Muddled and Slightly Bitter

Kincaid's Fish, Chop & Steak House
380 St. Peter St., St. Paul; (651) 602-9000
Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; brunch Sunday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.; Friday 5:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.; Saturday 4:00 p.m.-11:00 p.m.; Sunday 4:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.; bar hours vary.

 

Were it the winter of 1940, chances are good that you'd be humming "Make it Another Old-Fashioned, Please," one of the hit songs from the latest Cole Porter musical to hit Broadway, Panama Hattie. Maybe you'd sidle into your favorite watering hole and order the cocktail: bourbon and a splash of soda added to a base of sugar muddled with bitters, segments of fresh orange and lemon peel, and a maraschino cherry or two. According to the 1999 book Vintage Cocktail, there's a good chance the drink would have been served to you with your own personal muddler--a very small pestle that would have sat in your glass like a swizzle stick, allowing you to muddle as you drank.

Michael Dvorak

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Kincaid's Fish, Chop, and Steakhouse

380 Saint Peter St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Were it the summer of 1999, chances are equally good that if you sidled into your favorite bar humming Cole Porter and ordered an old-fashioned, you'd get a glass of something that would make you spit: a bourbon soda with a cherry if you were lucky, a sugared whisky if you were not. Bartending, we all know, has become a degraded art, and any drink requiring an actual recipe--much less one that asks the maker to counterbalance bitters and sugar--has had to fend for itself.

Thankfully, it's the summer of 2000, and now Kincaid's has arrived to rescue the old-fashioned ($5.50). Order one, and you'll get a squat, cold glass holding a perfect blend of the brisk taste of Maker's Mark and the sweetness of the add-ins, the colorful pieces of fruit lurking at the bottom of the glass in a sweet murky stew. Kincaid's, which opened its St. Paul location last winter, also makes a top-flight margarita ($4.95). Order that and you get an entire cocktail shaker of gorgeous liquid green, zesty with fresh lime juice. It's smooth and incredibly lively, a real boon to the margarita quality of the state. And the Bloody Mary! Made with more fresh lime juice and garnished with a big whole cold skewered shrimp, this sweet and spicy Bloody Mary ($4.95) is a joy to receive.

Only thing though, were you to start your meal with a few of these bar-born beauties, you might be hard-pressed to hold your tongue about the lackluster meal that follows. Medallions of pork marinated in honey, soy and hoisin--grilled and served on skewers sticking out of a large wedge of grilled pineapple--are bizarrely tasteless. Under-ripe slabs of tomato served in a bath of achingly sugary French dressing garnished with a peculiar spoonful of deep-fried onion rings ($4.50) are unappetizing. Greasy prime rib (from $19.95) is mysterious: It looks like a prime rib, but tastes like fleshy cotton.

Then again, have enough cocktails and maybe you won't notice too much until you get to the very good desserts. I imagine that would be quite possible: The servers are so good, the dining experience so well-oiled that if you were cocktail-saturated you might never notice how mediocre the food is.

And the food really is endlessly run-of-the-mill: The signature "garlic-herb pan bread" is barely cafeteria-level garlic bread; the squishy bread itself lacks any real character, and the garlic butter that dresses it is, well, garlic butter. You could spread it on cardboard and it would find fans. The clam chowder ($4.95) is creamy and bland, missing any seafood taste. A salad of wilted greens ($5.50) that was supposed to be served in a warm bacon-leek vinaigrette arrived ice-cold, salty from blue cheese, and bearing the most strangely tasteless spiced pecans I've ever had. The lack of flavor in this restaurant is absolutely mystifying: Crab cakes ($10.95 as an appetizer, $13.95 at lunch as an entrée, $17.95 for dinner) were loaded with visible strings of crabmeat, but had none of the sweet, oceany taste of crab. A special of grilled marlin with sticky rice and wild-mushroom ragout ($20.95) featured dry fish surrounded by a brown, salty gravy that tasted like steam-table aged beef stroganoff. One who receives it can only sit and wonder: What did we ever do to them?

Over the course of four visits, I found only a handful of dishes to even half-heartedly recommend. The oven-roasted garlic shrimp ($17.95) are butterflied and slathered with garlic butter, and rest upon their shells. Yum--hooray for garlic butter! The caesar salad ($5.95) is fine. A special of grilled salmon with an orange-and-tomato salsa was fine, the fish tender, the sauce not obtrusive. Frankly, I could bore you with a play-by-play of everything that was wrong with the food here--and pray tell, why is the house-made au jus served with the prime rib so very metallic-tasting and salty?--but the crux of the matter is this: One sad, flavorless lunch, when we weren't seated for a full hour after our reservation, the management comped us their crab-and-artichoke dip--forgettable, but one of the house specialties--and my dining companion sat there pushing around an order of incredibly crisp fish and chips ($10.95) that had none of the taste of great fried fish, while I picked at a pot-roast sandwich ($6.95) that had a piece of white cheddar cheese on it that tasted like nothing whatsoever and was smooshed into a toasted hoagie that was in desperate need of a crust, and our server became worried. After all, we hadn't made much of a dent into the pork lollipops ($7.95) either. Is everything okay? she asked brightly, setting down another round of truly delicious strawberry lemonades ($2.75). "Ask the chef to turn off the de-flavorizing magnets, turn them off," instructed my friend, completely seriously, which cracked up our server but didn't inspire them to turn off the magnets. Or rays. Or whatever infernal device they're using.

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