Friday, February 29, 2008

The Strip Club in St. Paul

Finally! I made it! I went out to eat. There were linen napkins and everything. It was wonderful - glorious - transcendent!
Restaurant week has been agony on me. (Andy telling me about her meal at Lurcat made me tear up a bit.) No longer working in a place where I have a large expense account has been a bit of an adjustment. I'm probably never going to dined at the new r. Norman's or see the inside of Porter and Frye, but I'd be damned if darling J.D. Fratzke and Tim Niver's joint venture was going to open up just a hop, skip and jump from the hovel and I wasn't going to get my ass in there. I refused to be denied no matter what that damn ATM machine kept telling me. I do not have insufficient funds! I will fund this venture - dammit!
Thankfully, Matt's actually the one who funded it. Wednesday night was the first evening in months that he was relatively busy slinging drinks to actual, paying patrons. He made just enough in tips for me to beg - DATE NIGHT! PLEASE! Darling husband, it will make me so happy. Don't you want to see me happy? You don't want me to be angry. You wouldn't like me angry.
Nice guy that he is, he even drove downtown to pick me up so my delicate feet wouldn't have to be bruised by climbing onto the train platform and be squished in with the slush and scads of other people. Tushie protected from hard bus seats, we headed to the East side of St. Paul.
The Strip Club is nestled into a little block just across from Metropolitan University. It's one of those neighborhoods that could be fixed up with a lot of public money and some crazy, devotees to the Victorian architecture. Those people have not yet arrived. Matt described the area as a "Demilitarized zone." (Which reminded me of a line in Ghostbusters, which made me laugh, which drew an odd look.)
We were even lucky enough to get a parking spot right out side the front door. This was almost too good to be true.
The soft light beckoned and Tim greeted us at the door before letting us choose our table. We picked a cozy looking spot right next to the bar. I noted that Mike Doughty was drifting through the air as we were seated, soon followed by Wilco's Sky Blue Sky. As I love this music and play it often, I nestled into my chair, sighed and let go. It was over. The long search through the desert had landed me in the middle of my Oasis. I ordered a glass of the Valpociella. It was delicious, mild blackberry notes and ... I can't even explain it. I hadn't ordered a glass of wine in a restaurant in over a month. I slurpped it up and I was happy.
After consulting the menu and listening to the dazzling array of specials, we decided just to order a few of the small plates. We had fried oysters, mussels, the meat on a stick and the fries with bacon ketchup (Bacon! Ketchup! Genius!)
First to arrive were the fries. I was a little worried. They looked to be the usual McDonald's wannabes out of a plastic freezer bag. They came not only with bacon ketchup (Bacon! Ketchup!) but also a remoulade.
"Isn't remoulade like a seafood thing?" Matt asked.
I couldn't answer - mouth full of bacon ketchup. The fries were better than they looked, but not extraordinary. The bacon ketchup was pretty good, but I didn't get much of a bacon (BACON!) flavor in there. It was just a sweet, husky little home made ketchup. It was good with just a little whisp of smokey flavor. It tasted almost a little bit like curry.
The remoulade was a delight, though, creamy and full of herby notes. The fries were really just a vessel for the remoulade.
Next arrived our little oysters. I was a bit concerned because I imagined they would be sloppy and taste old. We're not exactly seaside here. I was so wrong. So very, very wrong. They were crispy, salty crunchy on the outside and achingly tender, briny and delicate on the inside. They actually tasted like the sea, but better - because, ya know, they're fried. Incredible. They came with a little swipe of a rose colored sauce on the plate that further accented the flavor. It was wonderful!
Then arrived the skewered meat and the mussels. The meat was strip steak (naturally) and served atop a darling little mixed salad, radicchio and curly endive - buddies! Where have to been? The steak was cooked medium rare - perfection. Perfectly tender, expertly seasoned and lovingly prepared. I tried to cut it into tiny bites and savor. This was all rushing by too quickly! I knew that soon our money would be gone and I'd be forced back onto that couch watching Dr. Drew and those wacky druggies on VH1. (Weirder - when we did eventually return, we actually watched a Toby Keith biography. I cannot begin to explain this decision to you. I even had the remote control! The hell was I thinking? I do not care to know about the life and times of a guy who came up with the genius line, "We'll put a boot in yer ass." Probably still on a food high.)
Matt wasn't as concerned and horked it down like he did everything else.
The mussels were all jumbled into a tiny little bowl and dressed with falling apart stewed tomato, concentric ringlets of fennel and some little slices of sausage. Our server asked if I'd like another wine. I inquired about my favorite rum and he said they didn't carry it. He elaborated that his best friend had just been deriding him for not stocking it. Apparently, he makes his own tonic and the friend suggested that Mt. Gay would be the perfect foil.
"Wait, I have to address this. I'm a bartender," said my gorgeous husband, puffed up, full of mixology talents. "Did you say you make your own tonic? How do you go about doing that?"
He happily explained what he did, make a simple syrup, some bark from Brazil and lemon grass - voila! Tonic. Matt asked if we could try some. It was amazing. Seriously, nothing like what you normally get. There was no cloying sweetness. It was herby, with just a hint of bitter a the back of your throat. You can really taste the lemongrass and the ... bark. "Oh, yeah," Matt said, "Can I get that and some Beefeater?"
"I'd love it with some Hendrick's. And your friend is right. You need to start stocking Mt. Gay."
We chatted a bit more with our server - Dan. Dan really, really knows his way around a bar. He's obviously way more than some guy who waits tables, but is more the guy that runs the entire bar and could probably be making big, big bucks working from some corporate restaurant, but he said he really admired what J.D. and Tim were doing.
Back to the mussels - I think I only got about four because Matt was so busy shoveling them into his gaping maw that I was afraid to reach for another, fearing he'd take off a finger. The fennel gave the broth a gentle anise flavor paired with the musky beer (Summit,) and slick butter flavors. The sausages were billed as spicy, but weren't hot spicy. I thought they would be like a chorizo, but were more like a Fraboni's garlic sausage. They were gently spiced and paired really well with the fennel. After slurping up all the broth, we sipped our expertly made cocktails and breathed deeply.
From where I was sitting I had an excellent view of downtown Saint Paul. Cars zooming, lights shimmering in the inky winter evening. The last few snowflakes were dancing under the streetlight.
We were tempted by all of the deserts - blueberry crumble with Izzy's Cinnamon ice cream, flourless chocolate cake with framboise strawberries and a decadent triffle that I can't fully describe because as Dan was telling me about it my eyes rolled back into my head, my tongue draped out of the corner of my mouth past my chin and the garggling made it difficult for me to concentrate. All sounded heavenly. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be. We had to pack up our remaining pennies and head back down the hill. Our moment of glory was fading, back to the realities of life on West 7th.


At 1:21 PM , Anonymous j.lo said...

You make me want to move to St Paul. But then again, I know better. Come for the food, leave for the men.

At 1:32 PM , Anonymous andy said...

I wonder for how many people the words "gaping maw" will automatically--but not necessarily happily--draw forward visions from Count mine as the first tally mark.

At 9:20 AM , Blogger k & k said...

Great blog--happy to stumble across it! I went there this week for a small plate and wine. Amazing! I felt more welcomed than I've felt in a restaurant in a long time. Killer view as the sun set and the skyline lit up. I'm so proud to have a business like this open up on the East Side, my side.


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