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St. Genevieve at 50th and Bryant is like Paris for the people

St. Genevieve, the chic, yet friendly, Parisian cafe

St. Genevieve, the chic, yet friendly, Parisian cafe

You know when you went on your study abroad and you couldn't wait to get there, because you just knew how sophisticated and worldly you were gonna be once you made all of your chic Parisian friends and you started talking all that fluent French you didn't yet know yet but would in just a few short weeks? You'd smoke a cigarette and sip coffee from a demitasse as well as a flute champagne all at once, making it appear seamless and orchestrated. All of your good-looking friends would dash in by the dozen, stopping at your table to kiss you on both cheeks, continental style, and compliment you on your fine fashion sense. You'd order another espresso. And something with mille-feuille. 

But then. You got there, and you hadn't any friends at all. That French didn't come so easily, now did it? And all of those painfully stylish cafes and bars? You couldn't work up the nerve to enter a single one, because you couldn't so much as order a green salad, much less an entire meal, or decipher the wine list. And all of the beautiful people inside were engaged in their circles and their cliques and their beautiful laughter and chat. All you could do was stroll by, glance into window after window, and cry. 

Well, that Parisian bar and cafe has landed in south Minneapolis of all places, in the understated, Old Money 50th and Bryant neighborhood, only this time, you're invited! Minimal French required. 

Just follow the butter-colored lighting, the low din of laughter, and the memories of your study abroad. 

The people behind St. Genevieve, plus we media types, have been doing a fair amount of education around the term buvette, apparently a fancy name for a simple snacking place and bar. But I'm going to take creative license and say: forget all that talk about the buvette. 

You've never seen lamb tartare quite like this.

You've never seen lamb tartare quite like this.

Why? Because it's unnecessarily esoteric, and St. Genevieve is too warm and welcoming for esoteric, so instead let's just call it this: an exquisite yet accessible place to get the sort of food that will make you close your eyes and exhale. Where you'll get an an incredible glass or two of bubbles, in a room so evocative, it's like fantasy. 

The menu, which is divided between small plates, "Tartines" (open-faced sandwiches), and large plates, generally under promises and over delivers, which is a formula we like a lot. For instance, what's described on the menu as Tartare, was instead a cigar of lightest-ever phyllo hiding a delicate portion of most lustrous lamb tartare. Finished with tiny whispers of citrus, chile, caper berry, and olive, it was a four-bite stunner. 

Or "leeks" which will have you reconsidering what the sedate cousin to the onion can do. Here, they're supple as fat, with the mild tang of something acidic, and perfumed with faint truffle. Parmesan and speck weave in and out seductively. Uncomplicated yet surprising. 

And so it goes like this. Foie gras is a delicate brick of mille-feuille pastry, piped decadently with foie, orange marmalade, and hazelnut, so gently sweet, it's practically dessert-like.

Pork tenderloin gets little onion puffs that are nothing short of Funyuns that went to college. A Vietnamese panna cotta is a like a deconstructed candy bar in a cup — a quenelle of sweetened condensed milk ice cream playing the fine dining part to a playful chocolate wafer and crumbled pretzel. 

The food strikes the rare balance between classic and formal finery, without losing sight of the all-important playful wink. It's extraordinary yet inclusive, making this a place for many occasions. Price points are neither expensive nor inexpensive but fair, falling under $15 for small plates and tartines, and $25 or under for a tight list of entrees. 

Among the very best reasons to use St. Genevieve is to drink wine — lots and lots of wine, but especially good Champagne, which they offer by the half and full glass (and the bottle) and best of all, they have in-house sommelier Brie Roland bopping around. She'll answer all of the questions you have about these beautiful sippers, in a way that is most decidedly accessible and fun and easy to decipher and will push you out of your comfort zone because nothing is too dear an investment at the half glass price ($10 and less).

And since the light is so beautiful and your date looks so great beneath it, why wouldn't you? 

A touch we loved: Staff are all dressed in their own clothes, instead of some fussy uniform that makes them look uncomfortable and uptight like servants. Instead, here at St. Genevieve, they're helpers and friends. It's loose, enjoyable, and elegant. 

So there. It's all so pitch perfect, it's like a set designer and casting company came and threw it all together for us, sans the homesickness and angst. 

Thanks, St. Genevieve. 

St. Genevieve 

Now open

5003 Bryant Ave., Minneapolis