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Any suggestions in the St. Paul MN area for good food & excellent service?

holly monday Jan 9, 2007 01:39 AM

A friend of mine just moved to St. Paul, and we're interested in some really good restaurants to try. We usually spend $50 +/-...but, we'll try anything that has good food and excellent service! Any recommendations NEAR N. HIGHWAY 61? Thanks!

  1. s
    soupkitten Apr 6, 2007 10:13 AM

    pretty much good recs for fine dining in these posts, but i see that the op did say they'd try anything that has good food and excellent service-- while it isn't fine dining, CH fave tanpopo has great food and usually very fine service, & i love the atmosphere. great homestyle japanese noodle place, and on the cheap side. for sushi gotta go with sakura!

    1 Reply
    1. re: soupkitten
      katebauer Apr 7, 2007 07:43 AM

      Just wanted to report back on our meal last night at Margaux. Honestly, it was pretty mediocre. First, the waitstaff seemed pretty flaky and our waitress basically introduced herself by saying something like, "oh, okay, I guess I'm serving you" and then forgot my drink order. We both ordered salads to start - I got the beet salad and husband got the pears and gorgonzola. Both were okay, but nothing wonderful. The beet plate at Town Talk is much more flavorful. For entrees we both got specials. I got a grilled mahi mahi w/ sushi rice and pineapple salsa, and husband got lamb. His lamb was delicious and came with really tasty squash on the side. On mine, the sushi rice was luke warm, and way too vinegared, and the fish was pretty flavorless. Over the course of the meal I ended up ordering 3 glasses of sparkling wine, because it was so good. The waitress at one point commented, "you should have just bought the bottle!" Thanks for reminding me how much money I was wasting... Overall I'm glad we got out to a new place, but probably won't be returning.

    2. katebauer Apr 6, 2007 08:43 AM

      Bumping this up because I'm debating between Heartland and Margaux for tonight. Husband has been working like crazy this week so we want something a little nicer, relaxing, and with a good wine selection. We've never been to either of these places. Any thoughts? Any specific dishes to try at either? Do we need reservations?

      2 Replies
      1. re: katebauer
        janiceh Apr 6, 2007 09:11 AM

        Kate, haven't tried Heartland but have been to Margaux and really liked it. Loved the atmosphere. My husband and I both had salads (mine was with pear but I can't remember what else but it was so good) to start. There was great crusty bread and I had great wine too. I had the scallops which I never usually order anywhere but decided to go for it. Amazing. I can't remember what my husband had but he loved his too. They had a fish and chips special that night that looked so good and the cheeseburgers coming out looked great too. We had dessert and coffee and we a cheesecake that wasn't that great. I wouldn't hesitate to go back though as I thought it was a great value for the quality of the food. (maybe skip dessert or try something else). Janice

        1. re: katebauer
          Uisge Apr 6, 2007 02:46 PM

          Kate - I like both places, but Margaux can be a little louder. I found the wine bar at Heartland to be very soothing.

        2. s
          snoboardbabe77 Feb 8, 2007 05:09 AM

          I really have to disagree with Pip. After all the hype, I went to Mai Village - and considering there are so many choices along University, I figured that the "wow" factor of the million dollar restaurant would translate into what showed up on my plate. I went with a friend, who also loves Asian food in general, but also has a specific spot for Vietnamese food. I was disappointed. It is beautiful no doubt - the service was mediocre (and I don't usually hold that against a restaurant until it's happened twice), the food itself was just okay. I should have known when the server - upon asking several questions about this dish and that dish - he said -oh, yeah, that's not the house's best dish, or hmm...that is not one of our better dishes....after we asked about 4 different dishes - and got that same response, our brows went up and we thought, uh-oh....should've gone elsewhere. When our dishes arrived (friend ordered spicy beef with crispy potato - interesting choice), the only thing that made it spicy was a ridiculous amount of red pepper flakes. As for me, I honestly cannot even remember what I ordered, something with chicken and it was just okay. With a tab of $75.00 (apps were okay), I just felt unsatisfied. I'm a frequent diner of many restaurants and a $45.00 night for me is nothing, but I was unhappy parting with that $45.00. I also always try and go to a restaurant twice before really making a firm decision on it - to be honest, I didn't and still have NOT gone back for round 2. No plans too either.

          In answer to your question, since suggestions seem here, there and everywhere - go to various restaurant's links, check out their menu, and just go and try it! That's the best part of about being a chowhounder - For example, it seems most people rave about La Belle Vie (Mpls) , I took part in a tasting menu there a few months back and everything was truffle oil, truffle oil, and more truffle oil. The service was great and the food okay-but for the money, I would have rather gone to Auriga, etc. So it's really all personal preference. I know it's cliche, but it is true. Get out there and eat!

          1. gblcsw Feb 7, 2007 11:42 AM

            WA Frost. Chef Russell Klein's food is amazing!

            2 Replies
            1. re: gblcsw
              KTFoley Feb 7, 2007 11:50 AM

              I'm curious, make that skeptical, that two diners could eat at WAFrost in the specified price range.

              1. re: gblcsw
                showercapcrazy Feb 24, 2007 07:13 PM

                Russell is no longer at Frost.

              2. g rote Jan 11, 2007 03:20 PM

                The poster is looking for excellent service and good food. There are a lot of "good" food options in St. Paul, but in terms of excellent service only the St. Paul Grill and possibly Kincaids come to mind...St. Paul empties out after 5pm, so the odds of keeping good servers and maintaining a modicum of consistency are not very high @ your under $50 restaurants on that side of the river.

                1. s
                  St Paul Susie Jan 11, 2007 01:21 AM

                  Drinkish is my new fave word.

                  1. q
                    Quince Jan 10, 2007 12:47 AM

                    W.A. Frost and Heartland are my two favorite restaurants for a special meal in St. Paul.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Quince
                      The Dairy Queen Jan 10, 2007 11:13 AM

                      I was waiting for someone to mention Frost. Do you think it fits in their $50+/- price point?

                      Another point I'd like to add about Heartland is that you can also go to their adjoining wine bar if you want more of an a la carte experience.


                      1. re: Quince
                        Pip Jan 10, 2007 03:00 PM

                        I will firmly disagree with Frost. Decent brunch, but SLOW service - even in the bar on a slow night. Also, depending upon your age, the service staff is extremely age-ist.

                        Also won't fit in the $50 price range.

                      2. m
                        misterpatrick Jan 9, 2007 11:16 PM

                        Margaux on Robert Street is very nice. It's a brasserie so nothing fancy, but the food is excellent as is the service.

                        LoTo could be great if they'd just get their act together, stop the staff turnover and get consistent with their menu. I live down the block and have had some really great meals there, and also so pretty mediocre ones as well.

                        Sakura is good as is Pazzaluna.

                        There is nothing off hwy 61 unless you want Applebee's.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: misterpatrick
                          The Dairy Queen Jan 10, 2007 11:11 AM

                          I've been meaning to try Margaux! Anything in particular that you've had there that you recommend?


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                            showercapcrazy Feb 7, 2007 08:56 PM

                            Margaux is top notch, I live in the building and eat, and drink there often. Ask about the specials! The chef Kyle came from W.A Frost, and aside from being a savage puts togather some culinary delights. I recommend diner over lunch.

                          2. re: misterpatrick
                            soupkitten Apr 6, 2007 10:06 AM

                            used to live by loto. tried it once. ran screaming, wish i'd did it before the burned app arrived, but i felt so sorry for our server, because the roof was dripping on her head as she was taking our order. i can't unreccomend a place more.

                          3. s
                            St Paul Susie Jan 9, 2007 08:46 PM

                            (how far will you stray from 61?)

                            cafe 128

                            signature cafe - the address is in mpls but its very close to st paul

                            Kincaids is good if you sit in the bar and relax & people watch.

                            La Grolla is excellent (selby ave)

                            I've heard good things about the happy gnome (also selby) - haven't been personally - anyone?

                            I also enjoy the bar at the lexington (grand ave & lex) for a beef fix. Good service, good traditional food. Nothing orginal or spectatular.

                            HIghland & longfellow grills are good options as well. Although I can't recall the last time I was at either.

                            Downtowner woodfire grill - on west 7th near dwtn - never disappointed there.

                            What about yarusso's for some good hearty red sauce & huge portions?

                            not recommended -

                            fhimas - I have never had anything good there - if the only good thing is the ribs then go to cafe 128.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: St Paul Susie
                              The Dairy Queen Jan 9, 2007 09:01 PM

                              I've been to the happy gnome and, sadly, I don't recommend it, the food is overpriced and poorly executed. The desserts come from A Piece of Cake across the street, but must sit too long because they are soggy by the time they serve them. The deck seems like it would be nice in summer except that it has a weird smell that, I think, is the exhaust coming from the kitchen perhaps?

                              I like Highland and Longfellow grills a lot but they are quite casual and are both really loud--especially Highland. It's nice to sit out on Longfellow's patio in the summer--one of my favorite patios for summer-time people watching in the Cities.


                              1. re: St Paul Susie
                                Chris Mitra Jan 10, 2007 06:37 AM

                                The Happy Gnome has arguably the best beer list in the cities, in a comfortable setting (bar area only), and the food is better than most bar food -- but it is not really chowish. Never had dessert there, but yeah, I heard that it's from A Piece of Cake.

                                When we lived in the area, we went there frequently, but not really because of the food.

                                1. re: Chris Mitra
                                  The Dairy Queen Jan 10, 2007 11:24 AM

                                  RE: A Rebours--except for Nathan's comment above, I think I'm the only person who has ever expressed disappointment on Chowhound re: A Rebours. If you do a search, it's one of this board's darlings, I would say. And, perhaps that's what I was disappointed with my dish--it was, perhaps, relative to my expectations. Also, I only tried A Rebours once, whereas if you do a search on Chowhound, you'll probably find many people who have been there multiple times and have had great experiences. So maybe I was just there on an off day. It is quite affordable and I think it's as cute as a charm, with its tiled floor and location right across from the Landmark in St. Paul. You feel so urbane, which is not a typically St. Paul experience.

                                  RE: Happy Gnome, I've not a beer drinker, so I didn't know about the great beer list!


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                    AliceS Jan 11, 2007 01:29 AM

                                    I too have expressed disappointment in A Rebours. We went a couple years ago and the duck with some kind of cocoa was grainy, the service was iffy. I am reight there with you TDQ.

                                  2. re: Chris Mitra
                                    Pip Jan 10, 2007 03:02 PM

                                    Agree-- the Happy Gnome is not chowish - can we start using the term "drinkish"? Not only does the gnome have excellent beer, but they also have a killer cucumber martini.

                                  3. re: St Paul Susie
                                    The Dairy Queen Jan 10, 2007 11:10 AM

                                    I wouldn't say that the only good thing at fhimas is the ribs, it's just that the only consistently extraordinarily good thing at fhima's (that I've discovered, anyway) is the ribs. Some of the other items are good, too, it's just that it can be hit or miss. They do try to do some exotic things and the presentation of the food is usually spectacular and dramatic. But, it's also quite expensive.

                                    I've had a couple of special-occasion-type meals there and they've done a nice job with theme-specific menus.


                                    1. re: St Paul Susie
                                      showercapcrazy Feb 7, 2007 08:51 PM

                                      I agree with many of your recommendations. Stay far away from Fhima's. May I suggest Margaux on 9th and Robert. Also located in the same building is Key's cafe; great for breakfast.

                                    2. n
                                      Nathan_1118 Jan 9, 2007 02:28 PM

                                      All downtown:
                                      St. Paul Grille

                                      14 Replies
                                      1. re: Nathan_1118
                                        mcgeary Jan 9, 2007 04:19 PM

                                        I'll respectfully disagree on LoTo and Fhima's; I've tried them each twice and had four really dreadful meals. BUT, a gem in downtown is A Rebours: wonderful food, lovely room, nice service.


                                        1. re: mcgeary
                                          soupkitten Apr 6, 2007 09:57 AM

                                          2nd A Rebours

                                        2. re: Nathan_1118
                                          Pip Jan 9, 2007 04:34 PM

                                          I will also disagree with Fhima's and Kincaid's. There is much better food to be had in St. Paul than downtown.

                                          For sure A Rebours - good call mcgeary.

                                          Also try Heartland Restaurant: http://heartlandrestaurant.com/ for excellent food - located in the Mac/Groveland neighborhood.

                                          I've also heard that 128 Cafe is excellent but I've never been there. http://www.128cafe.net/

                                          1. re: Pip
                                            The Dairy Queen Jan 9, 2007 04:47 PM

                                            I had some really fabulous Moroccan Baby Back Ribs (with cumin honey and paprika oil) at Fhima's once.

                                            Love Heartland.

                                            The one experience I had at A Rebours was disappointing (tough chicken), but my dining companion loved it and the setting is stunning, though, somewhat casual (more of a bistro) compared to some of the other places already suggested.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                              Nathan_1118 Jan 9, 2007 07:39 PM

                                              Those ribs at Fhima's are amazing.

                                              I too love Heartland, but if they're looking for something close to 61, Heartland isn't exactly what they're looking for.

                                              In fact, if they're looking for something closer to 61, they may want to venture to the Vietnamese spots along University. Mai Village and The Lagoon are both great. The Bun salad and Hot and Spicy chicken at The Lagoon are particularly fabulous.

                                              I quite dislike A Rebours. I thought the hype was uncalled for. My chicken was rubbery, the steak frites was quite disappointing (I prefer the frites at Salut), the service was spotty, the atmosphere is decent, but overall I was not impressed at all.

                                              1. re: Nathan_1118
                                                Pip Jan 10, 2007 03:03 PM

                                                I forgot about Mai Village - but a MUST in St. Paul. However, if you want to avoid excruciatingly slow service, don't go on Fri or Sat nights.

                                                I'd go on a Tuesday or Thursday to get the freshest ingredients and better service.

                                                Excellent Vietnamese - my favorite in the Twin Cities.

                                                1. re: Pip
                                                  The Dairy Queen Jan 10, 2007 04:09 PM

                                                  There's a lot of mixed thoughts among chowhounds regarding Mai Village on University Avenue in St. Paul. I think the setting is lovely (they have a koi pond!) and that it's a great place to take a group. I've taken non-chowhounds there and they've loved it. The beef dishes seem to be the favorite among chowhounds who do like Mai Village.


                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                    Pip Jan 10, 2007 04:33 PM

                                                    True - I havne't been there since right after the renovation (2 years ago?). I've been meaning to go again since the service was underwhelming but I remember the food being good.

                                                    Any other recommendations for good Vietnamese in the area?

                                                    1. re: Pip
                                                      Mill City Modern Jan 11, 2007 02:00 PM

                                                      I think that the best Vietnamese, hands down, is Pho Tau Bay, at the end of Nicollet in Minneapolis.

                                                      1. re: Mill City Modern
                                                        churchka Jan 11, 2007 02:40 PM

                                                        But not the end of Nicollet. The end before you have to go around Kmart to get back on. Damn Kmart.

                                                        1. re: churchka
                                                          Pip Jan 11, 2007 02:47 PM

                                                          On Eat Street? North of Kmart?

                                                          1. re: churchka
                                                            Mill City Modern Jan 11, 2007 03:22 PM

                                                            Ah, yes. What churchka said.

                                              2. re: Pip
                                                Chris Mitra Jan 10, 2007 06:44 AM

                                                We really liked A Rebours when we went once, and have been meaning to go back. Nice bistro-ish setting, and I remember receiving good service as well. I'm surprised that it is getting some mixed reviews here, but like I said, we've only been once.

                                                We have always liked the food at 128 Cafe, but every time we have been there the service has been especially s-l-o-w. Friendly, but slow.

                                                I know this doesn't answer your original question, since these are in Mpls, but we have noticed very well-trained and professional service at JP American Bistro, 112 Eatery, and especially Lucia's.

                                              3. re: Nathan_1118
                                                showercapcrazy Feb 7, 2007 08:47 PM

                                                I can't believe anyone in their right mind would recommend Fhima's or LoTo. I was appalled at the culinary abortion I was served the last time I went to Fhima's, and wanted to punch myself for even trying LoTo after that. I probably would have gotten better food and service at the Gopher bar on 7th.

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