14 July 2009

Bastille Day dinner at Barbette, Minneapolis

I don’t really consider myself to be a ‘Francophile.’ I mean really. Who doesn’t love French cooking and who doesn’t find Paris to be the most romantic city in the world? But does that necessarily make you a Francophile?

Still, I must admit to being quite intrigued by the French Revolution. When you think about the support that the French gave to the American revolutionaries – I mean, without them, our revolution probably wouldn’t have succeeded – you’ve gotta wonder: How did the French Revolution go so off-kilter? The ideals of “Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite” ring so true to the American Revolution. So how it all end up with a ‘reign of terror,’ mechanized execution ala the guillotine, and eventually the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte as a megalomaniac, emperor, and would-be world conqueror?

So that’s sort of a roundabout way of saying that I always pay attention to July 14 – Bastille Day. This year, I found myself home alone on Bastille Day. Linda is in Duluth at her sister’s cabin on Island Lake (see the post immediately following). I decided for sure that I would go out for a French dinner on Bastille Day, and for several reasons, I finally opted for Barbette in Minneapolis.
I’ve actually written about Barbette twice before on Krik’s Picks. It was the very first restaurant I reviewed in August of 2006. And I wrote about it again a year later. Both of those happened to be lunch visits. My wife and I have eaten there multiple times for dinner, though I haven’t previously written about those experiences here. We think it’s great.

So, recognizing that we do like Barbette, please don’t take it wrong that I’m going to start this review with two complaints.

1. I called them up on Sunday, July 12. “Are you doing anything special on Tuesday for Bastille Day?” The answer I received was – they were in the middle of their Bastille Day celebration as we spoke; 8,000 people reveling in a street festival. All fine and good. But what about Tuesday, the actual day? No, sorry, nothing special. (Isn’t that sorta like celebrating the Fourth of July on the 2nd? It might be fun, but really, who cares?)

2. So I asked to make a reservation for 3 people at 7 p.m. Sorry, I was told, we can give you a reservation at 6:30 or at 8. But, if you come at 7, you’ll most likely get a table. We keep half of our tables open for walk-ins.
That’s how it all worked out. I went there early. I got a table. It was a lot of fun and delicious.

I don’t mind eating alone. I do it fairly regularly when traveling for work. But since this was a special occasion, I sought out some dining partners. Since my wife was in Duluth with her sister, the most logical person to ask was my brother-in-law. That sounded good to him, and he brought along his son. Also, we have a French American executive at Land O'Lakes. I happened to meet with him on Tuesday, during the day. We started talking about Bastille Day, and I invited him to join me for a drink at Barbette before Phil and Eli arrived.

I arrived first, and JP arrived a few minutes later. We ordered a bottle of Cabardes rose and the Charcuterie platter. The Charcuterie was very good and quite unusual in that it included some smoked salmon. Phil and Eli showed up shortly after the charcuterie arrived. So we also ordered a bowl of warmed olives and the three-bean terrine.

All of them were very good. I’d never had French olives warmed, as they were served at Barbette. I liked them. And I got very excited when I noticed that the three-bean terrine was served like the French tri-color. So I had to shoot a picture. (OK, it takes some imagination to see the tri-color. But I took it as at least a nod toward Bastille Day.)
JP had to leave. But Phil and Eli and I ordered entrées. Eli had traditional steak frites. He asked for it cooked medium well. It was served medium, maybe even a tad toward medium rare. But he liked it. The fries were exceptional – crisp, salty, and plentiful. He had way more than he could eat. He had the extras boxed to take along for some friends.

Phil had grilled tofu with couscous and tomato tapenade. It looked very nice. But he said that the flavors weren’t anything special.

I had an evening fish special. It was corvina, which the server described as being similar to sea bass. It was seared and served with braised greens, a mixed vegetable relish, and a polenta cake. The fish was firm and very tasty. It was expertly prepared; not at all rare in the middle, but still very moist and flakey. The braised greens were excellent. The vegetable relish was very distinctive and complimented the fish nicely.
So happy Bastille Day to all. Liberte – Egalite – Fraternite. Viva la Revolution!

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