Celebrates 20 Years of Superlative Cuisine
At first glance, The St. Paul Grill does not seem like an apt choice to feature in a column bearing the name “Off the Eaten Path.” If there were an “eaten path,” this restaurant, after 20 solid years in the heart of Downtown St. Paul’s theater district, is decidedly on it. It has been in business long enough to see children of patrons grow up, and start families of their own.
However, after one of many little chats with our server—a 20-year veteran herself—I realized that The St. Paul Grill is a more fitting subject than I previously thought.
Many people dine at The St. Paul Grill on their way to a show or a game. It often has an intense dinner rush, especially during hockey season, and a rushed diner does not have the same experience that a relaxed one has. Our server was quick to assure me that the restaurant certainly can accommodate a tight schedule. But I believe it truly shines when diners have no “other” show to rush off to. The food here is the show. You just have to step off the beaten path long enough really to eat.
The St. Paul Grill’s menu features classic dishes prepared with a twist. For example, the Escargots ($7.95) are not the typical excuses to sop garlic butter. The custardy sauce is fragrant with lemon. These succulent mollusks are stuffed with boursin cheese, and swaddled in a wonton wrapper to keep them tender during their bath in the fryer. The rich sauce begs for a second career as a bread dip, and should you neglect to use it in this manner, you would be missing out on half the fun.
In fact, the sauces throughout the entire menu are quite noteworthy, so it is wise to keep bread handy to appreciate them fully. That concept is definitely true of Hot Peppered Shrimp ($12.95), which are spicy and slightly sweet. In one bite, it whisked me back to pre-Katrina Bourbon Street.
A glass of fruity, cinnamon-laced Summer Sangria, which was our aperitif, actually was serviceable with the fiery shrimp. I casually sipped it throughout the first portion of the meal, and ended up spilling little smudged droplets here and there (while gesturing excitedly about the food), until our tablecloth looked rather alarmingly like the Shroud of Turin.
However, for the Escargots, and subsequently the Pear Berry Salad ($9.95), we indulged in the mellow, rounded Girard Sauvignon Blanc ($9.75). Especially with the salad’s toasted-’til-buttery walnuts and tempting triangle of white cheddar, it was a perfect partner.
While some of the menu has stayed constant over the restaurant’s two decades, the seafood selection is one area where Executive Chef Doug Tigges’s influence over the past two years is especially strong. Sea Bass ($31.95) is a flakey, moist perfection beneath its flavorful Parmesan crust. I barely needed its mustard dill sauce, but it found worthy employment with the accompanying asparagus.
A glass of languid Zaca Mesa Syrah ($12.50) heralded the arrival of red meat, and I was a-quiver with anticipation. The knife-optional Roast Tenderloin ($29.95) met and exceeded my expectations. Its treatment changes day to day, but I only can wonder what would top a port wine and rosemary demi-glace, with melt-in-your-mouth applewood-smoked blue cheese.
As truly beautiful as that tenderloin was, I am an unrepentant glutton for lamb, and Lamb Chops ($38.95) with jalapeño-mint jelly were extraordinary. I appreciate gamey meats, so I used the condiment sparingly. But if you’re old-school about your lamb, jalapeño-mint jelly takes the gaminess down a bit, while giving you a little something in return.
Side dishes are made to share. Hash Browns ($8.95) with bacon and white onions are almost the size of a small, single-layered cake—crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and made to get you through the coming winter.
For dessert, we dug into streusel-topped Apple Crisp ($6.95)—which lives up to its name—with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream ($2). Turtle Tart ($7.95) possesses such a sinfully silky texture, I almost noticed that before I did the bewitching bittersweet chocolate drizzled with caramel.
At home, I call a good single malt Scotch “dessert.” The St. Paul Grill’s list is impressive. My dining partner and I indulged in 16-year-old peaty but smooth Lagavulin ($22), as well as smoky, spunky 12-year Highland Park ($12).
The St. Paul Grill’s longevity and its popularity are no mystery: classic yet signature recipes, prepared with attention to detail. With its skilled wait staff and handsome, upscale decor, the establishment is admittedly the perfect beginning to an evening out on the town. But in my opinion, it can be the beginning, middle, and end.
The St. Paul Grill
350 Market St., St. Paul
(651) 22-GRILL (224-7455)