[MSP] Fugaise -- good food, no customers.
We had a reservation at Fugaise (in Northeast Minneapolis) Saturday night. We were there from 8 to 10 PM, and we shared the restaurant with only two other tables of diners.
The menu is small (a half dozen appetizers and entrees, plus an option of a five or eight course tasting menu where, I gather, you pretty much get small portions of the entire menu). The preparations are strongly French-influenced ... lots of butter.
The bread basket has a couple of varieties of very nice, crusty slices of rustic breads. I started with tomato-mint bisque topped with a mozzarella-Serrano ham crostini. Very nice, and not all that heavy. My wife's starter was beet risotto surrounded by sorrel foam and topped with a fried quail egg. I always find fried quail eggs amusing ... it's an egg the size of a quarter! Anyway, this was very tasty, and the risotto's beet flavor dominated, instead of being drowned out by chicken stock or herb flavors.
My entree was pan-sauteed skate over haricot verts with a brown butter Hollandaise. This was well-prepared though extremely rich. My wife had a tenderloin filet with chive blossom butter and fingerling potatoes ... basically, a steak and potato dish. The tenderloin was a generous size (at least 8 oz), but it was a little chewier than I expected. Perhaps not a Prime grade?
We split the cheese plate, an extremely aggressive pairing of two blues (Fourme d'Ambert and an excellent Cabrales), Robiola (a strong soft cheese), and Lancashire (aged but milder ... and completely overwhelmed by the rest of the plate). We finished with Fugaise's take on molten chocolate cake ... dressed up with caramel and creme anglaise, but pretty much unmemorable.
Service was attentive and friendly. They let us know that they are about to switch to a new menu. If you want to try Fugaise, I recommend you do so soon. With only three customers on a Saturday night, I wonder how much longer they'll be around.
Have eaten there a few times, and although the food and service is superb, I hesitate to recommend it. Simply put, it feels like you're dining in a broom closet or underground bunker. I'd much prefer to spend a night out at another locally run restaurant where the ambiance is enjoyable.
We live in the neigborhood and enjoy Fugaise once every 3 months or so and consider it a treasure. The commitment to local foodstuffs, the inventive and delicious preparations, the lean and reasonable wine list and great service are all terrific.
However, for the average diner, it is a special occasion restaurant and will likely stay that way unless someone buys all those vacant million dollar condos littering North Loop and the Mill District. The bottom line is that a fine dining restaurant's bread and butter is business dinners/diners and in order to attract the expense accounts, a restaurant needs a few ammenities that Fugaise does not offer...namely private dining and valet.
Kate makes a great point as well that many diners enjoy the comfortable, familiar(ish) foods and simple preparations from places like 112. While I do not share this affection as strongly as others, I know my parents and know 112 or Lurcat would be far more appealing to them than Fugaise or the dining room at LBV.
Hopefully Don and company have some low rent and can continue to build through word of mouth. I wish them the best and count Fugaise as one of the best restaurants in the TC.
Since I started this thread, I've been to Fugaise three or four more times. Each time, it's been better. Only once have I seen the dining room full.
I agree that the location is probably a problem. I have to think that the space itself is unfortunate. It has no street presence at all and is pretty easy to miss. Out of sight, out of mind?
re: Michael Florey
This thread needs a bump...big time...
I went there this evening - reservation for 2 at 6. The place had another diner waiting for another...other than that, no one - no big deal, I know most places start later - which is why we went at 6...
We ordered the Wild Mushroom Tart, Potato-Leek soup, Frog Legs with Triple Cream Risotto, and the Mussels for apps..
The Skate, Venison Medallions, and the Wild Boar for entrees...
And dessert - both their options besides a Creme Brulee - the poached pear and chocolate cake...
A quick summary - was beautifully composed, simple and balanced food, but with a nice french richness (ie: butter and cheese and bacon and egg) perfect for this time of year - or for myself, anytime of the year. :)
For the memorable dishes:
Potato Leek Soup - This is how I want all Potato leek soup to be like - it was so simple, yet so refined...
Potato and Leek soup - pureed and creamy as it should be with small diced potato, leek, and ham floating about. Truffle oil because lets face it, potato tastes great with truffle oil, bacon tastes great with truffle oil, and truffle oil in general tastes great when used correctly. And finally, chive foam - Really nice and dense - actually added a lot to the dish - giving a really good herbiness to it all, brought everything together - the dish was an example of polished simplicity - Creamy (soup), chewy, (ham), crunchy (potato and leek dice), herby (chive foam), body/richness (truffle oil), it was perfect. Seriously, potato leek soup doesn't usually need this much in it, but it brought simplicity to a whole new level.
Frog Legs - A rich dish. But wonderful all the same. The frog legs were deep fried (I'd say between tempura and almost a state fairish cheese curd batter - but perfect) and the risotto was made with triple cream (don't know if it was just triple cream or an actual triple cream cheese but was so rich, decadent, but delightful) - also accompanying the legs were sauteed maitake mushrooms and a wonderfully light lobster sauce/foam that again, brought it all together.
Having had frog legs many times before - these were the best I've ever had - so moist and tender - as if they were injected with a flavorful liquid - I'd imagine braised or cured before hand and definitely worked great. The dish was simple, rich, and wonderful.
The mussels were so great - the broth was wonderful, by far the best part of the dish - tasted of ocean - in the best sense of the word. It was great.
Only problem I had of the night was the Tart - it sounded great - wild mushrooms, poached egg, bacon, and gruyere fondue - um yes please? Can I have 2?
But there were 2 problems that really took it away from me, the mushrooms tasted dirty/old and the tart crust wasn't special. But I'll say it right now, this was the only problem of the night, and the dish as a whole still was better than most in the city..
All 3 entrees were great, again - simple yet refined and executed perfectly.
The skate was simple french classic with a little twist - Almond crusted? Or maybe just panko skate was perfect crispy, golden brown, tender, and very moist - perfect skate in my eyes. Accompanied with a yukon potato mash, haricot verts, preserved lemon, and brown butter hollandaise - Simple, classic, with a few modern twists. Executed perfectly - and seriously, the brown butter hollandaise had so much brown butter in it, it was ridiculous. It's as if they rendered 5 pounds of butter for our little pourer of hollandaise - it was pure decadence.
The boar was great, served 2 ways, 2 chops, and a filo wrapped braise of shoulder. With chiffonaded brussel sprouts, shaved apple, and a cider jus - just reading that - cooking it all perfectly would create a great dish - it was Fall personified. Rosemary, Pork, Cabbage, Apple, Cider. Seriously, you can't go wrong with these flavors in caring hands. It was simple and wonderful..
The Venison. Perfect Medium Rare, crusted with szechwan peppercorns, pink peppercorns? as well? Simple saffron cabbage, and tempura fried shiitakes. Simple, yet still, the dish executed perfectly. There isn't fault when people that care about their food are the ones in the kitchen preparing it..
The desserts were good. At this point, I was beyond the point of full, but just wanted to see/try them. Law of diminishing returns folks.
God. I need to rant. :)
People like Don Saunders and staff deserve to be busy. Places like Fugaise need patrons everyday. Fugaise is in the top 5 for fine dining, there isn't much else in the city/state offering the simple elegance (in both food, the space, and service) that Fugaise has. Don Saunders is a a top chef in the area - this has been said many times before - he and his restaurant has gotten tons of press in this regard, yet we were one of 3 tables there - granted, it was Monday, but still, this place is way too good to be doing 3 tables on a Monday...
Some people wonder why we don't have more fine dining options in the city, people say we are a food forward city, a city that supports its local, independent establishments.
Those people need to tell their Applebee's eating, box meal buying, "cooking takes too long" friends to open their minds, this state has a ton of great options for dining in the cities. I'm afraid a lot of the generations around here have settled for terrible food in terrible locations for cheap. The industry/the type of food served/the type of product now available has changed so much in the last 2 decades but in this state, there are a lot of people not trying any of it - its really sad seeing all the chains take over everything, I know I'm preaching to the choir (why else would you be surfing a online forum about local food - you all keep up the great work. :) ) But it's only going to get worse..we all need to try and convince some of these people to try the food we all get to enjoy...
It is only going to get worse...Minneapolis IS a food forward city - there is a ton of great restaurants out there competing for our dollar - yet there is so many people not trying anything beyond Timberlodge for a splurge meal...it is sad.
Not that I disagree with the main point of your post, but the Fugaise audience isn't at Applebees or Timberlodge. They're waiting in line for 112 Eatery, eating at the bar of La Belle Vie, or keeping Lucia's restaurant fully packed. (Or, in my case, going to Restaurant Alma for my twice-a-year splurge on rich, expensive food.) People aren't ignoring good food, they're just going elsewhere for it.
That said, it's always baffling when a great restaurant doesn't get the business it deserves. I suspect it's partly the location - if Fugaise were in the heart of downtown, or in Uptown, or at 50th & France, they'd probably be doing better.
Your right, and maybe I was wrong to go that far.
I suppose I was just going a little overboard over the dining environment outside of the twin cities, the options available to people, the legions of diners not willing to try interesting/properly prepared/different food, things of that nature..
I understand that isn't their target audience, that their location isn't the greatest...it's difficult to put into words how I feel about these things - I suppose the state is a much different place than it was 20-30-40-50 years ago. The chains have dominated local palettes for the last 20 years. The strides that food forward, independent restaurants have made are unfortunately negated by those made by these chains.
Your right, its not the right audience. But those places and places like it give diners a unfair perception of value and taste. I suppose this is for another time and entirely different discussion...
This thread should be about Fugaise, the food at Fugaise, the people at Fugaise, my apologies.
I absolutely agree with Anne. We've been to Fugaise once and had a great meal (plus the dining room was full all night), but I just can't see us going there more than 2x per year. My husband and I are definitely in the minority among our friends, willing to spend more than $30 on dinner and drinks and understanding that ambiance and service are worth paying for, but even if we hit the nice restaurants in town 2x per month we'd still only get to Fugaise 2x per year at most (I'm thinking the rounds of Alma, 112, La Belle Vie, Heartland, etc.)
I think Fugaise suffers from a lot of things that may or may not be applicable to other places in town. First, people just don't go to fancy places that much, and they see Fugaise as somewhere where they have to dress up a bit, people I know also just don't feel comfortable with formal service - some have even told me they'd rather not go to "pretentious" restaurants like Fugaise. Fugaise also has a terrible street presence, being down that long hallway. I'm not even sure most people who walk on that block know it's there. Maybe if it was downtown they'd get more business traffic? Finally, I think it doesn't have a concrete enough style/inspiration for some people. I think people are more comfortable with 112 because it's fancy bar food, or Vincent is French, etc. Although Fugaise says they're French inspired it's hard to see it sometimes on the menu.
I really hope they survive, and I definitely think more people around here could learn how to appreciate fine dining, and understand that you're not only paying food, but they entire experience. It doesn't make any sense to me how some people are willing to pay for tickets to shows, movies, concerts, etc. but are offended at the thought of paying for a nice meal.
Frankly I'll probably never visit Fugaise not because of the location but because as a vegetarian I have to special order my entree when making a reservation. Yes, kudos for going that extra mile to accommodate vegetarians in even offering that service but I get the feeling I'm not welcome and every time they change the menu makes me feel sure of it. Would I also get a special table with a placard reading "Vegetarian?"
Places link didn't link dagnabbit.