Thursday, January 1, 2009

Meritage – St. Paul, MN

(This will be a long one…) Gerd and I decided to do something fancy for NYE and spend a little bit more since it was a special occasion. We had a number of places on the list, but this place called Meritage kept rising to the surface. We asked a couple of people and they either had never been there or never heard of it. Gerd found a couple of articles raving about it winning all kinds of awards so we decided this was the place for us. We could go to the other places some other time. Gerd did some research on what some of the dishes were ahead of time, since some of them looked alien to us), which helped us out a little bit.

This time, I’m glad we had valet parking (maybe I’m lightening up on my loathing for valet parking). There was a MN Wild (hockey) game a couple of blocks away, so the area was pretty vehicle-laden. The guy that parked our car was bummed to be working on NYE, but he was really funny about it. We walked into this large lobby of what looked to be an apartment building or business office facility. The entrance to the restaurant is tucked around the corner and through a very unassuming doorway. Very narrow doorway in fact. Once inside we knew we were in the right place.

The interior was VERY classy. Though not as crowded as a typical French fancy restaurant (did I mention this is a French restaurant? – probably not), it had more tables and chairs than I thought they would upon first glance. They can pack people in and still have room for their staff to get around and serve food. Wine bottles line one of the back walls and the kitchen area can be seen, but it’s not entirely open.

Our waitress was awesome. She was glad we weren’t going to an event so she could dote on us for a bit and have some fun with us. She offered to help us out with a wine selection or offered the special NYE menu which came with wine pairings for each of the five courses. Despite the set menu sounding amazing, we went with our own selection. An awesome bottle of Bouchaine Pinot Noir 2006. I went to Bouchaine Vineyards near Napa a few years back with Trash and Corpsekitten and we had an awesome time with the owner’s daughter (sounds way dirtier than it actually was). Get this wine if you get the chance. It’s REALLY good.

They have sample plates (which are literally two-bite plates) which are not for sharing. For those of you who know me, you won’t be surprised to know I got the lamb bacon (yeah, that’s right), and I also got a Braised Oxtail Strudel. The bacon was better than any bacon I’ve ever had before. And the Oxtail was really good as well. Gerd got the lamb bacon and the lobster bisque. She loved the bacon and really really loved the bisque. I also ordered a bowl of the Chicken soup with Matzo Balls. They brought out the matzo balls in a bowl with some carrots and other garnish, and then poured the chicken soup on top of it. It was excellent.

We then split kind of an appetizer of Parisian Style Ricotta Gnocchi with Arugula-Walnut Pesto and Tomato Concassé. They were like little puffy cheesy things served over the pesto. Brilliant dish. Very light and you could eat them for hours if they kept bringing them to you. (They didn’t.) Gerd also got talked into a Roasted Beet Carpaccio salad with horseradish fromage blanc and walnuts. Normally, Gerd hates beets, but the waitress totally sold her on the salad. She said the fromage was a cross between cream cheese and heavy whipping cream. It was light and fluffy and you almost couldn’t taste the horseradish in it at all. It was also awesome (I only got a couple of bites of that one…) .

The main courses all looked fantastic. It was hard to decide, but the waitress was a great help in this. Gerd decided on the Lobster sous vide in butter. What I gathered from this is that this lobster is pressurized and slow-cooked literally in butter, so it fuses with the lobster flesh. After that process, the meat from the body and claws is removed and served whole. So you get a whole lobster and don’t have to do all the laborious cracking and shucking and whatever else you do to lobsters. It was served with a smoked mushroom pain perdu, which was sort of like French toast/grilled cheese with mushroom filling instead of cheese. Gerd loved it all. The lobster was top notch (and very cheap due to lowered lobster market prices), and the perdu was super tasty as well.

I got one of the items on the special NYE menu as well, but it was a difficult choice. It was the Beef Degustation. It was thinly slice beef loin medallions and a beef short rib, served with the little potato balls with a crispy outside. I hope I don’t get her in trouble, but our waitress called them French tater-tots, and oddly, that’s what they tasted like, but they were the best tater-tots I’ve ever had. The beef rib basically fell apart when I touched it with the fork – most tender piece of meat imaginable. The whole thing was drizzled in foie gras reduction that was the perfect compliment to the entire meal. One of the best meat dishes I’ve ever had.

We finished the meal and decided dessert was in order. Gerd and I fought but finally decided on these little pastry puffs filled with ice cream and then drizzled with hot chocolate sauce. They were excellent, but I honestly thought they would be more flashy. We (meaning me) decided that even after finishing off the bottle of wine, we could still find room for more tasty alcohol. We got a Haute Chocolat. It was hot chocolate with amaretto and cognac and garnished with brandied cherries. Wow, was that good! I might start making these at home for these cold winter months in Minnesota.

Bottom line, go to this place. It’s not stuff like a lot of fancy places. It’s classy, but still human. It’s not cheap, but if you want to both impress your significant other and get a top notch meal, then Meritage is where it’s at. VERY good place to enjoy eating.

Top 5 things about Meritage
1. Rich-people’s Lobster – they do all the work for you, aside from putting it in your mouth and chewing it for you
2. Beef Degustation
3. Lamb Bacon
4. Haute Chocolat
5. Staff including the Jewish valet guy (he told us he was Jewish during a hilarious story)

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd’s knife was aerodynamically designed to slide off her plate every time she set it down
2. Valet took a really long time (not their fault – due to the MN WILD traffic)
3. Chocolate drizzle on ice cream should have been hot fudge
4. They had no Malbec, which is Gerd’s favorite this month
5. I don’t think I could pronounce about 2/3 of the menu (that’s my fault, though…)

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