16 February 2008

Signature Café – (I gave it another try)

The second restaurant that I ever wrote about on Krik’s Picks was Signature Café. Signature is a comfortable, casual restaurant in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. The food is quite good. The husband-wife team that runs it is committed to serving high quality ingredients (more about that later) creatively prepared. Despite all that, in my original review, I said I probably wouldn’t go back. We have other independent, neighborhood restaurants closer to home.

I was gently taken to task for ‘damning the restaurant with faint praise.’ The defender was my friend and sometime guest blogger Patty Miller. In fact, it was Patty’s recommendation that took me to Signature in the first place.

Late in January, I made plans to take my staff out for a dinner to thank them for their hard work. Since both of them are friends of Patty’s, I invited her to join us as well. As I considered where to take them for dinner, I took into consideration that they would be in St. Paul, so it made sense to look for a place kind of centrally located. Prospect Park is right on the Minneapolis/St. Paul border. Can’t get much more central. So in deference to Patty, I decided to give Signature another try.

Well, I won’t make you read to the end for my conclusion – I remain unenthusiastic. Our experience was very similar to my first dinner there. But I just can’t get too excited about it.

Patty, by the way, got waylaid and cancelled out.

On this particular Monday night at the end of January the restaurant was pretty vacant. There was a couple sitting at the bar enjoying a glass of wine. They might have had some appetizers, I didn’t pay close enough attention to see. But for most of the evening, there was only one other table of diners in the place.

On Monday’s, Signature typically offers a tasting menu. It’s a great way to get a sample of different things. They have their regular menu as well. Both of my staff members opted for the tasting menu.

Their meals started with a wild mushroom and brie bisque. This was the only item on the menu that was at all disappointing. They both felt that it did not have enough cheese. One stated that it tasted like cream of mushroom soup.

My starter was a goat cheese cassolet. It was a very tasty blend of goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and garlic. It was very good, but also very rich. It could easily have been shared by two or even four people.

The second course on the tasting menu was a Parma ham and goat cheese crepe served with fresh arugula salad. I didn’t taste it, but LaDonna and Nadine said it was great. The crepes were very tender and the flavors blended very nicely.

Their entrée was seared wild scallops on a bed of sliced potatoes and a sauce of asparagus white wine puree. It was very creatively prepared, the scallops were moist and tender. They liked it very much. My entrée was the fresh catch of the day, and it also was expertly prepared and very tasty.

The tasting menu included a dessert, a chocolate gelato with mint syrup.

As I noted above, Signature makes an effort to use top quality, fresh ingredients. They include a statement on their menu: “Dedicated to sourcing the highest quality products from many local farmers who strive for humane treatment of their animals as well as sustainable agricultural practices.” Now, I’m not a big fan of the ‘eat local’ fad. And despite its menu statement, Signature doesn’t go overboard on the local sourcing of ingredients. (If it did, it wouldn’t be serving scallops or halibut, but rather walleye and trout.)

When our server brought a bread basket, I noted that the butter was Grassland. Now, Grassland is a regional butter company, it’s true. I’m not a big fan of Grassland. But after discounting for normal competitive feelings (since I work for Land O'Lakes), they serve a perfectly adequate product. But I couldn’t restrain my amazement. Serving Grassland butter when Land O'Lakes is located less than four miles from the restaurant? Ok, our Arden Hills office is not a butter factory. But still …

On top of that, if Signature wanted to be somewhat more local in the butter it serves, it could serve AMPI State Brand. And if it wanted to make a point of difference over how the butter is made, it could serve butter from the Hope Creamery.

I’m afraid I gave our poor server a hard time. He said it was his first week on the job. When I was served the Grassland butter, my comment was, “Oops. Wrong butter.” I think he thought I was joking. I wasn’t too obnoxious, but I did say that they should be serving Land O'Lakes.

Will I never go back to Signature? I won’t say that. Maybe there will be another occasion where I want a nice place to eat near the University of Minnesota. I guess the best way to say it is that I am respectful of their efforts, but I don’t seem to fit the clientele they seem to be striving to impress.

Don’t let me dissuade you. By all means, try it and let me know what you think.

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