555 Nicolett Mall, Mpls.;
ST. PAUL GRILL
350 Market St., St. Paul;
276 S. Exchange St., St. Paul;
MID-DECEMBER MARKS the time of the year when lots of people start running their mouths about the true meaning of things and spending lots of money and time in the name of family traditions. If you have the slightest streak of evil in you, you might consider forsaking your relatives this year and blowing the holiday wad on one outrageously fine and expensive dinner with one or two loved ones. There just happen to be a few establishments that cater to decadence in a worthy and noble manner.
If you're looking for a men's club experience, Morton's would be the place. Although stuffed with expensive suits and the occasional woman bulging out of her cocktail dress, the place welcomes anyone who makes their way down the dark green staircase. This is the sort of place where the waiters act like any mispronunciations or gaffes are their fault; where, if you become a regular, you can have your own wine locker to hide your personal stash; where the maitre d' will help you send drinks over to a stranger's table with a straight face. In this deluxe setting, even the pewter pig table lamps seem less ridiculous than they should. Where better to slurp down a half-dozen Cockenoe Oysters on the half shell ($8.95), plunge a grotesquely serrated knife into an immense, dry-aged Porterhouse Steak ($29.95), and temper it all with a 1-pound baked Idaho potato ($4.25), dressed with as much butter, sour cream, and bacon as you please? When the waiter determinedly pushes that cart laden with plastic-wrapped pieces of raw beef, vegetables, and a live lobster toward your table, you might be tempted to recoil from all that flesh. But it's more likely that you'll decide to try out cigar smoking before the evening is over.
Across town is the St. Paul Grill, which, although only five years old, seems by all appearances to be an old, moneyed establishment. This is where you go to sip single-malt scotches and sup on the likes of a dainty strawberry spinach salad with Brie and a raspberry poppy seed dressing ($4.95) before going to the theater or taking that carriage ride around the park. The restaurant offers lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, in addition to hosting a seven-course afternoon tea in the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel. Here you can feast on stout prime steaks, grilled perfectly to your specifications (my friend teared with gratitude when he saw that his Prime New York Pepper Steak, $26, complemented by a cognac-black pepper cream sauce and ordered medium-rare, was pink and rare precisely mid-way through the cut) and grilled swordfish steak with Pinot Noir butter sauce ($18.50). There are humbler offerings, too, such as chicken pot pie ($9.95), roast beef hash with fried eggs ($9.95), and a bowl of chicken pepper noodle soup ($3.95). Again, service is inordinately friendly and knowledgeable, with hosts and bartenders playing the part of favorite aunts and uncles.
A bit more snobbish, but deservedly so, is Forepaugh's, housed in an elegant old Victorian mansion in St. Paul. Pausing to take a deep, long sniff in the foyer, those who enter will be immediately intoxicated by the smells of butter and cloves. The three-story house features nine distinctly decorated dining rooms that manage to feel homey and familiar; you wish the place belonged to some rich uncle of yours. This is the place to find old ladies in expensive gloves treating their kempt grandchildren to French cuisine. And fine cuisine it is: Imagine if you will coquille Saint-Jacques à la parisienne ($15.50), gently baked sea scallops simmered in white wine, cream, mushrooms, and parsley with a dusting of bread crumbs. Wallow in the vision of grenadine de Veau Calvados ($15.50), medallions of veal sautéed with cream and apple brandy and served with apples and gnocchi.
And, unlike Morton's and the St. Paul Grill, where dessert seems a bit silly after such a serious engagement, sweets fit right in with the detailed decor and menu. When the cart rolls around the corner bearing a cut-glass dish of English trifle layered with génoise, strawberries, raspberry purée, whipped cream and walnuts; black and white gâteau; crème brûlée; and a whole variety of tarts (all about $4.50), you know that you won't decline. It's Christmastime, after all.
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