Erratic Boogie

Come for the dancing, stay for the dancing

As you can imagine, picking a wine to pair with wasabi, tagine, chicken pot au feu, and chouk-chouka is rather a challenge. Lucky for you, the list is some 700 bottles long, so you can have ample opportunity to test any theories about pairing you might have. Any theories. At all. What is the difference between reading a list of 700, and a list of 5,000? They are equally exhausting--you had better have your wits about you when you confront it. And your glasses, as the type is very small. And, if you're smart, an extra quarter-hour to muse and sort, and wonder why the list has varietal sections, as well as separate "interesting" sections for red and white, and also "chef's" sections for red and white. Are the chef's wines not interesting? Are the interesting wines frowned on by the chef? The mind wobbles. Yet, once stabilized by a few well-placed matchbooks, the mind is happy to find a bunch of nice options: $17 crisp, acidic, and pleasantly simple Martin muscadet; rich, floral, and honeyed New Zealand Villa Maria sauvignon blanc, for $36; the cherry and brisk smoke of Michel Chapoutier's Belleruche Côtes du Rhône for $32. (Are you wincing because you saw that the Belleruche is on sale during the Surdyk's Fall Wine Sale, October 9-26, for $8 a bottle? Yeah, it's my pick of the sale. too.) Okay, the wine list is studded with a couple of pitfalls--big-name wines that look like a bargain unless you really, really know your vintages--and the thing as a whole is a little too pricey. But the main problem is the logistics of fetching the stuff: Even when the restaurant was humming at peak efficiency, ordering wine was like asking for shoes at Macy's during a sale. Where do they go? When will they return? A third as many wines would make for a better restaurant. As a friend of mine who works in retail explained to me, this list violated a cardinal sin of merchandising: It is "over-assorted." It's bad to be over-assorted, she explained. It's good to pick something and stand behind it. Is that the same reason the appetizer menu has cheese fries, "Greek nachos," jerk chicken drumsticks, and sevruga caviar? Hmm. New phrases are so tantalizing.

Yet after using the very whole of my brain over many nights and trying and trying to figure it out, I have had to conclude that Fhima's isn't merely over-assorted, because it isn't really a restaurant at all; it's really all about the dancing. Live and lively bands, every kind of booze you can think of, from Chartreuse ($6) to Smirnoff Ice ($4.95), naked ladies on the walls (you'll see)--Fhima's isn't so much a restaurant as it is an old-fashioned supper club, along the lines of the Manor or Mancini's: It's a place you go to eat, yes, but it's mostly a place you go to dance, or be around dancers, or generally participate in an evening that has something about bodies and festivity and hootenannies to it. So what if Fhima's paella isn't any better than the Manor's orange roughy? By God, at least it's an authentic living experience for adults in the middle of downtown St. Paul.

Which might seem like an odd tack to praise, but it wouldn't seem weird to you if you had had to brave that goddamn infestation of Lucy statues in downtown, and especially the ones outside the window walls of Fhima's. All 55 of them, it seemed like. Grinning, grinning, grinning. Like a ghastly Orwellian army dispatched to enforce civic gaiety, cartoonish innocence, and sexless cheer.

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)

Well, don't go looking for them now: They've gone, gone to their spiritual home, the Mall of America, for auction this weekend, October 13. So that money may be raised for permanent, bronze sculptures of the Peanuts gang downtown! Yes, permanent. Forever! And ever! And ever ever ever!

So, I know we were all up at the lake and stuff all summer--but when did our republic take as its model the childlike wonder of the Disney Store? And its concomitant core mission to promote trademarked merchandise? If McDonald's offered to set a thousand over-size Ronald McDonalds on the street corners, would that be art? If you take it upon yourself to start super-gluing Smurfs or Garfields on the street corners, is that now art? Or some combination of littering, public nuisance, and a tripping hazard? Which word or phrase would you most enjoy using when describing our state capital: childlike, cartoonishly innocent, or cute?

The longer I live here the more I must think--from the LSGI scandal, when plans to dome Nicollet Avenue were scuttled, to the suburb-with-height of Block E, to these annual tacky totems of unassailable happiness--that our entire civic debate is nothing but an argument between those who want our world to approach as closely as it can the inside of the Mall of America, and those who do not want that. And as Fhima's is downtown and full of dancing, foreign food, and booze, and thus firmly on the side of adultlike wonder, I say good, good, good.

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