Faces Mears Park updates American classics

David Fhima returns with new Lowertown restaurant

But Fhima takes the fusion too far with the Asian tuna melt, which combines sourdough bread, Swiss and Gruyere cheeses, and tuna mixed with peanut butter, sesame, teriyaki sauce, honey, and sambal oelek, the Indonesian chili sauce. It had the potential to work in the way a peanut butter-banana-bacon Elvis sandwich finds success, but one of the main ingredients always seemed like the odd man out. The result reminded me of an unwashed American backpacker lost in an Asian market.

The sandwich wasn't an expensive mistake at $6.50, but if you spend an extra dollar and a half more, you're better off with the Hot Brown. It's a more restrained sandwich—open-faced turkey and bacon topped with cheesy mornay sauce—that hews closer to its Kentucky roots.

Speaking of cheap, you'd be hard pressed to find a $3.50 dessert at a restaurant with $20 entrees these days, but there are several good ones on Faces' list, including a fine flourless chocolate cake and a white chocolate and raspberry layer cake. Better still was a slightly more expensive dessert special of key lime pie stuffed into a martini glass. It was a super-sweet-tart, gooey mess—something to eat while catching up on last week's People or an episode of Jersey Shore. If you want an actual martini, I'd recommend the Rosemary Salty Dog, made with gin, grapefruit, a big sprig of rosemary, and a kosher salt–limned rim.

Giving diners what they want: Faces' "Hot Brown" turkey and bacon sandwich
Bre McGee
Giving diners what they want: Faces' "Hot Brown" turkey and bacon sandwich

Location Info

Map

Faces Mears Park

380 Jackson St.
St. Paul, MN 55101

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

Details

Faces Mears Park
380 Jackson St., St. Paul
651.209.7776; www.facesmearspark.com
appetizers $4-$12; entrees $10-$29

Actually, have a couple of those if you ordered the seafood linguini—house-made whole wheat pasta with a too-bland tumeric-coconut broth—or the organic roast chicken, which, when I tried it, came out paradoxically dry and mushy and seemed like something you'd get served by your mother-in-law.

A few other slips were small but prevented otherwise excellent dishes from achieving their full potential. The gratis Gruyere puffs that begin every meal had perfect structure and flavor every time, but I kept wishing they were served warm instead of room temperature. The coconut banana rum tiramisu would have been better had it not tasted as though it had been sitting in the cooler too long. Also, it was served in a small glass bulb, which could have been cute had it not been water spotted in a way that suggested algal scum on a fishbowl.

But the American-style Niçoise, named for its mayo-laced tuna salad, was the most shameless offense I encountered. Its tomatoes were pink and flavorless during summer's peak and, in several spots, the mixed greens were decomposing into dark, slimy clumps. Fhima says he's been working seven days and nights a week at Faces, and indeed, every time I dined, I spotted him there. But if that disastrous salad is what happens if Fhima steps away from the kitchen for even a minute, I'm afraid the head chef will never have a night off.

Compared to his front-of-the-house staff, who tend to be cheery if a little inexperienced, Fhima is most at ease in the host's role. He regularly tours the dining room in his chef's whites, greeting guests, answering questions, and making helpful, descriptive suggestions. Fhima's enthusiasm and perseverance suggest a true passion for the restaurant business, but he needs to mind every detail to keep his customers impressed. "I was physically hurt when I opened restaurants and they didn't do well," Fhima says. "I was so all over the place and undercapitalized. I am not going to do that again."

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