Hot To Trot

South Beach

325 First Ave. N., Mpls.; 204-0787

           DRIVING DOWN FIRST Avenue the other week, I could have sworn that my eyes were playing tricks on me. Through a window on the avenue I could make out about a half-dozen happy faces and shining midriffs dancing like mad dogs on the bar counter. Later, I learned that what I had seen had a name: South Beach, "Where the elegance of the past meets the style of the future." Not two months old yet, South Beach has already developed a scene, and, as its name implies, it's a fairly unique one by Minneapolis standards.

           Famished late on a Wednesday night, my friend and I approached one of the four bouncers/hosts dressed in suits, sunglasses, and walkie-talkies outside the doors of South Beach. "Do you serve dinner?" we asked. "Yes, yes, we serve dinner until 11 p.m. It is a very delicious dinner. But you can't come in here like that. We have a dress code. Button-down shirts for men." How nice to have a place to show your polish, especially at a time when most people don't hesitate to wear shorts and a T-shirt to the Guthrie.

           We sped home to change into more appropriate attire and returned. This time a bouncer came towards the "crowd" of five people on the street, barking like a crazed policeman. "Everyone back! Line up, line up behind the ropes! People, get back!" Dutifully, we queued up behind the maze of velvet rope for this absurd exercise in crowd control. When it was our turn to be sized up, the bouncer started backing us out of line. "I told you to get out of here! You can't come in here like that!" he said with a nod to my friend's rubber-soled shoes. We appealed politely to the blonde hostess standing behind his bulk; couldn't we just go up for dinner? We'd already gone back to change, and no one had said a word about the shoes the first time. "Well," she said, looking nervously into the half-filled club and then again at the broad shoulders of her coworkers, "I guess I could let you in just this once, if you remember next time." After thanking her profusely, we started to enter, prompting the big bouncer to again start shouting, "I told you, get out of here! Do I have to tell you again!" After the hostess interceded, he begrudgingly let us by, thrusting at us a card delineating the dress code.

           South Beach is just as strange on the inside (compared to most Minneapolis clubs anyway) as it is on the outside. I wonder where all these people come from; I've never seen so many $1,000 suits, plastic surgery jobs, and gold necklaces in my life. This place has style--the kind you can buy, anyway. Women self-consciously watch themselves smoke cigars in the mirror and teeter around in high heels and short cocktail dresses; men sport earrings and designer suits. Everyone seems so beautiful--even the Artist Formerly Known as Prince stopped by to gaze down at the bodies moving on the dancefloor below.

           With all of this to take in, you might just forget about dinner. You shouldn't though, because the food here is, for the most part, quite good, provided you don't expect a quiet dinner for two. The setting is very fine, what with candles, a fireplace, and clean linens, but the disco music is loud enough to vibrate the chairs beneath you. The strobes cut into your eyes a bit and every once in a while, you get a good whiff of the fog machine. Can you relax long enough to enjoy a plate of grilled shrimp and scallop brochette ($16.95)? We did, and it was excellent: skewers of mammoth shrimp and scallops atop seasoned basmati rice and a nice cilantro corn relish with asparagus, grilled tomatoes, and carrots arranged artfully on the side.

           The calamari tomatillos ($7.95) that we tried were less lovely; the menu promised sautéed calamari, but what we got was battered and heavily fried. Not the best, but decent enough with the olive oil, garlic, and white wine sauce under the knotty, fried mass. Better to go with the light and fresh- tasting salmon pavé--marinated salmon topped with Spanish lemon and a light, biting lemon-ginger glaze ($7.95). Other offerings include salads, pasta, specialty pizzas (the South Beach pizza sounded particularly delicious, with fresh salmon, mushrooms, and green scallions, topped with mozzarella and provolone cheese; $9.95), and heavy entrées such as grilled New York steak with shallot marchin sauce ($18.95), and rack of lamb provençal served with apple fritters ($24.95).

           Desserts are equally high-minded, including the flaming tableside drama that is Bananas Foster ($5.50), which involves ice cream covered with bananas sautéed in Grand Marnier; and raspberry-chocolate tiramisu served with a raspberry-pistachio sauce ($5.95). Service is polished and friendly; the chefs dance out of the kitchen occasionally, and the waiters are cool and crisp. All in all, South Beach is an experience--maybe not the ultimate dining experience, but certainly unlike any other dining experience you'll find in these parts.

           TABLEHOPPING

           CAREER OPPORTUNITY:Is the lack of fruitful employment getting you down? I can think of no job fruitier than that of ice cream taster, and guess what? Edy's Grand Ice Cream Company is hiring! They are looking for able-tongued men, women, boys, and girls to taste and expertly evaluate top-secret new flavors and to help decide which ones will be added to Edy's flavor line in 1997. The only catch is, there's no pay. And, um, the competition is pretty stiff: They're only hiring 20 tasters nationwide. Also, you have to write an essay describing your ice cream-tasting expertise and why you would be the best choice to taste the new light and fat-free ice cream flavors offered by Edy's Grand Ice Cream. But think of the perks: Eating ice cream, eating ice cream, and meeting others who love eating ice cream. Entries must be 500 words or less and will be judged on creativity. Winners will receive travel to Edy's manufacturing facility in the San Francisco Bay Area for the October 1996 tasting event, stay at a hotel of Edy's choice, and receive a one-year's supply of ice cream (light and fat-free so you don't pork up too much) in gift certificates. Entries must be postmarked by Friday, August 30, 1996. E-mail yours to jdharris@dreyers.com or post the tried and true way to:

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