Weekend hot dish surprise

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Okay, this is the day to check and see what’s left in the fridge and needs to get served up before it spoils, and it looks like we have enough left-overs to make up a meal: a half-cooked review of the new Strip Club in Saint Paul, news of an upcoming beer dinner at North Coast in Wayzata, and a Mardi Gras dinner at Barbette.

Carol and I stopped in Wednesday night at the Strip Club, the night after it opened to the public, and had a delightful dinner. Then Thursday, as I was half-way through digesting the experience for this blog, I discovered that my esteemed colleague Cristina Cordova had scooped me. It’s too early for anybody to write a full-fledged review of the place, but Cristina covered all the basics very nicely, and sampled a lot more dishes than we did. So check out her post for more details, but here are a few random thoughts:

I knew enough not to expect naked ladies, but I did expect to find a big menu of steaks, plus baked potato sour cream, etc., just like the downtown places, only maybe a little cheaper, because it’s a neighborhood joint (in Saint Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff, across from the Metro State campus.)

Turns out chef J.D. Fratzke, (late of Muffuletta) and the owners (from the Town Talk Diner in Minneapolis) have created something much more interesting. There are a couple of steaks on the menu, and a few gourmet items like foie gras, (locally produced at Au Bon Canard in Caledonia, MN), and escargot. But basically, Fratzke, who grew up in Winona, pays homage here to the kind of plain cooking that doesn’t usually make it onto restaurant menus: deviled eggs, beans on toast, even a Braunschweiger sandwich.

There are a couple of trendier entrees on the list, like a bone-in duck breast with wild rice polenta, roasted mushrooms and port wine glace ($19), and seared ahi tuna with root vegetables, French olives and preserved lemon ($22). But Fratzke’s inclination is towards heartier, earthier fare: Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and a black truffle gravy, ($14); a pork shank for two with mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts, apples and roasted garlic jus.

We enjoyed everything we sampled – especially the grilled Caesar salad, the ahi tuna, and the lean but flavorful ball tip steak (all their beef is grass-fed, from Thousand Hills near Cannon Falls.) The big challenge with very lean grass-fed beef is to compensate for the lack of juicy marbling, and Fratzke met the challenge beautifully, pairing the flavorful meat with savory white beans and grilled onions. I suspect that the best time to sample Fratzke’s culinary artistry will be late summer, when fresh local produce is at its peak, but I expect to return long before then.

The Strip Club, 378 Maria Ave Saint Paul, MN 55106 651-793-6247.

I have been a long-time fan of chef Ryan Aberle’s cooking at North Coast in Wayzata, but I never felt that the casual atmosphere – and the 13 flat-screen TVs in the adjacent bar – quite fit the cuisine. But that’s about change. “We are closing to the public on the night of January 19 and reopening on January 23,” reports Aberle. This will complete the first phase of the remodel… allowing us for the first time clear definition of where the dining room ends and the bar begins. The new bar (to be completed by Valentine’s Day) will retain a single plasma TV and it will barely be visible from the main dining room.”

Aberle, a beer connoisseur, has put together what might be the ultimate beer lover’s dinner – a 15-course extravaganza on Saturday, Feb. 2, featuring just about every brew Sam Adams makes. Courses range from a sweet potato pancake with Morbier, duck leg confit, burnt orange syrup, accompanied by Boston Ale, to pan-seared Minnesota foie gras, port lacquer, and wild mushroom risotto served with Black Lager, and a course of Pho with shaved prime rib, rice noodles, cilantro and a glass of Winter Lager. Cost is $80, plus tax and tip.

North Coast Restaurant, 294 Grove Lane E., Wayzata, 952-475-4960.

Barbette’s Mardi Gras menu, served February 4-5, should be pretty authentic: Barbette’s new chef, Sarah Master, went to culinary school in New Orleans, and studied under Susan Spicer at Bayona in the French Quarter. The menu sounds terrific, especially for the price ($32): baked oysters Laveau, followed by a choice of crab cakes or sausage gumbo. The main course options are chicken etouffee, blackened catfish with macque choux and collards, or fried mirliton (chayote), collards and spoonbread. For dessert, your choice of king cake, pecan pie or bananas Foster.

Barbette, 1600 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-827-5710.

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