Meritage chef/owner Russell Klein says confronting domestic abuser was just 'the right thing to do'

Russell Klein and his wife Desta have made Meritage a St. Paul must since 2007.

Russell Klein and his wife Desta have made Meritage a St. Paul must since 2007.

Wanna make a big deal out of something at Meritage?

Try the food. The French-inspired bistro has received nearly universal acclaim since 2007. From its reverent treatment of fresh fish (oysters more than anything) to delicate desserts, Meritage has been, and remains, one of the best places to eat in all of St. Paul.

That's all well and good. Now please, spare Russell Klein excessive praise for jumping in to break up a domestic assault outside his restaurant. 

Last Friday night, Klein, Meritage's owner and head chef, sat down to a late meal outside on the terrace of his own joint. As he dined, a "clearly not sober" couple made their way noisily down the street, arguing the whole way. Just as they got in front of the terrace, the man punched the woman in the face. 

Instinctively, Klein hopped out of his chair and started hollering at the man. Klein started toward the drunk couple, and the puncher charged him. What Klein hadn't realized was that his manager, Alex Seide, had witnessed the same thing, and was now running up behind Klein. 

Blowing right past Klein, the drunk took a swing at Seide. Moments later, a number of staffers converged on the abuser, subduing him until police arrived. 

Klein's wife and business partner Desta Klein described the incident on the restaurant's Facebook page, where it received a wave of social media praise. Too much, for Russell Klein's taste. (The Facebook post has since been taken down.) He says he was just doing the minimum the situation required.

His restaurant wasn't in any danger. But this woman was. 

"I suppose I could've just watched him hit her in the face," Klein says. "I feel like this is the sort of thing anyone should do. If you see someone being an asshole, and punching someone in the face, you do something." 

What became of the drunken couple is a mystery to Klein, who described a sad but predictable scene, with the woman begging police not to arrest her boyfriend. She tried to say he hadn't swung at her, a claim betrayed by the bruising on her face. 

For Klein, it's back to business as usual. If anything, he's worried about how big the reaction to his reaction was. 

"It's not that big of a deal," he says. "To me, the big deal is, everybody on the staff had my back, and each other's back. Everybody tried to do the right thing."