Trimming the Appetizer Tree

La Fougasse
5601 W. 78th St., Bloomington; (952) 835-0126
Hours: lunch 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. daily; dinner 5:00 p.m.-10:30 p.m.Sunday-Thursday, 5:00 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

What the heck is a fougasse? Ooh ooh ooh, ask me! Okay. A fougasse is a Provençal style of yeast bread made with olive oil. It bears a family resemblance to focaccia, and it derives from the same root word. It can be made in a variety of flavors from savory (pork cracklings, Gruyère) to sweet (powdered sugar, candied fruits). It doesn't look like focaccia; it looks more like a big baked pretzel. But then it doesn't look exactly like a pretzel, because it's French, and fougasse bakers worth their salt develop their own sexy, fashiony take on the thing; fougasses are traditionally cut and stretched before baking, so they come out looking like ladders, or acorns, or statues by Brancusi.

Yay, yay for me. I get a gold star. Wanna know what else I know? Well, La Fougasse is the new restaurant at the Hotel Sofitel Minneapolis in Bloomington, it has a pan-northern-Mediterranean theme with a Provençal accent, and it even has some national significance: Once La Fougasse gets up to speed, Hotel Sofitel plans to change the fancy restaurant in each of its hotels to a La Fougasse.

Location Info

Map

La Fougasse

5601 W. 78th St.
Edina, MN 55439

Category: Restaurant > European

Region: Edina

Next question: Are there fougasses at La Fougasse? You bet your sweet olives there are! Actually, the fougasses are great. Two are served at the beginning of every meal, a plain one, dusted with salt, and a dark, meaty one made with kalamata olives. Served warm on cutting boards and just crying out for hand-handling (tearing off chunks of fougasse is quite satisfying), the stuff has a nice resilient character, and a pleasant chewy aspect. Really, a fougasse is so sturdy it seems to cry out for a beer, but I always ended up pairing it with one of the restaurant's signature apéritifs, which worked out fine. An orange-rosemary kir ($8.50) made with white wine, a splash of blood-orange purée, and a bit of fresh rosemary floating in the glass had an unforgettable taste; the dark flavor of blood oranges with the fragrance of rosemary seemed uniquely Provençal. A rosé pêche ($5.50) was a less charming, rosé wine with a bit of peach flavoring--a little too wine-cooler for me.

Apéritifs lead one to appetizers (by way of apparatchiks, appellate courts, and appendectomies, by my dictionary), and most of the appetizers here are served on lazy-Susan-footed "appetizer trees." One gets six little plates per tree, which is sized to serve two. (You can't get a tree for three or tree for six; you must get three trees for six. If three trees are on the road to St. Ives and meet a man with seven wives, how many appetizers are there? Send in the specified number of box tops for valuable prizes. No dozing! There will be a quiz.)

The Mediterranean appetizer tree ($19.90) featured a number of delectable little things, such as orange-infused grape leaves; a textbook-perfect goat-cheese bruschetta; roasted red peppers wrapped in prosciutto; plump, cold mussels in escabèche (that way of serving poached or fried seafood in any number of garlic-touched vinaigrettes); and a delicious ragout of wild mushrooms and caramelized vegetables served in a beautiful little cylinder.

Pick the Provençal tasting tree ($17) and you'll regret it. Yes, you'll net a very good onion, black olive, and anchovy pissaladière (an oil-crust pizza), but you'll also receive greasy frogs' legs and a pretty-to-look-at-but-soggy-to-eat molded pyramid of stewed tomatoes, tapenade, and cheese spread. There are two large, treeless appetizers: fried vegetables ($8.25) and a light, altogether respectable calamari plate ($8.95), distinguished especially by the surprise presence of tender deep-fried artichoke hearts and sweet, tangy, marvelous fried lemon slices.

Were there more moments of deep-fried lemon surprise, La Fougasse would be a treasure. As it is, the long stretch to dessert is fraught with peril. I had some dismal, dismal salads at La Fougasse. The worst was of thinly sliced fennel, carrots, and celery tossed in a grainy, whitish puzzlement and crowned with slices taken from some old tuna steak or other that got seared for some reason. You know how rare tuna is the color of rubies or claret? The rare part of this tuna was the brownish color of baked apples. Simple mesclun (mixed baby greens) with chèvre and pine nuts ($7.95) was so swamped with balsamic vinegar it looked like someone had poured motor oil on the plate.

Entrées hit the high highs of the fougasses and the low lows of the salads. Two delights I found included a perfectly cooked fillet of sea bass ($17.50). The fillet, sealed up in one of those razor-thin, so-very-French crusts, arrived surrounded by a pool of rich, buttery saffron sauce; beside it sat a precious little two-layer cake of plain, buttery rice and simple, garlic-sautéed fresh spinach. Moroccan chicken ($14.95) arrived at table wearing the clay dunce cap of a tagine; once it was lifted, a heady smell of lemons and honey took over the table. I'm happy to report that this bird was nothing short of dreamy. Little roast slices of lemons off to one side proved a perfect counterpoint to the chicken.

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