Credit also goes to the restaurant for offering such a balanced wine list. The selection of thirty-plus bottles priced between $21 and $38 (with $5 off on Sundays and Mondays) is nicely split between giving the people what they want (Shale Ridge Merlot and Lockwood Chardonnay, both $25), giving the people something to go with jerk chicken (Conde de Valdemar Rioja, $22, and white Mittnacht-Klack Gewürztraminer, $24) and giving the people something novel--like the aforementioned Viognier ($33), an acidic white from Gigondas, an area in the western Rhône Valley very near Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which offered a fascinating contrast of velvety texture and mineral taste.

I can think of a few minor adjustments that would nearly perfect Chez Bananas, and those mostly have to do with the been-there done-that rice and bean side dishes--the black beans are merely starchy and dry, and both rice sides are flinty, underseasoned, and odious. Another tip: If servers could taste the specials, they could speak of them authoritatively. Instead, the ones I asked merely volunteered that the dishes sounded good. Lastly, it would be nice to see some variation in the pork-tenderloin-and-chicken-breast sameness that pervades both the regular menu and the daily specials. If so much can be done with the one white meat and the other white meat, imagine the heights duck, halibut, or squash could climb to.

The kitchen is certainly capable of scaling those heights: I will forevermore maintain that the greatest glory a banana can hope to achieve is to be fried in dark rum and butter à la Chez Bananas, making it as rich and utterly seductive as a fireside featherbed. Come to think of it, I bet that if Paul Revere had indulged in a couple of these lush desserts ($4) instead of straight-up rum, he'd have fallen asleep in the saddle and we'd all be using pounds sterling.

 

TABLEHOPPING

PARKING UP THE WRONG TREE: Well, frost my doughnut and call me snookered: There's no Table of Contents opening in southwest Minneapolis after all. Tablehopping aficionados will remember that a few months ago I wrote that we could expect a third ToC somewhere between Lyndale Avenue and the Edina city line before the calendar clicked 2000, but no dice. "It's not happening--not there, no chance," says Bill Coy, general manager of the downtown Minneapolis location. "We had the storefront, we had everything, we were ready to invest and put in everything you need for a restaurant--the kitchen, the venting, the refrigeration--but the city did everything they could to make it not happen."

Turns out that ToC had everything in place except the wine-and-beer license it wanted, and that in order to serve you a glass of Riesling with your duck breast, the restaurant would have needed more parking than the storefront at 50th and Ewing would allow. No accommodation could be made, so now southwesters find themselves possessed of another furniture store! There are cities where people gather in their neighborhoods to eat great meals prepared by talented chefs, glad to see their friendly local waitstaff, happy to have a joint to call their own. And then there are cities where people lie on their deathbed and thank God they never had to walk a block to park. Guess where you live.

SPEAKING OF PARKING: I passed an evening recently at Redstone American Grill, the newest brainchild of the folks who brought you Champp's. And when I get done shuddering I'll tell you a little about it. Okay. But only very little. Suffice it to say that there is a large restaurant with valet parking, and it is stuffed beyond capacity with fans who sup on the saltiest, over-brined rotisserie chicken I've ever puckered through while watching sports on flat-panel televisions cantilevered over the bar. I saw one big spender perform a feat I'll not soon forget: He ponied up to the bar, laid down his cash, and insisted the barkeep fill up a couple of pint glasses with Ketel One, Bombay Sapphire, you get the point, for a top-shelf Long Island Iced Tea. Who's shuddering now?

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