We all know the feeling when you finish a really, really good book that you wish would never end, right? I’m experiencing that feeling of withdrawal today after reading the final pages of Julia Child’s memoir/travelogue, “My Life in France,” written with Alex Preud’homme. In the week or two I’ve been reading this book, I’ve brought it up in nearly every conversation I’ve had with friends, and I’ve mentioned it on Facebook more than once—I’m completely folle pour ce livre, despite having never watched the lady in action. I hadn’t anticipated that I would love it as much as I did: While I kind of like cooking, I’m not one to obsess over a new recipe, for instance. I am a bit of a Francophile, though, which was the part of the book that really roped me in. In short, I highly recommend the book!
And it’s got me thinking. Even though the nearest diplomatic outpost of La Belle France is hundreds of miles away in Chicago, between restaurants and organizations, the Twin Cities boasts a respectable French connection. Here are a few of my favorite restaurants with a bit of flair Français!
After meandering around on bikes most of Saturday afternoon for the 17th annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, a friend and I stopped in at Ngon on the Green Line (Victoria stop, on University @ Avon) on Saturday evening to replenish after a busy day of festivaling. In addition to it being one of our favorite restaurants, our decision to visit had been made in part by the band playing there that night: The Bookhouse Trio, an ensemble playing Twin Peaks-inspired jazz. For food, we ordered a bun salad, roasted brussel sprouts, and pho-spiced pork belly. The following day, still feeling a bit depleted, I returned for a giant bowl of MSG-free beef oxtail pho, which was exactly what the doctor ordered.
If the food sounds more Asian than French, that’s because it is. Self-described as a modern Vietnamese restaurant, Ngon specializes in French-Vietnamese food using fresh, local, and sustainable ingredients. In keeping with the French focus on imbibing locally, too, they feature a full bar of craft beers and a full line of craft spirits & cocktails exclusive to Minnesota. The vibe is relaxed and mellow, the food is good and the staff knowledgeable while being very accessible and approachable. There’s a stack of vinyl behind the bar, and the phonograph is hooked up to the eatery’s sound system. Ngon is a great spot for lunch with a cocktail, or dinner with the family.
Similar to the placement of their respective countries, the quintessentially French Vincent is located just a stone’s throw from fish-n-chips slingin’ Brit’s Pub. Qualifying on the costlier end of Yelp’s dollar-sign spectrum, Vincent consistently gets high marks from Zagat’s.
While I’d heard people rave about Vincent for years, it wasn’t the kind of place I’d really consider for an outing. When a friend invited me to join him with another couple, though, I couldn’t say no! He insisted we all order the amazing prix fixe menu (that can be made gluten free with advance notice) along with the wine pairing, and it was a meal I’ll certainly never forget. The meal was pricey, but the atmosphere was warm and casual—not the stuffy, conservative feel I’d anticipated.
If the prix fixe is out of your price range, visit Vincent for happy hour (which, apparently, gets very busy!), to grab something simple (there are multiple rave reviews about Vincent’s burgers), or for a reasonably-priced two-course lunch (plus a glass of wine, if you’re feeling like a vrai Français!).
Serving lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, this charming downtown destination describes itself as “the perfect date night destination, a gathering place for friends—a night out that doesn’t break the bank,” and “a little slice of Paris in downtown St. Paul.” I’d agree on all fronts, having enjoyed the thoughtfully prepared and well priced meals at Meritage both casually with friends and more formally for business events. Meritage has a coziness factor similar to Barbette in Uptown, with low lighting and small tables (though Meritage during daylight hours is sunny and bright), located in the quaint Rice Park area of St. Paul, in the historic Hamm building.
Offering its own take on fresh, local and French, Meritage features a seasonal menu, an oyster bar, long wine list and sidewalk seating. Chef Klein is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center), and, according to Mpls-St.Paul Magazine, from escargots and foie gras to the authentic cheese cart, his cooking makes you feel like you're in Paris. They also recommend trying a fresh absinthe cocktail in the oyster bar area—Oh la la!
Angela Anderson, 612-396-3654
Licensed Associate Working with Sharlene Hensrud of RE/MAX Results, and HomesMSP — Sharlene, John, Angela
LES AUTRES CHOSES FRANÇAISES: