Erratic Boogie

Come for the dancing, stay for the dancing

6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul

Whenever I write a review of a big-splash restaurant, like, oh, say, St. Paul's new French Mediterranean live-music nightclub and restaurant Fhima's, the letters just come pouring in, explaining what details of your own experiences I magically intuited or irritatingly missed. I learn a lot, and I often spend the rest of the month simply cursing the way the uptight, inflexible nature of the time-space continuum is hampering my success as a writer. Also, my success at the dog track. And my access to Aztec gold. But that's another story.

For the purposes of this story, I just want to forewarn you: Nothing you can tell me about Fhima's will surprise me, or change my opinion of the place. Nothing.

Lord of the dance: Fhima's
Fred Petters
Lord of the dance: Fhima's

Location Info



6 W. 6th St.
St Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

You can tell me you had the worst meal of your life and whiled away an evening resting your elbows in pools of congealed sauce. I'll believe you. You can tell me you had the best meal of your life, skipped through sylvan fields of savory French classics and cha-chaed till close with a beautiful stranger who gazed at you through winking eyelashes of jet. I will believe you. You can even say that Fhima's is an uneven restaurant with a hopping bar that, no matter how the food comes out on a given evening, is an invaluable addition to St. Paul's expense-account, post-opera, or otherwise non-child-centered nightlife. And then I'd kick you in the shins, because what are you doing putting the conclusion all the way up here? That's not how you're supposed to do it! Sheesh. Now I have to come up with even more surprises.

Well, wait and watch. Because over the course of three visits, I too encountered the good, the really good, and the ugly at Fhima's. The ugly was the night the Cuban pizza ($11.50) was covered with a vast quantity of stewed sugary, sugary tomatoes enveloping spoonfuls of ground lamb (not the promised roast tomatoes and chorizo). It tasted roughly like a lamb-tomato sundae; the seafood paella ($18.95) tasted more like a metal pan than food; and the wine, ordered with the appetizers, wasn't presented until after the desserts had been served). And we spent the whole night with a filthy table because no one thought to wipe off the hard, modern plastic of it. But we also had the crêpes--three sweet nut-brown beauties lavished with a gathering of fresh berries, poised by a pool of perfect, custardy crème anglaise--and I thought: Okay, for you, little crêpes, I'll be back.

Other oddities marked further visits: "Meritage tartare," a big ball of minced raw tuna combined with sour cream, capers, shallots, and lemon juice into a sort of hyper-upscale delicatessen salmon salad, served on a bed of raw salmon ($13.50). An appetizer of haricots verts weren't the micro-beans the name implies in this country, but instead--both times I ordered them--a vast platter of overcooked green beans, in a spicy peanut sauce. At $9.75 a plate, they should be a lot more delicate. Still, part of me really admires anyone who can charge 10 bucks for a plate of string beans and get away with it. In St. Paul, no less! The paella never got any better. I tried the lamb tagine twice ($19.75) and found it gamy and greasy--not a lovable version of the dish. Yet, every time, those crêpes stayed marvelous, and the other desserts yielded real pleasure too: The enormous tarte aux pommes ($9.50) was served hot from the oven, covered with butter, and irresistibly fresh and delicious; the Marrakech lemon tart ($5.75) had a nice bit of marzipan in the crust.

Over time, the picture became clear. I found other servers who were flashy, attentive, and speedy in a wonderfully polished way. More important, the bar was constantly packed, and everywhere I looked, couples were dancing vivaciously. And I found enough dishes that, while not chef-driven or anything to rhapsodize over, were truly solid and likable: A green salad ($5.25) was enhanced by nutty pumpkinseeds and sharp Gorgonzola, and I liked it.

Also try the Moroccan tapas plate--there is one great thing on the $12.50 platter, namely the spicy tomato dish "chouk-chouka," which is like a sweet and fiery cross between tomato relish and tomato confit, a profoundly deep-tasting thing that everyone at the table was fighting over. A toast-round spread with goat cheese and topped with almonds sat near the chouk-chouka, and it was joined by various piles of hummus, cornichons, roasted red peppers, and a sweet eggplant marmalade.

The roast chicken (poulet rôti, $15.50) tasted fried, but with the crisp skin, moist meat, and surrounding thin fries, it was just fine. The very, very best thing I tried was the pot au feu ($16.50) of chicken: Order it and a beautiful little casserole arrives, filled with tender vegetables and chicken falling off the bone--in short, bone-deep comfort food. I also liked a simple roast trout ($18.75) with a sweet side of a date and almond purée, though everyone at my table preferred what I felt was a fairly pallid piece of rare-seared tuna ($24.50), served with decorative plate designs of a wasabi sauce.

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