31 August 2006

An individual ‘Signature’

I enjoy trying new neighborhood restaurants. The best of them are unique dining experiences that reflect a harmonious blend of the chef/owner’s dedication to good food and the sensibilities of the people who live nearby.

Last Saturday, my wife and I went with friends to Signature in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. It was a great restaurant. The food was wonderful. The ambiance was very relaxing. Though we ate inside, there was an inviting outdoor patio filled with people, we assumed residents of the neighborhood. Despite all of that, I have begun to wonder: Is it possible for a restaurant to be so idiosyncratic to the vision of the owner/chef and the neighborhood that it loses its appeal to a broader clientele?

First, let me tell you about our dining experience. Inside the restaurant was very comfortable and casually decorated. The owner brought over a wine list with many distinctive, reasonably priced choices. We settled on Villa Rizzardi Pojega Valpolicella. It was perfect for the evening.

We all ordered a first course and an entrée. Our choices were calamari, an apple walnut spinach salad, goat cheese cassoulet, and a garlic soup which was the nightly special. I didn’t try the soup or the calamari. But the salad was very good, and the cassoulet was outstanding.

For entrées, we ordered pan seared wild scallops, pork short ribs, portabella mushroom topped soft polenta, and duck leg confit. I didn’t try the short ribs. I thought the polenta with mushrooms was the best meal at the table; very flavorful with nice contrasting textures.

My second favorite was the scallops. They were very nicely prepared. My wife generally likes her seafood cooked through, and these were borderline for her. But they weren’t so rare that she felt like sending them back. I tasted them, and I thought they were cooked just right.

The duck confit was very tasty, but I thought it should have been more tender with the meat flaking off the bone more easily.

We did share a dessert for the table, a fresh berry tart. And we liked it quite a lot.

All in all, we had no complaints about the meal.

But later in the evening, one of our group commented that she wouldn’t go back, and there was general agreement among us. That got me wondering – what was missing for us? The food was good. We enjoyed our wine. The ambiance was relaxing. Yet, as I think about the evening, what we enjoyed the most was each other’s company. Despite everything, the restaurant did not enhance our experience.

I’m still not sure what was missing. The only think I can come up with is that we didn’t quite fit in to the target market for Signature. Something about the neighborhood or the owner’s philosophy didn’t click with us. If another of our friends wanted us to join them there, sure, I’d go. But if I were asked for a recommendation, I’d probably suggest someplace new or a return trip to an old favorite like Barbette or Broders Pasta Bar.

1 comment:

Patty said...

Steve, as a D.C. regular, I'm surprised you didn't ferret out that the chef is a former policy analyst with the Clinton Administration. Strike up a conversation with her about politics as she strolls through the restaurant greeting guests, and I guarantee you'll go back!

Signature is one of my favorite eateries -- both inside and out. In the winter, it's cozy, with accompanying comfort food, and in the summer, the patio is delightful (except during bee season.) Plus, the menu is diverse and reasonable, which makes for a nice, doesn't-break-the-bank evening out.

By the way, did you know the building is the former home of Tulips?