparkler made from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay that has a vibrant, memorable finish ideal for toasting and snacks like pretzels and nuts.
Alfred Gratien Brut Rosé ($46)
Made of 45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir, this non-vintage example shows a bouquet and taste of raspberries and grapefruit with notes of ginger in its finish. It marries well with zesty ethnic fare like Mexican, Korean and Sichuan Chinese specialties.
G.H. Mumm Brut Rosé ($75)
Perhaps a bit pricey for a non-vintage sparkler, this non-vintage bubbly made from 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay shows a bouquet and taste of strawberries, peaches and hints of black cherry in its vibrant finish that mates particularly well with shrimp, clams and scallops.
Made from 81% Grand Cru Chardonnay and 19% Pinot Noir, this classy wine features a distinctive bouquet of fading rose petals and a taste of wild berries with hints of exotic spice and a crisp, but long lasting taste – perfect to match with creamy cheeses and delicate seafood dishes.
2006 Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame Rosé ($286)
A bit pricey, but the grapes (53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay) all hailed from top name Grand Cru vineyards. It shows a bouquet of wild strawberries and some ripe cherry, with an elegant taste of cherries and cranberries with a satiny finish. Drink this bubbly with shrimp specialties and caviar.
And finally, for those unwilling to pay the price for rosé Champagne, there’s an excellent bottle of Italian Rosé available – 2013 Rotari Rose DOC Trento Sparkling Wine ($17) -made from 25% Chardonnay and 75% Pinot Nero by the same method as for Champagne. While it’s not as delicate a true Champagne, and its flavors don’t linger as long as those of most of the wines discussed above, it offers a fragrant bouquet and taste of apples and raspberries with notes of grapefruit in its vibrant finish. It is well suited to use as a toast and marries well with grilled seafood, pasta with red sauce and veal.
YOU CAN ALSO EAT THE BOX THEY'RE
PACKED IN FOR EXTRA UMAMI
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