TABLEHOPPING:

CATCH THE CONTAGION: If you're anything like me, you've sat up nights worrying about local civic trends like: Are there enough things in Minnesota currently starting with the word "wild"? Why, ever since the hockey team the Minnesota Wild set up shop in St. Paul, many of us have been plagued by underutilization of the word: Why are there really only approximately one billion places currently named "wild-somecrap-or-other"? Sadly, research has proven: Yes, that's all there is. Hey, anyone been to Roseville drilling contractor Wild Bore? Minneapolis children's clothing store Wild Child? Burnsville's Wild Concepts? Plymouth's Wild Expressions Taxidermy? Wayzata's Wild File? Wild Onion? Wild Mountain? Wild Orchid? The Wild Pair? Wild Sound? Wild River State Park? Wild Rumpus? Wild Things? Wild Times Sports Bar? The Wild World of Not Even Remotely Wild Experiences?

Oh wait, I think I made that last one up. And thanks for asking, but no, my pleasure in the irony that most things around St. Paul would best be named "calm" hasn't even begun to diminish, not even slightly. Thanks, hockey! (The gift of irony really is the gift that keeps on giving.)

When I put aside my concerns about the dearth of things named Wild, I often find myself biting my nails over fears that the Twin Cities' rich, rich vein of extant vintage steakhouses and supper clubs may not, indeed, be rich enough: Yes, there are powerhouses like Nye's, Jax, Little Jack's, Murray's, the Casper's Cherokee Sirloin Rooms, Lindey's, Mancini's, the Manor, Kozlak's; and there are another hundred I've never been to, like Jensen's, the Hopkins House, Carpenter's Steak House, etc. But are there enough?

Thank heavens, Chicago restaurant powerhouse Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. is rushing in to quell this fear: Inside of a month, it will open a retro steakhouse/supper club called--drum roll please--Wildfire! In Eden Prairie!

Where have you been all my life? Why, one of the most overused names in Minnesota meets one of our most prevalent restaurant types? (Now, if someone will only open a Tuscan restaurant on Interstate 394 called Julie Swenson I can die happy.) Of course, Wildfire will be where you will go for such where-have-you-been-all-my-life dishes as mashed-potato-crusted steak. (Well, it's either crusted with mashed potatoes, or a half-inch thick layer of cheese. Please, god, it's me, Dara: Let it be potatoes.) I wish you could see the picture of the thing they sent me: The steak with the mashed-potato lid looks to be sitting in a bowl of butter; and up to one side is a bowl of mussels, with a little accompanying ramekin of melted butter; and off to the other side is bread with a little ramekin of unmelted butter; and the only items in the photo without accompanying shots of butter are the iced tea and wine and who dropped the ball there?

Yes, a photo. From a press kit. A rich, rich press kit. Full of paragraphs. Like one featuring a quote from someone supposedly talking about how great the restaurant is, but actually managing to make it sound like a communicable disease: "Awareness of Wildfire spread through the suburbs, and in a very short time, it had spread back to the city." Why--I can feel it spreading right now! Eerily, Wildfire's soon-to-be general manager chimes in in his bio that he likes restaurants for their "contagious aspects"--paging Dr. Osterholm, paging Dr. Osterholm. Another paragraph explains why the original owners of the concept bailed--namely, "because of concerns that the marketplace had reached a steakhouse saturation point." Personally, I find it's always good to get the talking points on why your new venture might fail out to the press before you open. That's marketing!

What else? The chef hails from the Rainforest Café (woo!); the senior executive vice president of Wildfire, one darkly chameleon-like Howard Katz, is said to be a "consummate operator" who has as "his forte" "focusing with laser-like precision" which manifests in a stunning "ability to change with trends" and a sneaky habit of being "rarely seen at the corporate office." (Eden Prairie police: Forewarned is forearmed!)

If all of this hasn't got you salivating, I've saved the best for last. Wildfire's pièce de résistance is its martini lounge, featuring "hand-stuffed olives." Hand-stuffed olives. Hand-stuffing? They gave him a hand-stuffing he won't soon forget....Leftie was hand-stuffing Big Joey in the backroom when the coppers arrived.... Hand-stuffed kids is the kinda kids'll never recover, I tell ya, and you never forget the way they cry... Just one food critic's overactive imagination--or a completely filthy phrase. You decide. Only three weeks or so till you can spend $8.95 to $29.95 for dinner, and as is usual in Eden Prairie, the parking is free and ample, but you have to bring your own sense of irony. Wildfire, 3020 Eden Prairie Center, Eden Prairie; (952) 914-9100; www.wildfirerestaurant.com.

 

Correction published October 17, 2001:
In last week's Eaters' Digest, we misidentified Chicago-based restaurant company Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.

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