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Jul 7, 2007 10:38 AM

Saint Paul, Special Al Fresco

I'm gathering with a few friends next week, for leisurely cocktails-n-chow, to celebrate the ongoing success of the medical treatment of one of the group. She is partial to dining outdoors and, weather permitting, that's what we'd like to do.
Her diet is pretty limited right now, and leans towards fruit and non-challenging stuff from a digestion perspective, but that ain't the case for the rest of us.
Apart from making special requests of the kitchen, does anyone have venue suggestions for Saint Paul that might help meet all three sides of this equation?

thanx, all!

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  1. My current favorite patio is Il Veso Vino on selby ave. Lovely setting, great wine & good chow. Since you have some special requirements call ahead and ask for special items for your friend. I'm sure they'd be accomodating if you explained why! Plus I've never been rushed out of there like other places.

    Congrats to your friend & hoping for continued sucess.

    1. Perhaps Muffuletta, in St. Anthony Park? The porch can be quite lovely.

      Not a full bar for cocktails, but a nice wine list.

      As in other spots, calling ahead might be wise. I recall that chicken breast is easy on the digestive system, and they usually have some kind of chicken on the menu.

      1 Reply
      1. re: KTFoley

        WA Frost has a beautiful and large outdoor dining area. The food there is really good again after years of mediocrity. They did a lovely fruit plate for my picky daughter at brunch last week. Also they serve bread from Rustica bakery in Minneapolis. It is the best in the Cities.

      2. I think the patio at La Grolla is also very nice. I've had varied success with the food (generally good -- but not extraordinarily great), but assume that pasta would be palatable to your friend.

        Places mentioned so far:

        W.A. Frost & Co
        374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102

        IL Vesco Vino
        579 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102

        Muffuletta In the Park
        2260 Como Ave., Saint Paul, MN 55108

        La Grolla
        452 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

        2 Replies
        1. re: bob s

          Moscow on the Hill used to have a nice little patio area out back -- I haven't been there in a while (since I moved away about a year ago), but I can't imagine they got rid of it. Your friend should not have any trouble finding something mild to eat there, and the rest of you can enjoy the wide ariety of vodkas!

          1. re: gnocchies

            Moscow on the Hill--places link:

            Also, ajs, good luck to your friend. Have a toast for us for the ongoing success of her treatments.


            Moscow On the Hill
            371 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

        2. I'll put in a vote for Barbary Fig. Great patio and wonderful people watching. There should be a few flavorful but easy to digest items on the menu.

          Barbary Fig
          720 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55105

          9 Replies
          1. I've never made it to Barbary Fig, but I've always been curious about it. Can you guys talk a little bit more about the food there, maybe some of your favorite dishes? Also, price point? Thank you!


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              I really, really want to like Barbary Fig. I've finally decided that I just can't.

              I like the menu. I appreciate that it's chef-owned & operated. There's a lot of care that goes into each dish.

              Yet... the food I've had there has been consistently, memorably underseasoned. Moroccan food should have grand flavors of spices, fruits, grains, and olives. It's all missing. I recall a dish of very carefully trimmed lamb on top of apples and a potato puree. I couldn't tell the apples and potatoes apart. That's one example.

              The portions are also quite small. I always leave hungry. And the prices seem steep considering the portions -- for example, if you want bread & olives to start the meal, that's three bucks. Good, warm bread and olives, but still...?

              I love good Moroccan food. Barbary Fig ain't it.

              1. re: Jordan

                Chowhubby and I always suggest Barbary Fig to each other & we dismiss. So we've never been.

                I had a decent meal (2-3 months ago) at WA frost. Mine was excellent, (some sort of ravoli to start, & duck for the main) Hubby's was "ok" and it cost megabucks.

                I was a La Grolla fan - past few meals have been "eh" and service horrible. Plus they don't let you specify the patio when you call.

                Isn't there anywhere else in Saint Paul you'd want to visit with outdoor seating? I'm at a loss.

                1. re: Jordan

                  I like Barbary Fig, but - to me, at least - it's more like fusion North African/Mediterranean than "classic" Moroccan food. (Besides, I think the owner is from Algeria, not Morocco.)

                  And, yes, the portions are smaller than the average Midwestern place. Me, I like the portion size - no leftovers for me when I eat here, and I have room for desert.

                  That said, Barbary Fix isn't on my Top Absolute Best of the Twin Cities List. It's more on the "really nice if that's what you're in the mood for" list. But it's great for what it is.

                  My must-order dish is the shekshouka, scrambled eggs with lamb sausage, tomatoes, peppers, and harissa. The couscous is usually good, as is anything featuring rabbit or fish. But I can pass on the chocolate-covered hazelnut filo pastry.

                  Barbary Fig is a really nice place - give it a try!


                  P.S. For a really "wow" al fresco meal with the OP's specifications, I'd go with Muffaletta or WA Frost. Mostly because the menu at these places is more varied.

                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Well, I guess that's what makes life interesting. I couldn't disagree more with the assessment below of the Fig. I have eaten there at least once a week every week for the last fifteen years. I have had every dish on the menu, plus all the specials, multiple times. To me it is the perfect neighborhood restaurant.

                  My take: First of all, chef/owner Brahim Haj-Moussa is from Algeria. He is not cooking Moroccan food and it is not a Moroccan restaurant. It is closer to Pied Noir French cooking than anything else. It is true that the food does not feature strong spices. It is more about harmony, balance, and blending of flavors, textures and spices. Many of the dishes lean toward the savory. I have had the lamb dish described below. It is comfort food more akin to good pot roast. It is made with quince and potatoe puree. (I would agree that the lamb dishes are less creative, but they don't lack flavor). To me what Haj does best is combine meat or fish with perfectly cooked vegetables, great starch (potatoe galette, polenta, soka, couscous, orzo, etc.) plus always an unusual twist of some sort; usually a spice or a fruit. I think he cooks the best fish in town.

                  I almost always get a special. The standard menu is fine. The tagine of chicken is delightful, especially in the winter if yiou are sick. The shekshouka (scrambled eggs, carmelized onion, house-made mergeuz, and tomotato) is amazing comfort food -- and a perfect hangover cure. The vegetarian menu item is also excellent -- the name escapes me. I would highly recommend any seafood special. Other notable specials: chicken bastilla; rabbit and white bean cassoulet (this is killer). For a first course the soup is great in winter; the Brik is a deep fried philo stuffed with shredded tuna and spices (delicious but fried), and there is now a daily appetizer special as well. The salads are good but they put on too much dressing. Ask for less. Entrees are $11-$12 dollars. You can get an appetizer, entree and a Summitt Pale for $20.

                  Portion size. The entrees are not huge. To me, though, this is a plus. I eat out a lot and often end up with large portions of tasty but not so healthy food. For me the Fig is a little llike detox: reasonable portions, healthy and delicious food. But I could see if this was your only meal out in a month you might want more. But having said that if you get two courses plus bread you won't leave hungry.

                  The warm olives and bread are absolutely worth $3. There is cayenne and other spices in the olive oil that the olives are warmed in. It is delicious and my kids fight to dip their bread into it. Also the homemade merguez is extraordinary. My kids love it.

                  Finally, we almost always go with the kids, so its never on a Friday or Saturday night. It is a small kitchen and it wouldn't surprise me if things were not perfect when its super crowded. Go on a Wednesday or Thursday night.

                  1. re: Michael Florey

                    Sorry, Michael, we're going to have to firmly disagree on this. I've been to Barbary Fig about four times, on weekdays and weekends, and I've never actually seen it "super crowded." I've brought groups as small as four and as large as twelve. We've tried pretty much everything on the menu. (It's not that large of a menu.)

                    I accept the correction that the food isn't meant to be traditionally Moroccan. I do find it very, very bland, though. (My guests have also been disappointed.) As much as I really want to love it, I can't justify going back again.

                    1. re: Jordan

                      To each their own. Haj's food has not changed much over the last fifteen years, so if you have been four times and it is not to your taste, I agree that isn't going to improve and there's no sense beating a dead horse.

                      If you like intensely spiced -- but not spicy -- food, try Ngon Bistro on University. The Pho dishes have an amazing melange of spices. The mussels are great with a decent kick as well.

                      1. re: Michael Florey

                        Thank you Michael and Jordan for your well-informed and passionate opinions on the topic of Barbary Fig. I guess it's going to need to be one of those occasions where I'll have to go investigate this restaurant myself. I don't know much about Algerian food, so I'll have to evaluate it on the basis of personal taste.

                        Michael, do you know if they have a website?


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          No, definitely not a website place. My sense is that Haj made peace a long time ago with the fact that many Minnesotans would not favor his food. The place thrives on a steady stream of regulars who know what to expect, not on new faces. I have also noticed that about 75% of the customers are women. I think the subtlty and lightness of the food, and the normal portion sizes, draw in more women than men. After dinner you can walk down the block to the Grand Old Creamery.

              2. Thank you, everyone!
                While I think that we are gonna end up trying for the Frost patio, which she loves. I appreciate the Muffuletta reminder (haven't been there in yonks!), and La Grolla's menu looks like it might lure me in on my own.
                And I see that the Fig ignites passionate responses -ah, I love these boards!
                thanx again for the assist (and the good wishes), all!