Cave Vin: moules frites and mellow jazz

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So, the first thing Carol says when we are seated at our table at Cave Vin, is, “why would anybody want to eat at Salut, when they could dine here?”

Of course, this was before we had ordered any food, so it was based entirely on appearances, but it seemed like a good question. Cave Vin, with its pale dappled walls and soft lighting, just seemed so much more romantic and inviting than Parasole’s high-decibel parody of a French restaurant, a few blocks away at 50th and France. Evidently, a lot of shrewd market research led to the conclusion that what Ediners want when they dine at a French restaurant is a French Onion Soup burger. On this Wednesday night, Cave Vin was mostly empty, while Salut always seems to be crowded.

Adding to Cave Vin’s charm was a trio, featuring chanteuse Rhonda Laurie, who has performed around town at the Dakota, Rossi’s and elsewhere, backed by bass and guitar, playing old jazz standards, softly. They’re at Cave Vin every Wednesday night from 6:30 to 9:30.

Cave Vin, 5555 Xerxes Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-922-0100. Open nightly at 5 p.m.

We weren’t really hungry, so we ordered light – we split a delightful beet and roasted fennel salad, served in a subtle Dijon vinaigrette ($7.50), and then Carol ordered the mussels in shallots, white wine and garlic ($9.50 / $13 with frites) and I opted for the steak tartare ($8.75), a dish that has virtually disappeared from American menus because of fears of food poisoning (and law suits.) This was a classic rendition, topped with a raw egg and accompanied by chopped onions and capers, and toasted croutons – an elemental pleasure for carnivores.

Carol’s mussels were tender and flavorful, and the accompanying side of thinly sliced salted frites was big enough to share. We hesitated about dessert, tempted by the likes of crème brulee and chocolate pot de crème, and then decided that we were quite satisfied without. Total tab for two, with tax, tip, and a couple of glasses of wine was $55.

There is lots more on the menu that I would like to try, ranging from the crab cakes ($10) and the frog legs ($7.95) to the braised lamb shank ($18) and cornmeal crusted sea scallops ($24), so I will probably be back soon – either on a Wednesday, to hear Rhonda Laurie again, or on a Monday or Tuesday, when bottles of wine are half-price.

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