W.A. Frost, in the Selby neighborhood of St. Paul, is one of the most under rated restaurants in the Twin Cities. I must confess that it had also fallen off my restaurant radar and I had not been in the habit of considering it as an option even in St. Paul which is not blessed with an over abundance of good eating establishments.
I ate there again recently with my family, after a decade long hiatus, and was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, the ambience, and the stellar wine list. There was an interesting selection of starters that went beyond the usual suspects though in the end we opted for two salads, the winter lettuce and the house greens, which were tasty, nicely dressed and very generously proportioned; a large salad could easily be split among a party of four. For the main course, I had crispy skate, one of my favorite fish, with mashed potatoes and a saffron sauce. My wife had divers scallop with chorizo which were succulent and sweet, and our daughter had a chicken breast that she pronounced to be wonderful. The creme brulee was good though I would have preferred less egg and more cream, and the carrot cake was just as one might expect carrot cake to be.
The wine list is perhaps the best in the Twin Cities and is remarkable both for its depth and breath. There are several local restaurants that have a better line up for particular regions. For example, I Nonni, Domacin (Stillwater), and D'Amico's Kitchen have a better Italian list; La Belle Vie is stronger in wines from southern France; Manny's has a more comprehensive selection of the wines of California. However, this restaurant, which is no longer mentioned among those restaurants that are fashionable and notable, has excellent selections from France, Italy, the United States and Spain. The wines are priced fairly with many bottles in the reasonable $30-40 range. Though there are no great bargains in the mid to upper prices ranges the best values are to be had if one is willing to splurge.
How does the food at this restaurant compare with others in St.Paul? With the caveat that my opinion is based on one visit, I would put it on a par with (or perhaps minimally below) Meritage and Heartland, and it is infinitely superior to the St.Paul Grill, Kincaids, and Pazzaluna; I have not eaten at the Strip Club. The ambience is cozy and quiet but it does not have the same frisson as Meritate or the St. Paul Grill. Although W.A. Frost does not often feature in local blogs and is infrequently mentioned by foodies, its many attractions are not lost on the residents of St. Paul as the multi-room dining area was quite full during our early pre-theater dinner. This restaurant merits serious consideration from those looking for good food in St.Paul.
La Belle Vie
The Strip Club
Although the fact that the majority of truffle oils are imposters is disturbing, what most bothers me about the product is not that it may be fake, but that it is ubiquitous and overpowering. Once it is included in a dish, it dominates everything else on the plate. Of course, the way in which truffe oil overwhelms ones sense of taste may be related to the fact that it is largely synthetic; real truffles do not interact with food in the same way. When I find the stench of truffle oil wafting up from a dish in which it should never have been included, I wonder more about the authenticity of the chef than of the oil.
For those interested in reading a detailed and informative article about truffle oil and its doppelgangers, I recommend a 2007 article in the NYT by Daniel Patterson; it can easily be found on a Google search.
I was heartened to read in a Wall St. Journal profile that Jean-Georges Vongerichten finds truffle oil to be the most over rated cooking ingredient and he likened its effect to gasoline. Over the past few years, this noxious substance has shown up in every possible dish in restaurants around the country. This ubiquitous poison overpowers everything it touches. I have had it on lettuce, in beet salad, with smoked salmon, roast beef, and on fish! Contrary to popular belief, most of the truffle oil in use has nothing to do with the magic of black or white truffles but is a synthetic concoction of 2-4 dithiapentane. Its increasing popularity would seem to be very much against several other trends in cooking and gastronomy such as organic food, the locavore movement, and slow cooking. While the delicate taste of real truffles can enhance a variety of foods, particularly eggs, simple pastas, and lobster, and is a true luxury if one can afford it, the stench of truffle oil fills the nose and monopolizes the palate. Chefs who would not dream of sprinkling raw garlic on their food toss truffle oil about with abandon. Has the palate of the consumer become so jaded that it now requires the gustatory equivalent of a nuclear explosion to achieve a modicum of satisfaction? I am wondering when the era of truffle oil will finally end and if anyone else feels the same way I do.