Cue the Applause

Cue, the fine-dining restaurant in the new Guthrie, neatly combines high food ethics and high style

For instance, you could be utterly ignorant of common hog-feedlot practices and Cue's avoidance of same, and still find Cue's pork prime rib ($26) delicious. It's a rack of several Yorkshire pork chops pan-seared so that the plummy meat is russet-brown at its exterior, the fat as crisp as bacon, the interior meat slightly gamy, but so rich and sweet you may find yourself proclaiming to your date, as I did to mine: "Pork doesn't get any better than this, this is why we live in the Midwest!" This pork, which comes from Fischer Farm in Waseca, is served with a simple "stone fruit catsup," a thin red sauce with sweet and piquant notes, as well as a roast hash of squash, potatoes, and more root vegetables. The Hill & Vale Farm Minnesota lamb roast ($27) might as well be sushi of the land—berrylike meat is served rare and red as raw tuna, and is just as lush and melting. It's accompanied by local preserved cranberries, toasted walnuts, and Native American hand-harvested wild rice, and is such a local dish it could be on our state flag. Has the pre-theater crowd ever had it so good?

I was surprised by the extent to which Cue really does function as a pre-theater restaurant; on many nights the dining room is packed at five o'clock, and empties out at 7:00 as if someone had just sprung trap doors beneath all the seats. (To lure in diners without theater tickets, the restaurant has just started offering a $40 three-course meal, starting at 6:30.) At ten o'clock on Fridays and Saturdays, Cue also offers a post-theater menu of lighter fare and desserts, including the remarkable spinach and frisée salad ($10), dressed in a simple lemon vinaigrette but topped with a supple poached duck egg and a circle of pancetta as crisp as burnt sugar.

My only complaints with Cue have to do with the desserts, and the kitchen's propensity to oversalt things. The salt problem tends to afflict risottos the most: One night's vegetarian entree of a sugar pumpkin risotto ($18) topped with fried bits of leek was so painfully salty I couldn't even taste the pumpkin. Another night, the risotto of black barley and preserved cherries that accompanied a marinated and grilled Wild Acres poussin ($27) was almost inedible. The fried oyster mushrooms topping the Hidden Springs Creamery sheep's milk ricotta and almond ravioli ($19) had such a dusting of finishing salt, they actually burned my lips.

Desserts have enormous consistency issues. I don't doubt that pastry chef Carrie Summer is talented, but what reaches the guests is all over the map. I tried her version of cheesecake ($8) twice. Once the dish was the very definition of adorable: A quarter-inch thick, bright-orange square of sponge cake was topped with a simple, creamy ice-cream scoop of cheesecake-like filling, on top of which rested a salty little parmesan tuile that seemed to speak wittily to the various extremes of the life of cheese—the aged parmesan, the youthful cream of the cheesecake filling. Beside this artful stack were tender little nubbins of spiced poached pear; it was a playful, tasty little flight of joy. The next time I tried the dish, however, the sponge cake had ballooned to a Halloween potluck half-inch thick, the poached pears on the side were undercooked and unripe as potatoes, the cheesecake filling was melted and slovenly—it was like a fun-house distortion of itself, except without the fun. It also left me wondering if the brioche donut with mustard ice cream ($8) was always as repellant as it was when I tried it—I got a fried, eggy thing that looked like a mini-muffin paired with a sauce containing sour preserved cherries and served alongside an unsweet mustard ice cream that tasted as if it longed to be off somewhere private with roast beef. The pastry chef favors unusual ice-cream flavors: Thyme ice cream accompanies the chocolate dessert (a dessert which strongly resembles a brownie); pumpkin ice cream comes with the fairly standard spice cake.

If the whole idea of mustard, thyme, and pumpkin ice creams drives you to drink, please know that Cue is a great place to do so. The cocktails are both original and tasty—and that's the rarest combination when it comes to dry cocktails, isn't it? Hats off to head bartender Conor Kennedy, he has accomplished much. I was delighted with how dry the house Ginger Manhattan ($9) was. It's made with fresh ginger-infused Jameson and sweet vermouth, and it is a noble variation on the classic. A Minnesota Apple Collins ($8) was made with caraway-infused gin and fresh local apple cider; it tasted like a pure and clean Tom Collins that also was an apple sandwich on rye bread, which is a nicer experience than it sounds. The wine list at Cue is a joy—it's global, entirely thought through, and manages to hit the sweet spot of being both long and carefully chosen, meaning it's almost entirely free of popular deadwood. The Riesling, Alsatian, and dry Chardonnay sections are particularly appealing. The stemware is Spiegelau crystal, and you receive it even if you order from the glass list. I like the glass list very much, though, at $8 to $18 per, it reaches some ridiculously expensive heights; I just think it's kind of nice to get to try some pricier things I wouldn't ever buy a bottle of. Speaking of which, a number of rare dessert wines and ports are available at Cue by the glass, including Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Eiswein ($13), which has the perfume of ripe peaches and tastes like honey infused with the energy of a strong spotlight. I split a glass with a friend, and our server kindly poured two little half-glasses for us into rosebud-shaped Spiegelau dessert-wine glasses, and as I sipped the rare treat I took a few moments to think about the birth of the first Guthrie Theater. No, seriously, I did.

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