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Meritage vs Heartland

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I'm going to be in St. Paul for a night next month and sadly have to choose only one place to get dinner (arriving at 4pm and leaving at 5am the next morning, so it's a VERY brief stopover). I've been combing the boards here and examining menus and have it down to Heartland or Meritage. I'm from New York so I have a lot of great options here and am looking for something that'll be special to St. Paul (and have food allergies that preclude me from most SE Asian food).

The cardamom-glazed duck and harvest pumpkin soup at Meritage look amazing, however I'm also intrigued by Heartland's menu. I realize it'll be more of a crapshoot there as the menu changes daily, and it seems like they use a lot of hazelnuts (to which I have a severe allergy), but options like their Midwestern Cassoulet and Smoked Lamb Chops look really good.

Anyone have an opinion between the two?

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Meritage
410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

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  1. Definitely Meritage. Nicer ambiance and better menu selection. Better price points on the menu as well.

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    Meritage
    410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

    1 Reply
    1. re: foodiejoe

      heartland makes some good food but... i tend to feel uncomfortable near massive banquet rooms! there is just too much space there. even though they try to make the dining room small the adjacent space makes me nervous. i like my bistrots to feel like bistrots...

    2. I don't know, I think that when compared to NYC, Meritage may not come off as unique to us. I look at them like a Brasserie with a bit of haute cuisine touches that are done very well. It's not as relevant when out of the context of st paul. An oyster bar that they do very well and source as well as anywhere in the country I have dined just doesn't become so special considering there are other options that execute on a high level in the coastal areas. Not downplaying my affinity for Meritage, we just treasure it a bit more because it is the only game in town, and they deliver pretty well. Heartland has some great stuff. It has some really not great stuff. There are certain aspects that I feel get overlooked, like cooking temps. There are certain temps that need to be reached for the best breakdown of collagens and connective tissues, that I often feel don't get reached when I am there. Usually, when Lenny is running the expo, this is not the case, but I do feel that a more inexperienced or idealistic younger chef will tend to lean towards the absolutely rare of things, and when that has it's place in certain aspects, it is more about understanding the nature of the protein sometimes, and following suit.

      The Limousine of beef there though, if offered, is a fantastic example of how to respect the meat and understand the science of temperature and how it relates to flavor. At the same time, I think that Russell at Meritage has a fantastic touch with Lamb Chops, and if I can remember, the sourcing was Iowa Lamb Co-op, which is beautiful, or Lamb Shoppe from Hutchinson, MN, which is equally as beautifully marbled and textured.

      My 2 cents...

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      Meritage
      410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

      1. My choice would also be Meritage, but I do love the cassoulet at Heartland. They do a great job at making a comforting, unctuous mixture of beans, sausage and confit, etc. The flavors meld together nicely whereas the others I've had, while still delicious, tasted more like separate components brought together.

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        Meritage
        410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

        40 Replies
        1. re: BigSal

          Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! Sadly, after reading about jfoods's experience at Heartland (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/668523), and being that I also suffer from several nut allergies, I think I'm going to err on the side of caution and go to Meritage. I can always get the cassoulet there if I feel like cholesterol needs to be raised.

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          Meritage
          410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

          1. re: ogiovetti

            PS: Because I'm just in St. Paul for the night and because I have an event that will last until around 11 and because my flight home is at 5am the next morning, I did decide to just forgo a hotel room and made a reservation for a late-night bite at Happy Gnome before I head to the airport. Hooray for extended kitchen hours!

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            Happy Gnome
            498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

            1. re: ogiovetti

              Oh no, not Happy Gnome. :( I know they've recently redone their menu, but I still think the food is lousy. Apologies to all of the hounds who think it has improved, but I went back recently based on "uphill" reports and I'm afraid I still think it's a pass, unless you're into the awesome beer list (which I am not...) Go to the bar at WA Frost or even to Senor Wongs. Both have better food than Happy Gnome. Here's a recent thread on late-night dining in St. Paul:
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8041...

              ~TDQ

              -----
              Happy Gnome
              498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                I completely agree with you on this. You can put crap on a fancy plate, but it's still crap.

                My inner beer nerd loves the Gnome. Great patio, lively bar, fantastic tap list. But definitely not a food destination.

                1. re: keithinmpls

                  Agreed. A few beers and out the door, for me. The burgers are passable, but not at the prices they charge.

                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  What did you order? As one of the CH'ers who gave recent "uphill" reports, I stand by my statement. I think the food is much improved. That said, I usually go for a burger (duck, elk, angus), etc. so I'm curious what it was that made you so unhappy.

                  1. re: Seige

                    I ordered the gnocci.

                    Perhaps the food is improved (it was pretty awful before), but it still isn't good enough --based on the gnocchi-- to go back for just the food, I'm afraid.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      ogiovetti was going to be getting out of an event late and then catching an early flight. So he needs a place that serves food really late. And maybe he likes beer, I'm guessing, if he picked Happy Gnome.

                      So what else do we suggest? Not sure how late Frosts and Senor Wong's serve.

                      What would you think about Pizza Luce? They have a good selection of beers on tap and do serve very late. While they may not be fancy, they are very comfortable and you get quality especially for the price.

                      Also, what about Bulldog? I haven't been to our St. Paul one, and think it may be pretty loud? But they have a good beer selection too and food?

                      -----
                      Happy Gnome
                      498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                      Senor Wong
                      111 East Kellogg Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55101

                      1. re: karykat

                        nope, i wouldn't send a nyc guest to any of the above, i'm afraid.

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          Where would you send someone for late-night dining, emphasis on good food, soupkitten?

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            first of all, i'm sorry if i sounded like a negative-nelly or hater in my statement above. it's also not terribly helpful to make a statement like that w/o offering viable alternatives, so apologies to all for that.

                            the reason i just blurted that out all off-the-cuff, was that 1) i agree w TDQ on the gnome's food quality and i wouldn't rec it as a dependable option-- good to hear they're trying to improve it, but i will wait and see. 2) senor wong's just didn't move the needle for me. beautifully presented, taste-free food with no real logic or heart in the fusion concept they were putting out there. the fishbowl drinks might be really fun though, so there is that, but maybe not so great for a single diner/drinker-- ymmv 3) luce-- which i do personally like, occasionally, for a couple of things-- is probably just going to piss off a nyc-er and we'll get that same old "this isn't pizza" schtick we all love so much. :) not saying every nyc-er is rigid in their pizza tastes, but the likelihood is quite high. in any event there is plenty of good pizza and red-sauce italian in nyc so it's not a rec i'd make. 4) bulldog. . . eh. someone correct me if i'm wrong, haven't been back there since closer to when it opened. . . i found it to not be bulldog's strongest outpost-- having a smaller menu of mainly hot-dog stuff (which again would play poorly w a nyc-er's options for street food) and it wasn't executed consistently, with sometimes poor service and long waits....that said, the beer selection is good & it might not be the very worst option, i can see why it occurred to KaryKat.

                            pause to say that despite all the really cool things about st. paul, the city rolls up its sidewalks very early compared to minneapolis... and that the op may want to consider skipping across the mississippi river for a nightcap and a bite before heading out-- which would be another can of worms.

                            so then i've racked my brain a little to try to think of a few other late night options, actually in st. paul...hopefully ones that won't somehow get my post deleted :-/
                            so i'll throw out burger moe's for the requisite msp grassfed burger (late night menu, beer list that is notably mediocre for its large size)-- drawback would be possible foot traffic from the event at the nearby xcel center. or how about los ocampo? shady part of town, maybe, but good taquerias are hard to find in nyc, no? lastly, this is mostly in jest, but if the expectations were set appropriately and the op wanted to really go out in the midwestern wilderness. . . hey, go to a tavern and try a chicago/midwestern thin crust, square-cut pizza. heck of a story for the folks back home at any rate ;-P

                            and that's all i got. i still think it might be fun to do a progressive thing across the river into minneapolis, and toward the airport in the wee hours. . . of course it's also the kind of thing where you also may wake up in jail in a strange city and realize you've missed your flight home, so maybe not ;-P

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              Well, maybe we're back to WA Frost (if the OP didn't want to drive extra). Their small plates bar menu looks kind of interesting. (Just checked the web site.) But I couldn't find quickly online how late they're open. So out of curiousity, I called them. I thought maybe they are open until 2. But the person who answered the phone said she thought last call was 12:30. And last time to order food may be 11:30, she thought.

                              That's another way we're different from NY. As you say. Places close way earlier.

                              That's why I thought about Pizza Luce because they do stay open way later. But I see your point about the pizza. What we think of as good pizza may not be NY pizza.

                              1. re: karykat

                                Karykat, you are committed to your craft. Sorry you did all of that work, as I put quite a bit of the hours info in the "late night dining post" I link to above:

                                I listed:

                                Fasika (Ethiopian) until midnight
                                The Bar at WA Frost is open until 1am Fri & Sat, midnight all other nights. http://www.wafrost.com/contactus.asp
                                Burger Moe's has a Happy Hour 7 days a week 9pm-1am and has a late night menu.
                                Also, I think Sole (Korean) Cafe has late night hours Fri & Sat.
                                I mentioned I thought Los Ocampo also has late night hours, but I don't know what they are. I believe the Lake Street (stand alone location) is open until 2pm. Maybe the St. Paul location has similar hours?

                                I don't know if any of these are going to be special to St. Paul, but they all have better food than Happy Gnome. I list a bunch of other places in that thread, too, but I'm not going to mention them here again because I think the food is pretty so-so, probably on par with Happy Gnome.

                                ~TDQ

                                -----
                                Happy Gnome
                                498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Ahhhh. I should have known and checked there!

                                  K

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    I noticed that WA Frost only takes reservations until 10:30, does the bar also serve food until 1 or does the kitchen close down?

                                    1. re: ogiovetti

                                      I'll call and find out for you. I know the kitchen used to stay open late in the past, but I'll confirm for you in case something has changed...

                                      ~TDQ

                                      1. re: ogiovetti

                                        Eh, the kitchen doesn't stay open as late as I remember. It's open until 11pm on weeknights and 11:30pm on Sat & Sun. I'm glad you asked. I wouldn't want you to be disappointed.

                                        ~TDQ

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          We may be down to Happy Gnomeand Senor Wongs.. They both stay open until 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays. The kitchen is open until midnight on those two nights at Happy Gnome and until 1:00 am at Senor Wong's on those nights. (We're talking Friday night, right?)

                                          Not sure anything else is open late enough.

                                          -----
                                          Happy Gnome
                                          498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                          Senor Wong
                                          111 East Kellogg Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55101

                                          1. re: karykat

                                            There's no contest here-- the Gnome has the best beer selection in the area, and the food, while not great, is OK. This is a late-night-snack kind of thing, from what I gather, so the beer trumps the not-great food. Go to the Gnome. Drink some local beer. Life is good.

                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                    I think Burger Moe's is a good idea. But just checked their web site. No hours listed so I called them. They are only open until 1 also. Don't we have any places (other than Pizza Luce) that are open to 2?

                                    OP may be assuming our bars and restaurants are open 24/7, Like in NYC.

                                    1. re: karykat

                                      Me again. Out of an abundance of caution, I checked with Pizza Luce. They are open only until 1 am. (Although they deliver until 2:30 am.) Maybe they let you hang out there later since they're open for pizza-making anyway, but I wasn't getting that indication from them.

                                      I give up on my city! As a nightowl myself, I can't believe we don't have some more places open later. Esp since bar close was extended to 2 am for some places.

                                      (ogiovetti -- Our bar close hour was 1 am. State law was changed to allow some places to get a license for sales to 2 am. So we don't have bars serving until the early morning, like some other places. This may be a problem with your overall plan. We do have some places that stay open all night for food, but not drink. They do not tend to be our best places!)

                                    2. re: soupkitten

                                      sk, you are neither a neg nellie or a hater! I agree Senor Wong isn't as spectacular as I wish it were, but I think think it's better than Happy Gnome for sure and it's pretty unique to St. Paul. But, then I remember the OP needs to avoid SE Asian, so it's off the table...

                                      ~TDQ

                                      -----
                                      Happy Gnome
                                      498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                      Senor Wong
                                      111 East Kellogg Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55101

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Senor Wong's has FABULOUS walleye tacos. And their tempura sweet potato fries with srirachi mayo are very special. They have fun drinks, and really nice service staff. I have no problem recommending this as a good place to hang before a flight home.

                                        This doesn't help the OP (sorry!) but if the fries caught anyone's interest, I will tell you that a few of their lunch sammies are really good, and you can get a side of the fries for a $2 surcharge. My personal favorites are the Banh Mi and the Cemita Milanesa. And yes, I do have lunch there a couple of times a month....love it!

                                        http://www.senorwong.com/menu/lunch_m...

                                        -----
                                        Senor Wong
                                        111 East Kellogg Blvd., Saint Paul, MN 55101

                                        1. re: rp1760

                                          thanks for this perspective. i had high hopes for senor wong's and was pretty disappointed in the food the times i visited. maybe i ordered all wrong! do you eat off of the whole menu, or just stick to your favorite dishes? tia!

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            Oh, now I'm intrigued again, too.

                                            ~TDQ

                                          2. re: rp1760

                                            I haven't tried the walleye tacos there. Walleye is pretty darn Minnesotan. I don't know why the OP needs to avoid SE Asian cuisine, though, but it sure sounds worth considering!

                                            ~TDQ

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              think s/he said peanuts and peanut oil allergy issue, on the se asian food avoidance.

                                  3. re: karykat

                                    I linked to this thread on late-night dining above. It depends on the day of the week the OP is here. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8041... The food at the Happy Gnome is still not good if the rubbery gnocchi I recently had is any indication. If the OP is mostly interested in the beer, then perhaps it's a fine choice. But if the OP is more interested in food rather than beer, then there might be better choices, including the bar at WA Frost up the street from the Happy Gnome. I'm not suggesting there will be a perfect choice (we have to send him somewhere, right?), just a better one. I'm sorry, but I've never had a decent food experience at Happy Gnome.

                                    I'm realizing the OP probably ought to strike Senor Wong, though, if he's trying to avoid Southeast Asian cuisine.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      And again, I say if you're looking for a burger and beer, I would totally go to the Happy Gnome. I've not had the gnocchi at Happy Gnome, but I think the burgers are quite good. That said, I'm sure WA Frost's bar menu is delightful too. Just haven't eaten there in quite a while.

                                      -----
                                      Happy Gnome
                                      498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                      1. re: Seige

                                        Thanks for clarifying. I hadn't seen that you pretty much only recommended the burgers at Happy Gnome. I wish I'd ordered the burger instead of the gnocchi. Lately I eat my meals one handed when I go out and the gnocchi worked better for me from that perspective.

                                        I agree (and always add this when I discuss the disappointing food at the Gnome) that their beer selection is very good. I'm not really a beer drinker, unfortunately, but I'm often out with people who do drink beer, so that's good. They also have a great patio (which is wonderful during other seasons) and convenient parking.

                                        ~TDQ

                                        -----
                                        Happy Gnome
                                        498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                          2. re: ogiovetti

                            I'm sure you had a nice time at Meritage. I just feel compelled to point out that jfood's experience was two years ago. I eat at Heartland on a more or less infrequent basis and have never ever had an issue with service or food. Just saying......

                            -----
                            Meritage
                            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                            1. re: rp1760

                              Same owner/ manager.

                              1. re: foodiejoe

                                Same owner, true. Sure it's the same manager? In any case, from my more recent experiences, I feel they have learned their lessons, in part I'm sure from the excellent feedback provided by JFood. I know if I was an out-of-towner and had just one night, one choice, I would most probably choose Meritage. I just didn't want there to forever be a big stain on Heartland. Things can change, and I love what Lenny is currently doing.

                                -----
                                Meritage
                                410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                1. re: rp1760

                                  Yeah, didn't Chef Russo spearhead something with proper labeling on menus?

                                  Price differences are negligible. You're still obviously overpaying for both of their rents / expansions. I felt the service at Meritage was better, but I like the new Heartland space a lot.

                                  -----
                                  Meritage
                                  410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                  1. re: rp1760

                                    I hate to see a good restaurant stained as well, but from my standpoint, being that they have a lot of hazelnuts on their menu and since they can kill me, I just don't want to take that chance (especially in a city I don't know). It's also going to be a Saturday night during prime dining hours, so I know grilling a waiter or chef on their kitchen practices and potential for contamination or hidden ingredients is not going to be easily done in that sort of setting. Though I am hugely thankful to Chowhound for having all this information—the boards may have saved me from Epi hell!

                                    1. re: ogiovetti

                                      I really really like Heartland (though I haven't dined in the dining room at the new location yet, much to my shame--long story-I've been to the deli and market, etc. though), but I also really like Meritage. (For those of you keeping track, that's two "reallys" for Heartland and one "really" for Meritage). I think you can get a fantastic meal at either place. I read jfood's account at the time he posted it and there was a lot of information that he came forward with later in the thread when pressed that I think would have been helpful had he disclosed it in his OP.

                                      This issue of disclosure of allergens on menus has been a hot topic in St. Paul lately (a city council member has taken up the mantle because of a child with severe food allergies) and Lenny Russo (the chef at Heartland) has been at the forefront of trying to come up with a solution that works for everyone. The issue with Heartland in particular is that the menu literally changes every day. The manager at Heartland when jfood was there (and for a long, long time before that) is Russo's wife. She may or may not still be at the restaurant, but my guess is even if she's not at the restaurant, the restaurant's position on this matter comes straight from the Chef/owner no matter who is the Manager. I doubt it matters who the manager is.

                                      Nevertheless, to be honest, if I were you, I'd just go to Meritage. You will have a great meal. If you go to Heartland, I worry you'll be worried about hazelnuts the entire time and it will diminish your experience. Why have that kind of anxiety?

                                      You'll like Meritage. Go.

                                      ~TDQ

                                      -----
                                      Meritage
                                      410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Well said. I agree with this advice. Best to not worry in this case.

                                        And let's all recognize that Lenny really did respond to the concerns that were raised and that both restaurants are fantastic places we need to go to. Often.

                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          I agree. My meal in March with a large group included one diner with several food conditions/allergies which were all well handled by Chef Russo.

                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            A very good point. I didn't meant to slam Heartland or its reputation (especially as I've never been there), totally not their fault that I can't enjoy hazelnuts just as it's no Thai restaurant's fault that I can't eat peanuts or mushrooms. But as TDQ noted, and being the neurotic, Woody Allen-ish Jew that I am, I'd probably get so wrapped up in vigilance that I won't enjoy the nice meal. Glad to know that I'll still do well with Meritage!

                                            -----
                                            Meritage
                                            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              Well, I live in NYC and having only once dined at Heartland I readily believe it would succeed in the Big Apple. Top of the charts, off the wall successful? Maybe not but it would be a durable old mainstay. Now there are some more places to check out....Meritage...The Strip Club...

                              2. I've been to each place once - Heartland for dinner (before they moved to Lowertown) and Meritage for a weekday lunch. Frankly, Heartland blew Meritage out of the water. Based on my experience, I don't see how Meritage has the fans it does. I know, I should try it again, but there are so many other good places in town that I don't want to waste my time on mediocre food (i.e., Meritage's so-so salad and their tragic chicken pastry, which was really bland chicken ala king with a fancy puff-pastry topping and an elevated price tag).

                                I certainly understand the issues of a life-threatening nut allergy (my niece is one of your number), but I would go to Tanpopo or Ngon over Meritage. Oops - no Ngon for you because it's SE Asian - or, at least, half the menu is.

                                Anyway, because Heartland is so small and chef-driven, I would trust the staff to accurately explain the ingredients in each dish. Besides, the cassoulet sounds fabulous!

                                16 Replies
                                1. re: AnneInMpls

                                  I tend to side with AnneInMpls regarding Meritage vs. Heartland. Meritage is a perfectly fine restaurant but it's not an extraordinary restaurant. It's a good brasserie but I've not found the meals in my few times there to be either flawless or overly imaginative. If a reader comes from a place with a fair amount of French cuisine, he/she may be underwhelmed by all of the excitement that Meritage generates on this board. I fully understand the OP's decision to choose Meritage over Heartland based on allergies but he/she should set expectations accordingly.

                                  1. re: bob s

                                    I think it's fair to say that Meritage is not extraordinary (although, Russell Klein was nominated for a James Beard award this past year same as Lenny Russo--they both lost to Becker), but they still do quite a bit of local sourcing, so it's still "special to St.Paul" in my opinion. And, frankly, the location doesn't get any more special to St. Paul than overlooking Rice Park and Landmark Center, especially in winter.

                                    Also, I don't think I've been at the restaurant even once for dinner where Chef Klein hasn't personally come to our table to inquire about our meal. I love the whole cheese cart experience and that you can get oysters now. I think Meritage serves the best burger in St. Paul. (Although, it's huge.) And they always bring these cute little amuses at dinner.

                                    I cannot in any way relate to Anne's comment about a tragic pastry or a so-so salad (except at Meritage's predecessor A Rebours), although I haven't ever had their chicken pastry pr dined their for weekday lunch (only weekend brunch, weekend lunch, and weeknight and weekend dinner, at least a couple of times for each). I have had a salad there, and it met my expectations. It was a comped salad--long story, but somehow my reservation got put in the computer for the following month, could have been my fault, don't honestly know, and we had to wait a few extra minutes to be seated-- so it wasn't something I'd ordered, it just showed up, so I suppose my expectations were nil. Everything I've had at Meritage has been at least very good and sometimes spectacular. I had a corn soup there that was the best ever and my husband and I both still talk about it, "Remember that corn soup?". Also, the potatoes they serve at their weekend brunches are amazing, crisp on the outside and pillowy soft inside.

                                    But, it's not Heartland.

                                    As much as I love Ngon Vietnamese Bistro and Tanpopo (and I do love both and they both source locally), I don't think they are in the league of Meritage. And Meritage isn't quite in the league of Heartland. Maybe WA Frost is a little closer to Heartland in terms of being a higher end dining experience, but I don't think it's as good as either Heartland or Meritage (although, Klein, and Russo before him, once worked at WA Frost.) Maybe Strip Club could be considered special to St. Paul because of the local sourcing and grass fed beef, but to be honest, I can't stand the place and its smarmy name and menu descriptions, uncomfortable chairs, and conversation-crushing noise. I also had really horrible service the one time I went there, despite intervention from the host/owner who tried to make it right and still didn't succeed (the owner intervened at the end of the meal when we still hadn't gotten our dessert or coffee. Even after he intervened, we STILL had to flag someone down to get it after we continued to wait). I only went there once, though, so maybe my experience wasn't typical, but clearly they haven't changed the smarmy name or menu. I hope they've replaced the Ikea chairs, though.The Strip Club is unique to St. Paul, I think, and does have a lot of supporters and probably deservedly so. I just don't happen to be among them (based on my one lousy experience). I do want to go back to try their weekend brunch, but their dinner is on my "never again" list, sadly.

                                    I'd still go to Meritage if I were the OP and just couldn't bear the thought of worrying about hazelnuts, or mabye I'd broaden my search for a special-to-St. Paul restaurant, but yes, Meritage is a brasserie.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    -----
                                    Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
                                    799 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

                                    Meritage
                                    410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                    The Strip Club
                                    378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      It sounds like I need to try Meritage for dinner, rather than relying on my mediocre lunch experience. (My friend's French Onion Soup was quite nice that day, so at least one of us liked the place.) Things sound quite hopeful for the OP's visit.

                                      I agree that Tanpopo, great as it is, is not at the same level as Heartland et al. But Ngon.... I've been meaning to post about my latest dinner at Ngon, a few weeks ago, because it was truly awesome. We shared the mussels and sweet potato fries (and sriracha mayo) for an appetizer, then I had the fish special (opah crusted with wild rice and pecans, I think), and my husband had duck with black rice risotto (?). With the recommended beer pairings, it was one of the best meals I've had all year (although I don't get to many fancy-pants places). So for me, Ngon's "fusion side" of the menu definitely puts it high up on my list of best restaurants in the Twin Cities

                                      As far as late-night dining, my mom the 70-something hipster loves the late-night menu at W.A. Frost. Me, I can't stay up that late. :-)

                                      1. re: AnneInMpls

                                        Oh bother, Ngon sounds AMAZING. Perhaps I should try that over Meritage?

                                        -----
                                        Meritage
                                        410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                        1. re: ogiovetti

                                          No I would stick with Meritage....just saying

                                          1. re: ogiovetti

                                            If you have concerns about food allergies, I think you'd be better off at Heartland than Ngon. Note I LOVE Ngon, but I wouldn't chance it if it is a life and death situation as you say.

                                            ~TDQ

                                          2. re: AnneInMpls

                                            I feel bad you had a lousy experience at Meritage. I'd like to hope it was just a bad day for them, but it could also be weekday lunch just isn't their thing. It might be worth your while to give them another try, but it sounds like you (like me) don't get out to too many "fancy pants" meals. It's hard to give a fancy pants restaurant another try when you have so few of those occasions.

                                            Thanks for your report back on your recent meal at Ngon. I have a couple of occasions coming up. Maybe someone reading this thread will notice and surprise me with reservations. You never know.

                                            ~TDQ

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                                            Meritage
                                            410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                            1. re: AnneInMpls

                                              We almost always order the fusion entrees at Ngon. The steak au poivre and elk medallions are certainly our faves, but I've wanted to try the opah too... sounds delish! For the OP, if you're looking for something a little different, Ngon may well be your place. I don't see tons of Vietnamese/French fusion out there. But I do love Meritage and the Strip Club (although it seems TDQ and I are having some differences of opinion today :)). I'm not commenting on Heartland because I've never been there, but I'd say you couldn't go wrong with the other 3 listed.

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                                              Meritage
                                              410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                              The Strip Club
                                              378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

                                              1. re: Seige

                                                At least we agree on Ngon and Meritage. :) And I only gave Strip Club one shot. It wasn't the food that turned me off, but my truly awful experience with the service (our waiter forgot about us, even after another server hunted him down, and then Tim later hunted him down), noise, and uncomfortable Ikea chairs. I posted in detail about it at the time, but it's not worth rehashing it in a lot of detail. Even though it's not the place for me, I still think it might be worth it for others to investigate from a food perspective if noise and uncomfortable chairs aren't a problem. Presumably our poor service was just a one-time thing as I've never seen anyone else post about it, but when you're waiting in uncomfortable chairs in a loud environment for an extended period of time because no one can find your server, it pretty much becomes a nightmare. Even if I were inclined to go back, which I'm not, I don't think I could drag my husband there again. That's right, I can't drag my steak-loving husband to Strip Club. That's how bad the experience was for us. Sometimes you only have one chance to impress someone and Strip Club squandered theirs with us, perhaps the way Meritage did with Anne and Heartland did with jfood.

                                                Unfortunately, the OP says Southeast Asian is out of the question due to food allergies, otherwise, I'd be on the Ngon band-wagon, too.

                                                ~TDQ

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                                                Meritage
                                                410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                                The Strip Club
                                                378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  I'm with you, DQ. Although I've only been there for lunch. Three times. Service is substandard. Skirt steak not sliced properly - very tough. Fish well past done. Space has cramped, dark feeling. Chairs are uncomfortable. I've never been inclined to go there for dinner. I am glad so many people on this Board enjoy this restaurant. It's just not my thing, I guess. And I love reading this Board - so many opinions! Keep up the good work, folks!

                                                  1. re: rp1760

                                                    Agreed. It's easy to sound very parochial when one lives in New York (for good reason—we do have some good eats), but it's always galvanizing when I scour the boards for recommendations when I travel and find people just as passionate about their food.

                                                    1. re: ogiovetti

                                                      Well what places do you like in New York? Heartland seems to fit the bill for you.

                                                    2. re: rp1760

                                                      Sorry to hear your lunch visits to TSC have been disappointing. :( I'd like to think my one visit was an aberration. I do love the idea of a steak place that serves only grass-fed beef as TSC does.

                                                      When you say you've only been for lunch, does that mean you have not been for weekend brunch, then? I'm not trying to split hairs, but I'm curious.

                                                      ~TDQ

                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        TSC no longer serves lunch and hasn't for quite some time. I'd say give it another go. I love TSC's brunch and I'm a total brunch whore (there, I said it!). I actually much prefer brunch there than dinner primarily because it's brighter and doesn't feel as cramped. I have to agree, they do really pack they people in like little sardines for dinner.

                                                        1. re: Seige

                                                          It's on my list for brunch. Thanks for reaffirming!

                                                          ~TDQ

                                                2. re: AnneInMpls

                                                  Anne,

                                                  FWIW, the dinners I've had at Meritage have been very good. The lunches not so much. There shouldn't be that much difference. But in my experience there is. Give them a shot at dinner.

                                          3. To the OP's original request... Although some may have touched on it, I'm going to steer you toward Heartland based on "something that will be special to St. Paul."

                                            Your experience at Mertiage will be good. But it could easily be taking place for you in New York. And although it would be great for you to walk away from Meritage saying that we here in flyover territory have a French brasserie that can compete with similar ones on the coast, you will get a more uniquely Minnesotan approach at Heartland.

                                            And Lenny Russo at Heartland will do right by you and your allergies. And, if this matters, Heartland has a better wine list.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Brad Ballinger

                                              Have to agree with Brad; Heartland definitely has much more of the 'local flavor/unique to the CIties element' going for it than Meritage. Toe-to-toe I'd probably prefer Meritage to Heartland, but both are great and offer different dining experiences in my mind. The cuisine and raw bar at Meritage are great. The cuisine at Heartland is also quite good and I really like how they remodeled the lower level of Market House. Also, the market and deli are great and help showcase the farm to plate concept they're going with.

                                              Either way you can't go wrong, but I definitely think Heartland will be a much more unique dining experience. Oh, and the cassoulet at Heartland was also quite good when I had it last winter (though the variation on their current menu seems a bit different).

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                                              Meritage
                                              410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                              1. re: mull0263

                                                We had dinner at Heartland last night and while I can't speak to how the cassoulet was a year ago, it was wonderful last night. As was the rest of the meal. Meritage has always been our "go-to" special occasion restaurant (we live downtown and like to patronize its restaurants) but it now has some pretty stiff competition from Heartland.

                                                ETA: I was pleasantly surprised to see how many reasonably-priced wines were on the Heartland list.

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                                                Meritage
                                                410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                              2. re: Brad Ballinger

                                                I always feel that to drink ok wine at Meritage, you have to pay a pretty penny for it, with nothing really valuable under 60 bucks, no real gems. Heartland had some nice reasonable friuliano whites that are perfect with a lot of the fare there, and some solid reds with a better percentage markup for the guest for sure.

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                                                Meritage
                                                410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                              3. Hello all! So I wound up going with Meritage last night and really was happy with my choice. We exchanged a few back and forth e-mails about to make sure that the dishes I had been eying were safe for my peanut and hazelnut allergies, and when I was seated my waiter immediately checked in with me (without my bringing it up specifically to him). I noticed even on my check that the items I ordered were entered into the computer as "nut allergy." Chef Klein even came to our table to make sure I was all set, and while I don't have almond allergies, they skipped the quince cake that normally comes with the cardamom duck because it uses almond flour and weren't sure they could guarantee it may not have come into contact with other nuts. That earned big points in my book.

                                                The pumpkin soup was deliciously nourishing, well-seasoned and really interestingly balanced by the gingerbread croutons. I'm a slut for duck and their dish was spot on, reminding me of the duck and cabbage dishes I ate in Prague and Austria. My dining partner had the same and was equally enamored of it. It's not exactly what I would call French brasserie fare (but I should say I have no professional kitchen leanings), but that's totally fine by me. Also by picking Meritage, I was able to park my rental car and then walk over to the opera I was reviewing from there, so I could have a few cocktails without worrying about driving. I really liked their selection here and had the Nor'Easter, one of those drinks that goes down so easy and then hits you when you stand up.

                                                We wrapped up with dessert; my colleague had the panna cotta and apple beignets, one of which I stole and it was like a piping hot apple cider mini donut. I went with one of their smaller options, the salted caramel ice cream pop. Covered in dark chocolate, it tasted exactly like a gourmet Snickers bar. I developed my nut allergies in my early 20s so I know what I've been missing (Nutella! Reese's!) and it made me giddy to have an allergy-friendly Snickers. Like, ridiculously giddy.

                                                Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable and made sure I made my 7:30 curtain (something more waiters in New York's Lincoln Center area could stand to learn), and the price tag was a bit high but totally worth it. It reminded me in atmosphere of New York's Balthazar or Pastis, but the menu was much more interesting beyond French standards so I definitely felt like I got something special and unique that I wouldn't necessarily find here.

                                                After the opera, I had a reservation fro WA Frost but went to the opera's after party with a colleague at the company to speak a bit more as I had just squeaked into the Ordway at 7:29 pm, and by the time we parted ways it was just a few hours before my flight and, not wanting to chance driving more around a city I'd never been to before or driving while increasingly sleepy, I just went back to the airport, took a quick catnap in my car and then flew back home. But I've totally fallen in love with the Twin Cities so hopefully I'll have reason to go back and eat more (oh and review more music…but also eat).

                                                Thanks again for all your passionate insight!

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                                                Meritage
                                                410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

                                                1. I have been here off and on since it first opened (again too many good restaurants in the Twin Cities). This is my favorite French restaurant in the TC. So after getting back from a week in Paris to compare food right away, I actually like Chef Klein's French food style better than Paris! It is one of the few places that serve French country food. I love the cassoulet and bourguignon when it is available. They have the best Rillettes but you have to ask for it since it is not on the menu (I think it is laced with crack). This place is on my top ten list.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: mikecho

                                                    It's been months since I started this thread and subsequently went to MSP, but I have to stay that dinner still sticks with me. I couldn't have asked for a better experience, from (pumpkin) soup to (no) nuts. I forget the cocktail I had, too, but damn was it tasty.