A Dear Indulgence
222 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls.;
BOBINO'S, NAMED AFTER the last nightclub in which Josephine Baker performed, is exceedingly pretty. Bathed in soft golden light with a few red accents, it is the perfect place for dimly lit romantic dinners, evening reflection, and confessions. Servers swish by in immaculate aprons, golden artichokes hang from the ceiling on gilded ribbons, and glass vases filled with pussy willows and yellow roses rest on each table. But for all the delicacy and perfection, there remains an air of casualness necessary for any good wine bar.
The wine list is large enough to provide variety and small enough to keep dilettantes like myself from getting muddled. When pressed to recommend a glass of white wine, our waiter chose the least expensive on the list, bringing us a crisp, buttery Domaine De Coussergues Sauvignon Blanc ('95, Languedoc, France, $3.95/glass, $19.95); it was excellent. On the high end of the price scale, if you're curious, is a $36.95 bottle of Kenwood "Jack London" Merlot, '94, Sonoma, California.
The menu, created by chef J.P. Samuelson, changes weekly, always offering a small selection of tapas, soups and salads, entrees, and desserts. Tapas at $1 each seem like a cheap way to go, but be warned: think tiny taste, not extensive joy ride. We tried both offerings on the menu, the first being a sweet potato cake topped with a sliver of salmon on top of a few baby greens treated with extra virgin olive oil, the second being some very tiny and very rare slabs of roasted leg of lamb served on silver dollar polenta biscuits dribbled over with a sweet mustard crème fraîche. So tasty that you grumble that the moment came and went so quickly.
If delicate snacking is not your idea of fun, skip ahead to entrees, which are as hearty and filling as can be. No vegetarian options were on the menu the evening we were visiting, but we were told that all the vegetarian fixings from other entrees could be whipped into its own meal without a problem. This week that meant an artfully arranged plate of organic wheatberries (which taste exactly like you'd imagine) treated with spices, creamy mashed potatoes, whole cloves of garlic and Minnesota winter ragoût lush with squash and tomatoes.
I would have been envious had it not been for the ribeye steak staring at me. Sliced on a bed of yukon mashed potatoes, it was a divine cut of meat, cut easily with a single draw of my butter knife. Along with a pile of fresh chopped persimmon, a small pool of homemade apple sauce, and the Santa Alicia merlot demi-glace ($15.95), it was a magnificent plate of food. My other friend dearly enjoyed a plate of British Columbia Pacific salmon, a swirl of flavors served with the aforementioned ragoût ($14.95).
I usually pass over dessert with the self-righteous phrase "I'm full." But this evening was different. Maybe it was our waiter's amiable sincerity, maybe it was the mood set by the bounteous meal, but whatever the cause, the result was that we ordered all three desserts on the dessert tray. Luckily sparring was held to a minimum, as we each quickly found a favorite. For me, it was the Indian pudding ($4.50), a mushy sort of bread pudding riddled with cinnamon and nutmeg, made with corn meal over a graham cracker crust and swirled with caramel and a light honey-tasting cream sauce. My two friends in turn were happy with the chocolate mocha flourless torte ($4.50), embellished with homemade whipped cream and fresh raspberries, and a dense custard with a caramel topping ($4.50). Neither trace nor crumb was left on our dessert plates.
The only slight damper in the evening was the bill of $90, which, once you add a decent tip brings you choking on the sum of $118. Of course, we DID completely indulge ourselves with dessert, wine, and appetizers. But nearly $40 per person in this neck of the woods feels a bit out of character, and coming so soon after our annual spate of holiday spending, one can really feel the pinch. Miserly thoughts aside, Bobino's is a winning effort in all other respects. Trudging along the snow-filled pathway to my house, it seemed that my feet were crunching more heavily than I'd ever noticed before. Were my footfalls more apparent because the extraordinary meal and two glasses of wine I had at Bobino's made me more reflective and sensitive of my surroundings? Or perhaps the meal merely made me physically heavier. Fortunately there was no one around to offer an opinion.
CARNIVAL VICTIM: If you fancy yourself too fashion-conscious to pin on a button, consider this: From now through the end of the 11th Annual Winter Carnival (which, in case you didn't already know, runs from Friday through February 2), Starbucks customers wearing a Winter Carnival button will receive a free cup of short-drip coffee every time they stop at Starbucks. The button is also valid for a $2 discount off any pound of Starbucks's special Winter Carnival Yukon blend.
CRAB TREAT: You have until March 1 to stop in at the Pickled Parrot (26 N. 5th St., Mpls.; 332-0673) for a hefty stone crab, flown in daily from Joe's Stone Crabs in Florida. Treat yourself to a crab that is so splendiferous you might get full before finishing it. Imagine your frostbitten fingers dipping a hunk of crab meat into melted butter (or some of Joe's mustard sauce), squeezing some lemon over it, and popping it into your cranky mouth. You are completely entitled to such niceties after enduring this hideously nasty cold spell. The meal also includes a grilled and stuffed tomato and a side of creamed spinach. And if you're stuck inside for a day or two with nothing but a couple of boxes of frozen spinach and time on your hands, try making a big dish of Joe's creamed spinach on your own.
Joe's Creamed Spinach
* 2 10-oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed
* 1 1/2 c. light cream
(or 3/4 c. each heavy cream
* 1 tsp. salt
* 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, or to taste
* 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
* 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Gently squeeze the spinach, discarding excess water. Place it in a non-aluminum saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for five minutes, until spinach begins to become tender, but is still bright green.
Add the cream, salt, and nutmeg and simmer for five minutes, until the cream has bubbled and reduced slightly. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet; add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring, for three or four minutes, until opaque. Stir this roux into the spinach mixture. Simmer for four or five minutes longer, until creamy and smooth but still bright green. Correct the seasonings and serve hot. Serves four.
WINO'S PARADISE: For those of you looking for fast-paced mingling opportunities, here's one to knock your socks off. The Vintage Wine Bar and Restaurant (579 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 222-7000) is holding a special pre-Valentine's Day Wine tasting in conjunction with City Pages Matches. Allow your new conquest/conquestee to see you with the aid of candlelight in their eyes and a glass of wine in their bellies. Experts from the Vintage will introduce you to six types of wine as well as some snacks (can't be more specific than that, but I imagine that they will be delicious). The cost of this event is $20. A small price to pay if you end up with a date for Valentine's Day.
CALLING ALL COWS: Tired of dreary old cakes, cookies and chocolates? How about some ice cream? Minnesota's own Kemps is dishing up its new Wind Chill Factor Ice Cream, the first-ever Official Ice Cream of the St. Paul Winter Carnival. As you indulge yourself with this almond-flavored ice cream with white chocolate chunks and crunchy white chocolate-covered pretzel pieces, you will also be helpful to your neighbors in need: 10 cents from every half-gallon of Wind Chill Factor Ice Cream sold will be donated to the Minnesota Food Bank network. Don't wait too long though; the ice cream (joining Bear Tracks, Chocolate Moose, and North Shore S'More as a Kemps Special Editions flavor) will be available across Minnesota only through March 1997.
CHOCOLATE LUST MURDER: Well, hopefully none will be committed, but if one needed a source of inspiration he/she could attend Chocolate Fest '97, being held on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the St. Paul Radisson ($2.50-$5; 11 E. Kellogg Blvd., 832-5517). One of the 1997 St. Paul Winter Carnival events, "A Wonderland in Chocolate," will be replete with demonstrations, sampling, activities for the family, and a chocolate competition between some of the Twin Cities's most talented chefs, with winners to be announced at noon. The day continues with an evening dinner, "A Romance in Chocolate," hosted by KSTP-AM radio dynamo Barbara Carlson. For $200 per couple you and Barb will be feasting on a five-course dinner, each course prepared with chocolate. Live entertainment and dancing will follow, so you get a slight chance to redeem your waistline. Before you get outraged by the ticket price, be calmed: all funds raised during Chocolate Fest '97 will allow the Muscular Dystrophy Association to continue providing services at no cost to over 1,500 children and adults, as well as helping to fund research at the University of Minnesota.
If you have any hesitation about attending the Winter Carnival, tell that hesitation to go jump in a frozen lake. On January 24, during a ceremony in downtown St. Paul, King Boreas and his Snow Queen will host a royal tasting of the ice cream. An ice carver will be on hand to sculpt a four-foot long Kemps Cow out of a 400-pound block of ice using nothing but the grit of passion and a chain saw. Then fire god Vulcanus Rex and his compatriots will drive along Wabasha on their Royal Chariot to do battle with King Boreas in an attempt to abduct his royal ice cream. Needless to say, this frosty melodrama is not to be missed.
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