Monday, April 21, 2008

jP's American Bistro

Remember that thing I said about maybe not moving back to the Minneapple? I think I must have still be drunk from the Mt. Gay tonics, because I went back to Uptown and all I can say is, "Baby! I have missed you." While all my complaints about the traffic and the people volume still stands, it's still true, that no where else feels so much like home in these fair cities. The neighborhood we're in now is safe and thankfully close to Jay's and the Strip Club, but it's not Uptown. There are no facial piercings or Lake of the Isles. There is a shortage of hippies and an over abundance of 4 wheel drive vehicles.

It's a great 'hood - it just doesn't quite fit. Maybe it's just too close to my hometown that I fled after high school. (Because they can't hold me back, man! No one here gets me. I'm outta heeeeere.)

After work on Friday, I hopped the number 4 and headed down Lyndale. I couldn't get over how nice the bus driver was. The seats were comfortable and graffiti free... No one was loudly discussing how that M*tha Effa was gonna get - whatever. It was quiet. It bore no resemblance to my usual bus ride home. There was, however, snarled traffic as we approached Lake Street. It seems as though this construction has been dragging on for eons. The last three blocks could have been walked twice as fast as they were driven.

I happily bounded off the bus and into the lemony exterior that houses jP's American Bistro. Matt grinned at me from the end of the bar and hugged me. The woman next to my stool happily scooted over and welcomed me. Everyone was incredibly friendly and warm. The Merlot covered walls were studded with these gorgeous Impressionistic style paintings. My favorite was one with a sprightly little chickadee. Chickadees remind me of my mom for some reason.

Wise husband that he is, Matt had taken the liberty of ordering their frites. Moments after I ordered my glass of wine a paper cone filled with autumnal colored stips of fried potatoes arrived with a little cup of creamy aioli. The first one I grabbed was about the length of my forearm. I slathered it in garlicky mayo and bit in. I chewed slowly trying to identify that oh, so familiar and sumptuous flavor. Bacon! They tasted faintly... bacony! Incredible. I grabbed another one.

"You know what these taste like?" Matt studied the cone's contents.

"Bacon!" my guttural response as I tried to breathe through my full mouth in a vain attempt to cool them down. Way more than the bacon ketchup at the Strip Club, the flavor combination of the smokey paprika that covered the fries and the abundantly garlicky, eggy, tinged with barely noticeable acid all married together into that whiff of that first dechiperable thing on a Sunday morning. That which draws you from a comfortable slumber that could easily last all day. The memory of mom in her worn robe bending over, Grandma shuffling by or Dad in his saggy whites.

At Matt suggestion, I had ordered the Pinot Noir. Its light berry flavor melded perfectly with the lusty flavors from the fries. The best part about fries at this hour is that they're on the happy hour menu. I ventured a look outside. The spring gray skies hung low over the orange construction barriers and equipment. It's sad to think that patio won't be open any time soon. My gaze moved across the street to the Herkimer. I cursed my small minded stupidity. I've been meaning to get to jP's since they opened. The website now proudly announces they've been here for five years. Five years! Five years! Where have I been wasting my money in all that time? How many times have I sat down inside Herkimer only to be underwhelmed by the food, occasionally satisfied and always desperately trying to remember which beer was the one I hated, but always accidentally ordered. (It's either the brown or the red one.)

All the while, there is this gem with the gorgeous dining room and lovely bar. Friday night, we were sticking to the bar and trying to limit the funds spent. I was throwing a party Sunday for a dear friend of mine, and really wanted to conserve for that. After both digging into an empty paper cup, and furtively licking off salty fingertips we figured we'd better order something else. Even I cannot subsist on French Fries alone.

While we were studying the menu my eye caught the zippy bartender. He was constantly on the move - shaking, delivering, pouring, laughing. He was showily preparing a cocktail for the couple next to us. "This is amazing - you'll love this. I've muddled fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries with some mint and a simple syrup." He popped the glass pint glass into the metal base and began shaking vigorously. "Then I added plenty of white rum." He cracked the seal and poured most of the contents into a martini glass and the rest into a low ball. He garnished with mint sprigs. "Here you go." He gave them the martini glass, but slipped us the lowball as he was walking by. I couldn't believe my luck. Complimentary tasting cocktail! Okay! He was right, it was delicious. The berries tasted so fresh, and it wasn't overly minty or overly sweet. I could taste the Bacardi, but just subtly. The entire thing was a sublime summer concoction. I glanced longingly at the street again, vowing the minute the weather turns warm and that construction is gone, I'm setting up residence on their sidewalk.

Another table had ordered the berry mojito and another lowball glass appeared before us. I love this guy! We might have to get him and Dan, my other favorite bartender (well - besides Matt of course) into some kind of a cocktail toss off or something. That turn of phrase doesn't quite work the way I meant it to.

We had ordered jP's rustic pizza with more bacon (because, really, why not) and a cashew currant pesto. Next, I saw the bartender, who I think I caught his name as Jason (either that or Joel), dipping in to what I recognized as a pickle juice jar. I know because my sister and me being pickle fiends, there are often empty jars with mysterious ingredients still floating around in our fridges. Now, a martini glass was placed before us. "This is a sweet and sour martini with Hendrick's gin and just a bit of habinero pickle juice." I think I actually squealed with the delight. The smooth martini taste gave way to the conifer, floral taste of the Hendrick's quickly followed by a soft punch to the back of the palate from the vinegar pepper juice. It was hot, but it was so good. All the ingredients blended softened then sharpened against one another. It wasn't too spicy and nothing was out of balance. I couldn't believe my luck that he was sharing all these treats with us. I wonder if they're about to roll out a new spring cocktail menu or something?

Just then our little pizza arrived. It was happily misshapen and crusty. I took another sip of my martini and dug in. The flavors hummed and then crescendo'ed like a well rehearsed symphony of flavors in my mouth. The low, drumming creaminess of the cooked cashews, the salty, spiked picollo of bacon, the sweet trumpets of pesto and the cymbal crash explosion of each sweet little currant exploding in my mouth. Would it have not been so embarrassing, I would have popped out of my seat into a standing ovation. Bravissimo!

All of this during a busy happy hour and only two tiny courses! Amazing! And yet, the room was so relaxed and comfortable. I could hear the servers asking people if they needed to make it to the show and then swiftly moving along their meals to make the 8 o'clock curtain at the Jungle Theater next door.

I propped myself up on the bar, placing feet on the base of my bar stool and peered into the dining room. Oo, it looked nice. Soft, Meyer lemon lighting and glinting accents. I wanted to go in there. Sadly, we were at the end of the budget. I felt guilty about not paying for more drinks. I vowed we'd be back. It was a promise I had to make myself, before my feet would agree to lead me back outside. I smiled at the chickadee and threw on my jacket before allowing Matt to lead me back.


At 8:50 AM , Anonymous Lobergowitz said...

Rarely if ever has Joy steered me wrong and while I trust her assessment, Hendrick's wouldn't seem to stand up to such strong flavors. It's a delicate flower, not unlike myself. (laughter ensues) I'd love to try that peppery, pickle-y treatment with vodka.

At 8:45 AM , Blogger Eve said...

Glad to see you in my hood! I'm worried that the never-ending construction is going to kill all the restaurants before I get to all of them. Ugh, I don't care about gentrification - I just want to be able to cross the street.


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