This is going to be a story, rather than a review, so bear with me.
It was D.Rough and I’s anniversary, so I thought I’d do something a little special for her. Actually, a couple of things. I’m generally a bad present-giver, however, I’m a good plotter/schemer. I’ve just had to learn how to use my powers for good instead of evil (although temporarily and for very specific purposes).
We had talked about going to The Strip Club in St. Paul for almost a year. Of course, we were drawn to it because of the awesomely misleading name, but also because when we looked up the menu (weekly in some cases), everything sounded amazing, it is constantly updated to seasonally-appropriate dishes, and they use local fresh ingredients. Having recently visited our friends who live 8 blocks away sparked my interest in eating there. A LOT.
I knew we both wanted to go there and I should make reservations, but I wanted to make it special. I put a lot of thought into it and finally decided I’d contact the restaurant and see if I could pre-order our entire meal and drinks and have it brought out without our having to do a thing. I would have flowers ordered and waiting for her at the restaurant and hopefully, have “our song” play at some point during the meal to make her laugh (it isn’t a family-friendly song). I worked with Bill from the Strip Club on this project and he was amazingly helpful and easy to work with on the flowers and menu and everything. After a couple of email exchanges and phone calls, everything was all set. The only thing that wasn’t able to roll through was the song idea – the sound system wasn’t set up for that kind of input, but it wasn’t a big deal. Everything else sounded perfect.
I (surprisingly) didn’t spill the beans about where we were going for dinner for the entire two weeks, but she figured it out the closer we got to the place. We walked in and said I had a reservation, which set the ball in motion – top secret signals and head nods and winks went unnoticed by D.Rough as the plan unfolded. The server took our coats and showed us to a very intimate table in the front of the restaurant that was curtained off. The flowers I had ordered were on the table and looked even better than I expected. I got some serious ooohs and aahhhhhs and kisses from my lady for being so thoughtful. In fact, she thought my effort had ended there (maybe I have some work to do if she thinks I’d put that little effort into an important occasion, right?).Wait, it's really dark in here. Let me turn on the flash and blind everyone within a mile radius.
D.Rough talked about the drinks she had seen on their online menu or had heard about, so I felt a brief moment of panic. Then, Tim, our awesome server brought out a Jameson Ginger (with housemade ginger ale) for her and a Scotch for me – D.Rough couldn’t figure out when I had ordered the drinks. Perhaps, while she was in the powder room? Nope. I couldn’t stop smiling at this point, so I finally told her I had arranged everything in advance and she should sit back and just enjoy the evening. I like to think that at this point in the night, she was weighing how thoughtful I was to have set this all up and how terrified she was that I had ordered food for her (VERY gutsy move on my part since she’s both Italian AND a very good cook with very specific tastes depending on mood/day of the week/wind speed/ambient lighting/price of tea in Malaysia/etc).
The Scotch was quite good and served with an ice cube like I like it, and the Jameson Ginger was quite good. The house-made ginger ale takes a bit to get used to, and adds a more boozy flavor to the Jameson (or it was just Jameson-heavy – which isn’t a problem), so be ready for that. But the ice took some of the bite out of it and made for a much smoother drink than it started. I think I did alright on the drinks…
After we had nearly finished up our drinks, Tim brought out the bottle of wine I had picked. Elk Cove Pinot Noir from Oregon. I told D.Rough we’d be eating serious meat tonight, which was why I ordered a nice red for us. The Pinot was delicious and was going to be perfect for our surprise entrees, since it wasn’t painfully heavy or oaky. Just right.
The first course I had pre-ordered came out. A Minnesota Market Salad and Pommes Freebase.
The Market Salad was arugula, cranberries, wild rice, sunflower seeds, and cornbread croutons. I’ll start by saying this was a really tasty salad. I liked there there’s a bit of sweet in most bites along with some texture from the rice and seeds, and the crunch of the croutons. As some of you know, I’m a bit of a crouton connoisseur – yes, I’m REALLY saying that like a pompous ass food snob. I have actually received croutons for all kinds of gift-giving holidays from friends who eventually realized I wasn’t kidding. I’ve kind of had an unofficial crouton ranking in my head of who has the best croutons for a long time. I am embarrassed to admit that Outback Steakhouse has held the crouton title for many years (even though I hate eating at chain places). Then the Strip Club came and slapped me in the face with the cornbread croutons that they have pan fried. PAN FRIED CROUTONS MADE OF %@#&ing CORNBREAD!!! I would punch an alpaca in the face to eat these things. These were life-changing croutons. In fact, I wildly diverted from my pre-ordered dinner when I asked Tim if he would bring me a bowl of these croutons. He laughed, but brought them anyway.I’m very tempted to write a separate review of the croutons just so I can ramble on and on about them. But I won’t. I WANT to, though. Seriously, they were to die (or kill) for.
The Pommes Freebase were brilliant, as well. I will try not to let the glory of the croutons overshadow these because it would do the pommes a disservice. D.Rough and I love poutine in all shapes and forms. This was pretty darn close to poutine, but may even have been a little better. Picture french fries covered with cheddar cheese sauce and house-made chorizo. Holy crapstick, these things were good! D.Rough and I actually squabbled a bit over the best and most cheese-covered fries at a few points. She then took advantage of me having an orgasmic bowl of croutons and ate an unfair number of said fries while I was distracted. This dish wasn’t a slop pile of fries and toppings, it was a very classy but delicious combination of top-notch ingredients. GET THIS when you go here.
So far, on the pre-ordering decisions, I had done OK…
Did I mention the croutons?...
Tim came back and since he was enjoying the fact that WE were enjoying the surprise aspect of the meal, he asked D.Rough, “Let’s just SAY you were going to have a nice steak. And you’re probably not, but just IF… What sort of accompaniment might you want with that hypothetical steak? Maybe something spicy? Perhaps mushrooms? Maybe shrimp related? Possibly creamy Dijon based?” This was the perfect way to ask us and we really had fun. D.Rough decided the shrimp would be the way to go.
Our entrees came out and things were looking good, judging from the smile on D.Rough’s face as Tim explained the food we were about to eat. I had ordered the New York Strip (we were at the STRIP Club – it seemed like the obvious choice for one of the entrees, right?), which came with poached carrots and grilled lemon.This also arrived with the shrimp D.Rough had ordered, which was actually what they call “shrimp trampi” – shrimp in a lovely bath of butter, citrus, herbs, garlic, and white wine. The steak was perfectly cooked medium and cut into pieces for easier sharing. Pink and juicy on the inside and more well-done on the edges. This was quality meat and cooked very nicely. I personally loved the poached carrots, but D.Rough thought they were a bit salty (I prefer more salt than her). Good for me – that means I get most of them! I thought they were fantastic. The shrimp were also stellar. I am bummed I didn’t take a photo of them, so you could see how lovely they were. Great texture – no rubbery chewiness or anything – fantastic flavor of the herbs and garlic and we ended up spooning some of the sauce onto our steak. Great choice on the shrimp trampi, D.Rough.
The other entrée I had ordered was a bit riskier. I got the Pork Belly. It is hard to explain how it is cooked, but it has squash, apples, cashew foie gras-nola, and Uncle Pete’s mustard glaze. Tim also said there is a bacon sauce that it is sitting in. That’s a lot of very unique flavors. I can’t tell you HOW it worked, but I will tell you that it worked extremely well. The pork simply fell apart on the fork. There was a little bit of fat (which is where the flavor comes from), but that fat dissolves in your mouth as good pork belly is supposed to do. It was superb, especially with the squash and granola adding complementary flavors and textures. I tasted just a tiny hint of the mustard, which is perfect for me since I’m not a mustard fan. This was the best part of the meal (aside from the aforementioned divinely inspired croutons) for both of us and ensured that D.Rough conceded that I’m a worthwhile boyfriend worth keeping around (she DOES say much nicer things than that to me, but I know how easily nauseated our friends get when I get all flowery and lovey-dovey about her, so I’ll try to keep it on a non-gross level for their sake).
We were too full for dessert, which is good since I didn’t pre-order any. It kept our options open to decide whether to go see a movie, go find dessert somewhere else, or go home and play video games. I didn’t know that D.Rough had a little surprise of her own for me at home. I’m glad I don’t have to have my blood sugar levels tested anytime soon after her decadently chocolate-y surprise!
Soooooo, as demonstrated by the choices I had pre-arranged, should D.Rough ever take a debilitating chop to the vocal chords and simultaneously loose her ability to point at a menu, I am fully capable of making sure she is able to get food she enjoys and not starve. I’m not 100% confident that I will be able to order for her anywhere, but I did pretty well here.
We asked Tim if anyone had ever ordered a bowl of croutons from the kitchen and he assured me that I was a trendsetter and no one had ever made that request. I am already checking my schedule to determine how I can become a regular patron of the Strip Club, simply so I can have a couple drinks at the bar and eat a bowl of croutons. I’m dead serious and I will make this happen. I promise you that.
My huge thanks to Bill and the chefs, and especially Tim, for making our anniversary dinner a success on an intergalactic scale. We laughed when we left because D.Rough said “I’ve never actually hugged a waiter before after having a meal!” I personally have high-fived waiters (in painfully stuffy restaurants which might actually have been the waiter putting up his hand in self-defense because he was confused), but never hugged a waiter. I had requested a non-stuffy server since D.Rough and I like to have fun with our dinner friends (waiters/servers can be such a misleading term – I prefer dinner friends since we’re hoping they have a good time as well!) -Tim was perfect. He knew we were having fun and made sure we were taken care of.We will be back soon. Especially since our new house is much closer to the Strip Club now. Besides, now, I can tell D.Rough’s family that I took her to the strip club for our anniversary. Hahahaha.
Top 5 things about The Strip Club
1. Pan-fried cornbread croutons – hey, it’s MY blog, if you don’t like it, write your own blog
2. Pork Belly
3. Pommes Freebase
4. New York Strip, with Shrimp Trampi accompaniment
5. Tim, Bill, and the rest of the staff being willing to work with my special requests and pulling things off very smoothly
6. Ambience is awesome
7. Delicious seasonal and local menu with fun names of dishes, including a delicious looking brunch menu on weekends
8. The clientele is diverse. We saw rich people there, but we also saw a metal guy in jeans and a Raiders jersey pounding Diet Rite.
9. If I DO go to a strip club, I can totally get away with it (minus the whore perfume smell and inexplicable sparkles on my face)
10. They have dishes which utilize bacon ketchup
Bottom 5 things
1. It’s a little pricey, but completely worth it
2. It has limited hours, so double check before you go
3. It’s too dark to take quality photos inside – we blinded people, I’m sure of it – but it totally works for ambience
*** It was very difficult to find ANY bad things about this place, so I’ll stop here.