Friday, March 28, 2008

Second Trip to the Strip (Club in St. Paul)

It was not a fluke. These guys are good. If possible, my second trip in was even better than my first. The worst thing I can say is that the parking can be a bit hairy. That's it. Really!

While Matt was parking, I walked up the street, observed an ambulance about a block and a half up dealing with a gentleman who appeared to have made a career out of drinking and was now dealing with some of the ill effects. He was sideways in a lawn chair flailing about. The paramedics were standing around, none too concerned. They appeared to be trying to talk some sense into him. "Interesting..." I muttered and walked in the door.

Dan was behind the bar and gave me a wave and a thumbs up. I didn't know if he remembered me or if that was just kind of his new thing. I kind of waved back and nodded. I had no idea what I was agreeing to. It was really warm in there. Really, really warm. The sun must have been heating up the black exterior and the heat had been seeping in all day.

A friendly young guy approached me and asked if I had a reservation. I said no, and looked around. It was pretty full and the space is quite small. I was worried that we wouldn't be able to get a table. I knew I'd been craving this place all day! Why didn't I call? Curses. He checked the computer system and returned, "We have that lovely table for you right up there." He pointed to a small table for two at the edge of the balcony.

"Perfect." I walked up and was happy to relieve myself of my coat and sweatshirt. Matt stepped in and I waved him up. He was wearing his puffy Land's End coat and a thick brown sweatshirt. "I hope you're wearing a T-shirt under that." Thankfully, he was, and it wasn't the "Rainbows are Gay" T-shirt that his brother had gotten him for Christmas a couple of years ago.

"Welcome back!" said our server. I didn't remember seeing him working the last time we were there, so that kind of startled me. "Can I start you off with anything to drink other than the water?"

"Thank you! Do you know if Dan's started stocking Mount Gay rum down there?" All the more thankful that Matt wasn't wearing the afore mentioned shirt.

He said he didn't think so, but he would check. Matt was fine with just water. We lustily scanned the menu. Once again, everything sounded wonderful. I was starving. We immediately ordered the Devil's Eggs to chase away the desperation hungries and I asked for a glass of wine since the waiter didn't think they carried Mt. Gay. Sigh. Fine.

I loved our vantage point. We could watch everybody without them realizing it. There was a photographer taking pictures of everything. There was a foursome in the front window and one of the guys sort of looked like This American Life host, Ira Glass. There was a table of gentlemen behind us that we could not figure out. They were all dressed in similar blue dress shirts, all the same age, clearly moneyed and educated, but not financial types. It couldn't be looked like Ben Kingsley. Matt guessed that maybe they were architects. I thought they might be old St. Thomas alumni. We're so nosy.

Our eggs arrived, three were your garden variety deviled eggs and two were a lovely pink hue. Our waiter (whose name I forgot to get) explained that the rosy ones were actually pickled in beet juice. He warned us that they would have a somewhat rubbery texture, but in a good way.

Just then Dan came bounding up the stairs and presented me with a cocktail. "What's this?"
"It's what you asked for." And with that, he was gone. Who was that masked man?

He'd gotten the rum in! He mixed it up with his home made tonic water and it was outstanding. The tonic was lemony with a little ginger, kind of a cinnamony finish. It was cool, crisp, light, bright and really refreshing. This is the kind of drink to be sipped out on the back porch on a hot summer afternoon listening to Big Daddy tell one of his stories about the days before the war.

And this time, I remembered to take pictures. Look at it! "AHHHHHHH!!" Doesn't it just sing? It was just before I took this picture, that the sun started to dip behind the horizon and they opened all the blinds up. The room immediately began to cool off.

The photographer came upstairs and took a picture over us. Then he went behind the table of guys we couldn't figure out and opened up the fire place. It's a secret passage. This place is so cool! And that photographer is a little weird.

Again, we couldn't decide on just one entree, so we decided to get another round of the small plates. We got the fried oysters, fries (with the ketchup - bacon! Yay!,) escargot, the ladies night out shrimp scampi and another round of the drinks.

The oysters were again wonderful and the frisee salad served underneath them was fantastic. The dressing that they use some how managed to taste light and creamy at the same time, shallots, Dijon and possibly red wine vinegar. The escargot were lovely little balls of garlic, buttery heaven with an herby, anise note.

This was a better batch of bacon ketchup. It tasted bacony and tomatoey. They were really wonderful and studded with big rocks of sea salt. (Matt's not really that swarthy, there's something odd going on with the light.)

The scampi were bathing in a super lemony, light butter sauce. I usually love a more traditional and tons butter and hunks of garlic, but all that brightness made it taste almost like it was something healthy for me. The shrimp were sweet, fresh and they actually crammed a ton in there. Happy little shrimp delights.

While I was sucking them down, Tim Niver came up to ask us how are meal was. We raved about everything from the food to the service to darling Dan down at the bar. We thanked him for bringing something like this to Saint Paul. He did his best not to look embarrassed for the raving lunatics and thanked us for coming.

After we were done eating, I felt really bad about making the waiter and the plate runner girl come up and down those stairs so many times with all of that stuff that we went down to the bar. Plus, this gave me the perfect chance to talk to Dan. (Love Dan. I'm thinking about getting some buttons, T-shirts and starting a fan club.)

Immediately, he poured me another glass of wonderful and set it down before me. "What's this?"

"Try it! I made my own version of Sprite."

Again - exquisite! It did taste like lemon/lime, but also of a bright kicky little hunk of crystallized ginger. He was enthusing that he's also working his own version of Cherry Coke. "It should be ready... well, it might be ready now. Definitely by Monday."

"We'll be here Tuesday," Matt said. And he wasn't kidding.

This is the first restaurant that we've found in St. Paul that has that Minneapolis neighborhood place buzz. You know, it's not fair, really. Minneapolis gets Corner Table, Al Vento, Barbette, Cafe Maude, Broder's - the list goes on and on. There are tons of little gems nestled into these great neighborhoods. While, I do love a lot of the places we frequent around our own zip code, the amazing pizza at Red's Savoy, Skinners, of course, those types of joints. It's great, but it's also very close to what I grew up with. Great American food, just not very adventurous. There is the artistry of Heartland, but I can only afford to go there once in a blue moon and there's Jay's, which I love, but it's only one tiny place that isn't open on Tuesdays, when Matt and I often have our date night. Here, we have all this talent oozing out of this beautiful Gothic structure. And it's all Saint Paul. With this restaurant just down the street from me, maybe I won't be moving back to that Minneapple any time soon.


At 8:49 PM , Blogger Jeremy Q. Afterglide said...

My girlfriend lives a ridiculously short walk away, and we love it more each time we go. In fact, we recently looked at our credit card bills from the last couple of months and about dropped a brick when we realized how often we've eaten there and how much we've spent. We've reluctantly made a pact to try to go less. *tear*

At 7:22 AM , Blogger Joy Estelle said...

Yeah, I think I might have a new addiction. We're headed over there again tonight (barring another freak blizzard - what the hell was that yesterday?)

At 6:58 AM , Anonymous J.Lo said...

Do you think my horse-toothed friend would remember me now if I visited with you some night that Matt is working? Everything sounds so good!

At 4:20 PM , Blogger Eve said...

I've read other reviews of this place but yours convinced me I need eat there.

At 7:10 AM , Blogger Joy Estelle said...

For more on the Strip Club and the explination of the photographer, here's a link to the article that the Star Tribune ran last Friday.


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