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Faces Mears Park

By Lavender August 13, 2010

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Combines Excellent Food and Attractive Design

Every creative art is a glimpse into the artist’s soul. In one painting, you are privy not only to the painter’s conscious thoughts and motives, but also to her emotions, touch, and idea of control. When someone cooks for you, it is far more intimate. Restauranteur David Fhima has fascinated both foodies and gossips for years, but his cuisine reveals a surprising fondness for subtlety and texture. If you take a bite, and are not impressed immediately, you must wait for his dishes build. He is not a man to be written off, and it shows in his cooking.
The Burger, grass-fed beef grilled; Sea Bass with potato mousseline and a light teriyaki sesame glaze. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

We started with a celebratory glass of champagne: light, clean Mionetto Organic Prosecco ($29). It made for an apt aperitif, as my dining partner finally recognized the completely revamped space (the brainchild of designer Billy Beson) to be the very one in an earlier incarnation where she once celebrated a well-deserved divorce.

With elements of metal, glass, and Lake Superior rocks, Faces manages to be casually airy, while accommodating a lengthy to-do list: the restaurant includes a well-outfitted tasting room, two bars, a deli (complete with rotisserie and wood-fired oven), a bakery, and a wine shop. We were treated to a lovely view of Mears Park, but the deli section maintains informality.

A flurry of signature cocktails followed—subtle, and not designed to overwhelm on the first sip. Blueberry Lemonade ($9), refreshing and utterly charming, already is a patron favorite, and for good reason. Pomegrita ($9) quite admirably functions as an authentic margarita, while packing a proper punch of pomegranate. I did not have high expectations for Mango Mojito ($9), but the lightness of this cocktail makes it work. Again, if you are underwhelmed by the first sip, give it some time. Lutce Champagne Cocktail ($10), is all tarty fun—something you might sip if you were having brunch with any of the Real Housewives of Orange County.

Our first taste from the kitchen was a daily special: Maine Lobster Cakes with Moroccan spices, served with a homemade mustard and caper aioli. Take the first bite plain, and if you enjoy the spice level, dip your remaining cake only lightly. The aioli functions to take the heat down so successfully. I wouldn’t have my spice-lovers cheating themselves of Fhima’s intoxicating slow-burn.

Next we sampled Short Ribs ($11), a starter that highlights the restaurant’s adherence to sustainable, organic, and local produce. These beauties are a labor of love. Their preparation takes 16 hours, as they are braised in port and a bit of Guinness until they taste of butter. Take advantage of the housemade daily baguette—not too crusty, not too soft—to enjoy the thyme-spiked reduction sauce.

Sea Bass ($22) is seared Pittsburgh-style, which leaves the fish exceptionally tender. The bass is served over a large portion of organic potato mousseline, with a drizzle of teriyaki sesame glaze. The mousseline is scented with nutmeg, which I found a little dominant for my taste. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the smoky green beans that also graced the plate, and happily would have traded half the potatoes for double the green beans.

I did not expect our server to follow with two sandwiches, but I was very glad she did. Fhima’s version of Chicken Monte Cristo ($7.5), battered and sautéed, is surprisingly light. With lemon thyme aioli and gruyere, served on the bakery’s own fresh challah bread, it would make for an amazing lunch. If you also are enjoying Home-Made Sea Salt Fries ($3.50) with your sandwich, you may wish to save half your sandwich for later, as it is equally fantastic cold.

However, it was the sumptuously spicy Asian Tuna Melt ($6.5) that won my heart. If you’re not a fan of typical tuna melts, choose this one anyway. My dining partner fantasized about having this one cold as well. Despite my doubts, I tried it. She was right—in fact, I enjoyed it even more that way.

If your eye roams to the dessert menu (all made in-house), my recommendation would be Dark Cocoa Martini Mousse ($4.50). If you are not in a chocolate mood, layered Carrot Cake ($3.50) with a dab of orange marmalade was another table favorite, followed by a slice of surprisingly light White Raspberry Buttercream ($3.50). Also featured are homemade ice cream ($3.75) and sorbet ($3.50) selections.

Faces Mears Park is a welcome addition to the Lowertown neighborhood in St. Paul. Enjoy a casual lunch or dinner out. Or grab a bottle of wine, some freshly baked bread, and a rotisserie chicken to take home. I hope this latest Fhima venture is here to stay. With such flexibility and practicality, the deli/wine shop/restaurant seems to be a safe, enjoyable bet.

Faces Mears Park
380 Jackson St., St. Paul
(651) 209-7776
www.facesmearspark.com

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