Space Beehives and Champagne

Impresario David Fhima does it again, this time in Edina

Louis XIII
2670 Southdale Center, Edina
952.746.5322
www.louisxiiirestaurant.com

You've heard it, I've heard it, we've all chuckled to ourselves: Every Day I Need Attention, the tell-tale acronym of the spoiled, difficult Edina girl. I thought it was pretty funny, too. Until the day I began to think it was less funny, and more illuminating of a specific local pathology. I mean, what are the slogans for the rest of us?

Minneapolis: Thriving on neglect!

Cheers to Champagne cocktails: Bartender Josh Enwright hoists the Amour Marie
Jayme Halbritter
Cheers to Champagne cocktails: Bartender Josh Enwright hoists the Amour Marie

St. Paul: Don't even look at me, I don't deserve it.

Eden Prairie: It'll probably stop bleeding on its own.

Columbia Heights: You've got better things to do.

Blaine: A card once a year, that's all I ask.

St. Louis Park: Over my dead body will I tell you why we divorced.

Seriously, think about it. You've got a cat, a kid, maybe even some upper bicuspids--hey, your teeth need attention twice a day, the needy brats! Only in the self-sacrificing Lutheran North would needing attention rank in with the ordinary sins of gluttony, avarice, and replacing something that could be repaired.

Which brings us to Louis XIII, the new Edina restaurant of David Fhima, the chef/impresario behind the Mpls Café in Minneapolis, Fhima's in downtown St. Paul, and, if things go well, another restaurant this fall in Lowertown St. Paul, called LoTo, and, in 2005, a restaurant and nightclub in the old Northern Lights Records space, on Seventh and Hennepin. If you haven't yet been to a Fhima restaurant, what you need to know is that they are, above all, atmospheric, offering the best parts of nightclubs--music, often live, dancing; glamorous decor; festive cocktails; a see-and-be-seen vibe--alongside food that reads as "fancy" and refers in some way to Fhima's French heritage, which he leavens with various influences. At Louis XIII that influence is Asian. Fhima restaurants are not, in my experience, concerned foremost with the food: They are, essentially, nightclubs for people who go to dinner. On those terms, Louis XIII, or, as the Fhima crew calls it, Treize, is without question the most successful Fhima restaurant yet.

It's successful because of the wryly sexy and amusing design and decor, and because of the wryly sexy and amusing Champagne cocktails. The restaurant faces the Southdale parking lot and is all glass, light, and white, with a few witty quotations from French Baroque art--the facade has a sort of transparent print of lovely French maidens' faces on it, for example. In the lounge, and out on the patio, an army of transparent Phillipe Starck's ghost chairs make the room look like a movie set for cocktails in space. A white rectangular bar separates the lounge area from the dining area, which begins with a series of cathedral-height muslin hoop-skirt beehives enclosing circular white booths; behind that is an enormous glassed-in terrarium for chefs. The rest of the dining rooms are behind all of this, or in the basement, and they're nowhere near as exciting as the front of the house--these rooms are merely lined with acres of red or blue velvet drapes, and feel like what an indie-film decorator would do when required to turn an airplane hangar into something resembling a restaurant. (Even though I've dined in these rooms repeatedly, I can never shake the feeling that they're provisional.) However, if you're lucky enough to snag a seat within the space beehives, order a Champagne cocktail and celebrate: You're in some of the most stylish real estate in Minnesota.

Actually, order a Champagne cocktail even if you end up back in the blue room--they're so much fun. The Lost in Mexico ($7) is bubbly with a bite--it's got some house-made habañero-infused tequila in it, and comes topped with a feather cut from a lime peel--fun! The Americana, made with a touch of bourbon and a bitters-soaked Demerara sugar cube, is toasty, subtle, and evocative. There are nearly two dozen Champagne cocktails, and if you've ever thought, My life could use a little less perfume of toner cartridges, and a little more perfume of Barbarella-starlight, look no further.

The food at Treize runs the gamut from quite good to completely indifferent. I couldn't tell you what predicts which. Some of the best things I've had at Treize include a generous charcuterie plate ($13.50), filled with all sorts of charming tastes, like a creamy truffle-chicken-liver pâté, slices of a hot garlic salami and another milder one, olives, a country pâté, two sorts of mustard, fresh roll-ups of mortadella, a champagne flute full of fresh, hot grilled bread slices--in short, everything you would love to set in front of a beer or a glass of red wine before or after a movie. I also loved the short ribs one night ($23), sweet, caramelized, sweet, laquered beef ribs that fell off the bone as a sweet pudding of rich meaty flavors--did I mention they were sweet? They were so sweet that the fig halves that they lay upon tasted like potatoes, but it was a smart, concentrated, appealing sweet; if you can imagine the things you most love about classically sweet baby-back pork ribs combined with everything you like about pot roast, you'll get the idea. A nightly special of Asian bouillabaisse ($24.95) was also adventurous and accomplished: A sweet, highly perfumed coconut-milk-touched broth was filled with bright pink curls of shrimp, plump diver-caught scallops, fat strips of ocean fish, a few earthy spirals of long bean twirling through the otherwise lilting bowl--this dish was almost ebullient in its freshness and zest. There were some odd croutons on it--tasteless planks covered with a thin layer of mashed potatoes and a wasabi squiggle, which added little to the assemblage--but hey, I'm not the kind of girl to get too worked up about an odd crouton.

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