Meritage: superb brasserie dining

The downtown St. Paul establishment has that touch of class

Klein's entrée list covers the bistro basics—cassoulet, roast chicken, steak frites—but also allows for creativity. A portion of roasted striped bass, for example, is served on a bed of cauliflower and rock shrimp, with a subtle sauce of lobster, scotch, and harissa. The roasted quail special is a pilgrims-meet-Food Network affair: The tiny bird is stuffed with chestnut meat and paired with cabbage, apples, and foie gras foam.

My two favorite entrées were the dishes made with local duck and venison. Klein's choice to serve Wild Acres ducks, the gold standard in Midwest game birds, typifies his cooking philosophy. "Half of cooking is shopping," he says. "You buy really good ingredients and try not to get in the way." He sears the breast and uses the rest of the meat to make sausage (and the fat for confit, the carcasses for stock, the livers for mousse—Klein says he uses "everything but the quack"). After pairing the meat with braised red cabbage and tiny, buttery spaetzle, the dish becomes something both rustic and luxurious, as if Grandma had been asked to cook for Austrian royalty. Klein's venison preparation reminded me of a Dickensian Christmas feast condensed to a plate. The loin is breaded in ground trumpet mushroom, which gives it the funny appearance of beard scruff but builds on its earthy flavor, then cooked so it's blush pink in the middle. The meat is then balanced by a mulled-wine poached pear that's perched jauntily atop a potato-and-butternut-squash gratin.

Meritage also serves weekend brunch and weekday lunch, where meals tend to be simpler: omelet du jour, croque madame, or grilled shrimp niçoise salad. (I was impressed with a Brie, roasted pear, and arugula tartine, and potato-crusted mahi, but not a fishy batch of mussels.) The restaurant's slick, knowledgeable staff seem like they've been working together much longer than they have, and they help create a seamless sense of hospitality from the moment the dapper French host greets you at the door until you polish off your dessert.

Say cheese: Desta and  Russell Klein, with the cart
Fred Petters
Say cheese: Desta and Russell Klein, with the cart

Location Info

Map

Meritage

410 Saint Peter St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Speaking of which, the restaurant's dessert list is really coming together after the Kleins hired Teresa Kohlhoff as the new pastry queen. Kohlhoff offers dainty desserts—a demitasse of espresso mousse, Nutella sandwiched between two matzo—and sharables. The light, foamy, hazelnut mousse was absolutely fantastic, as was the bittersweet chocolate torte, which resembled the center of a truffle in rectangular shape, and was served with blood orange curd and candied orange peel. I could have eaten the entire block, though if I did I won't admit it.

Or, of course, you can finish your meal with wares from the cheese cart. When I visited, the server gave such a thorough explanation of the Pleasant Ridge Reserve you'd think he'd milked the cows himself. He paired my selection with dried cherries and marcona almonds and poured an Austrian rosé to match. I grazed so happily that I hardly noticed as the sound of fine dining rattled and clattered away.

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