BEST RESTAURANT—ST. PAUL - 2006
W.A. Frost & Company
It's been almost four years since chef Russell Klein took over the kitchen at St. Paul's most venerable old restaurant, W.A. Frost and Company, and in that time he has managed to transform a reliable and occasionally interesting restaurant into the most delightful and consistently surprising spot in St. Paul. Where to start? Klein's food is that rare combination of original and comforting—everyone loves homemade strudel, but when it's rendered as an appetizer filled with duck confit beside a spiced quince and port wine reduction, that's an exceptionally high level of cooking for everybody to love. The restaurant's cheese program is a marvel, offering between a dozen and two dozen rare, artisinal, or otherwise never-seen sorts of cheese. For instance, have you ever heard of Ubriaco Torcolato, a raw cow's milk cheese sprayed as it ages with sweet white wine? Neither had we. How about Rogue River Blue, wrapped in grape leaves, macerated in pear brandy and cave-aged for 12 months? No wonder all sorts of book clubs and such are meeting at Frost's instead of relying on their own couches and the cheese counter and wine shop at Byerly's. Speaking of shopping for wine, the restaurant's best-in-St.-Paul wine list has more choices than most liquor stores, with 1,000 or so options, many priced in the oh-so-important $30-something range, as well as a by-the-glass list which is not just well priced, but food-friendly, cheese-friendly, and wine-smartie friendly. (When we saw a recent tasting flight on the website that included the three most obscure wines we've ever heard of, we were forced to forward it to our friends in San Francisco with a crowing "Ha!" It included the Basque wine Txakoli, a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, and a Riesling from Hungary—you'd get a two-ounce pour of each for $9.75. Who'd have thought you could play stump-the-know-it-all in one of the coziest and most romantic spots in the Midwest—all those fireplaces in the winter, all that beautiful forest-cum-garden in the summer. It's remarkable to observe how Bob Crew, Frost's General Manager, just keeps tweaking and refreshing this deep and broad list—just when you think it's as good as it can be, the next year it's just noticeably a bit better. Same could be said for W.A. Frost as a whole. The place has a niche in the public consciousness as a "pretty patio," but if you haven't been to Frost and really experienced the food and wine in the past few years, you have no idea what you're missing.