In Cuisine (St. Paul, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
In Cuisine hasn't really settled into its space on Grand Avenue, formerly occupied by Leeann Chin. You can feel its discomfort as soon as you walk in. Maybe it's the bright lights behind the counter, or the out-of-place drinks cooler. But you'll quickly forgive those little itches shortly after you walk in. It's actually a pretty room. Notice the Asian accents throughout the room: a bonsai tree, a tabletop fountain, pretty lighting, art on the walls, paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Everything is freshly painted in vivid, pleasant tones. The table settings are pretty, and nicely arranged on a bamboo placement.
Sit down and look at the menu. It's a fun read, actually. In Cuisine's menu comes from the "ingredients list" school, which means you get entrees with names like: "grilled apple-cinnamon braised pork chop, lacquered with honey-chipotle sauce and served with kumquat-shallot chutney and mashed potatoes" and "wok seared five spices duck confit served with taro, potato, pine nut hash and accompanied with apricot plum wine sauce." Either is a mouthful to say, and both are recommended.
In Cuisine serves fusion cuisine. It's a playful, inclusive, world-beat sort of cuisine; dishes use a hodge-podge of preparations and ingredients from all over the world. In this case, most of the ingredients and preparations come from Asia. Your place is set with both Western silverware and chopsticks. It's a style we are particularly fond of and In Cuisine does a good job with it.
The best appetizer is their scallops with five-spice powder. They're served over a salsa made of corn, avocado, and tomato relish, resting on bite-sized papadam chips. It's a Far East meets Southwest sort of dish, and the flavors meld beautifully. This is the key to fusion cuisine: making diverse flavors work. The Thai vegetarian spring rolls were traditional, but meshed surprisingly well with the very non-Thai mango chipotle dipping sauce. And the accompanying salad -- mango, cucumber, carrot, onion, garlic, vinegar, lime, and hot pepper -- was wonderful.
The crabmeat and chicken pot stickers came pan fried, nicely spiced with a note of tarragon, and complemented with a hot garlic soy dipping sauce. Calamari came deep fried and sprinkled with sesame seeds, served with a sweet-and-sour sauce. Both very good.
The summer rolls were a surprise. We loved the cold Vietnamese-style rolls of mango, avocado, carrot, cabbage, mint, and basil, served with a peanut dipping sauce. It was like eating a light, fresh salad. These won't be around come winter, so get them while you can.
Entrees were almost as interesting. The walleye filets were the best: expertly fried, served with a teriyaki sauce, fresh bok choy, and wasabe mashed potatoes. Everything was good, but the potatoes defy description. Mixing wasabe with mashed potatoes is such a good idea we're amazed we've never seen it before.
The five-spice duck confit is also a winner. Juicy but not greasy, wonderfully seasoned, with an apricot plum sauce that has a hint of mustard. We also liked the perfectly fresh salmon, nicely flavored with macadamia nut pieces and sesame seeds. The ginger and orange sauce was a lively complement. And the filet mignon, ordered by a friend who wanted it neither medium rare nor medium, but in between, arrived exactly as requested. The peppercorn made the dish a treat, though it drowned out the sake marinade.
Where we find In Cuisine lacking is in their Chinese preparations. The jumbo shrimp came on a bed of broccoli, with a tangle of fried taro and sweet potato strips. It looked beautiful, and tasted good, but was a basic honey walnut shrimp. The "crispy, tangy, and sweet" chicken came in a similar broccoli presentation, but was just a rendition of orange chicken. Sure, the lychees were a neat surprise, but there is so much better on the menu.
Be sure to order a ginger limeade. In fact, order a refill because the first glass is too good to sip. And for dessert, the ginger crème brûlée and the mango sorbet are definitely worth your time. Avoid the macadamia nut brownie, which was too dry and tasteless.
The service is some of the best we've found recently. The waitstaff is happy to describe dishes, make recommendations, and take special requests. On one visit, our waitress asked us if we wanted to keep our mango-chipotle sauce after clearing our appetizers. (Of course we did.) On another, the waitress marked our Styrofoam leftover containers with both the contents and the date. Prices are standard: $6 or so for appetizers, entrees between $12 and $18, and lunch specials around $7.
In Cuisine is not perfect. We can't imagine why tea isn't served with all meals. The teacup at your place setting gets filled with water. But these are minor quibbles; on the whole, In Cuisine is a nice addition to the St. Paul dining scene.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.