BEST RESTAURANT (ST. PAUL) - 2002
What a joy it has been to watch this chef-driven spot morph from a single brightly lighted room to a food and wine festival. A recent visit brought to light a wine list bursting with hard-to-find choices (a Hendry pinot noir, for instance), fantastic food (a three-ingredient soup that shone in the bowl like a bright mosaic, and a Portuguese seafood stew with housemade lamb chorizo and buttery scallops), and memorable desserts (a fig-and-sesame tart). Service was thoroughly comfortable and helpful, and entrées topped out at an ultra-reasonable $15. Four years ago Alexander Dixon thought he could bring St. Paul the restaurant it deserved, and the town rose to meet his challenge. Now they've got a Zander-affiliated wine shop, Solo Vino, that's the envy of all the city, a wine bar worth reckoning with, and a better value of a restaurant than you'll find anywhere else in the state. As much as Dixon should be congratulated, St. Paulites deserve much credit as well: The restaurant and the community have fed each other over the past four years, and everyone seems to have profited from the arrangement.