Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Two Very Different Sides of France
So in case you didn't know, I live in SW Minneapolis and am conveniently located right next to several French restaurants (of varying degrees). Two of my most recent dining experiences featured Cave Vin on Xerxes and Salut in the 50th and France neighborhood (although I need to make it clear that Pierre's just down the street is a favorite too!). Both celebrate strong French roots, but both offer a very different take on French food.
I'll start with Cave Vin. My experience there was hands down one of the best I've had this year. I'm a calamari freak, and although the calamari there was very good, (salty, perfectly fried with a pleasant twist of acid) it almost paled in comparison to the luscious mussels. These were perfectly steamed in a garlicky butter/wine broth that resonated well with the brininess of the plump mussels.
For my entree, I ordered a roasted pork loin with fingerling potatoes and smoky bacon. It was cooked perfect, well accented with a nice little pistachio crust that offered a nice textural contrast to the sweet, soft flesh. The crispy bacon included in the bed of fingerlings offered a quick jolt of salt and smoke to round everything out. It was one of the best pork dishes I'd ever had, and the bacon might have been the best I've ever enjoyed, and I have enjoyed a lot of bacon. I'm convinced it was either Fischer's or Nueske's, but regardless, it was amazing. I sampled my girlfriends' rack of lamb with English green lentils and it was just darn good. The lentils were perfectly earthy and spicy, and the rich, buttery lamb was cooked to a medium rare perfection. It was simply one of the best meals I've had all year, and the service was impeccable - the perfect personalities to back a neighborhood cafe.
Last night I hit Salut (after I saw the wait to sit outside at Cafe 28) in the 50th and France area for my usual Tuesday night dining experience. I'm not huge on Salut. They have an amazing Croque Madame, and if you are in the mood for one of those (and your heart is ready to take it on) you need to look no further. Don't get me wrong, they have an awesome concept and are doing very well, but I just think the food is OK. They offer a nice mix of traditional French fare such as Coq Au Vin and Cotes du Boeuf, but I get the feeling most people go there for the smaller plates and sandwiches/salads. Knowing that I've been a bit disappointed with the items I've had there before I stayed with the Cheeseburger Royale and the typical order of calamari - which features a really nice spicy dipping sauce that I do really enjoy. The burger was good, but no different or more inventive then anything I could have had elsewhere. I could have stretched and ordered something a bit more unique, but there is something about ordering French classics from a place that cranks out a ton of food every night that just kind of persuaded me not too. My girlfriend had the Knife and Fork Chicken Club and it was uninspiring to stay the least. It's hard to believe that a place that offers a local heirloom and imported burrata salad can't swing a decent piece of grilled chicken, but that was just the reality of it.
I will say that Salut is a great place to hit f you have a large group, would like to dine outside, or just want to enjoy some simple sandwiches and small plates. It has a fun setting and a fun cocktail/wine list.
For me comparing Cave Vin to Salut is like comparing frites to french fries. If you are looking for some serious sizzle and some great interpretations on French classics, I would head to Cave vin, especially if their patio is available, or on Monday and Tuesday night when they run their half price wine special. If you are looking for a place where you can kick back and have a wide selection of food and cocktails and take your food snob hat off, then Salut will fit that bill just fine.
I'm very lucky to live in an area that features many great places to eat just beyond my doorstep and a chain of lakes and a creek to offer a perfect setting for running all those meals off.