Muffuletta (St. Paul, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
American cuisine has been a long time coming. Our melting pot takes in ingredients from anywhere and everywhere. Combine that with a continental approach that makes dinner an event and the increasing sophistication of everyday diners, and you have the uniquely American restaurant we call an "American bistro:" the small, upscale, funky, limited-but-interesting-menu, wine-friendly, neighborhood restaurant.
Muffuletta exemplifies the trend. While a pretty place, it's not one of the budget-breaking powerhouses on the local scene. But every meal there is an occasion, whether you're celebrating your anniversary, a new job or merely the fact that it's Wednesday. The service is attentive, the table is attractive, and Chef J.D. Fratzke's kitchen puts out interesting food that reflects regional American, French, Italian and Spanish influences with always-fresh ingredients.
The appetizers are exceptional. Everyone at our table was wowed by the grilled asparagus, drizzled with honey and topped with a bit of melted Manchego cheese. We also liked the salmon rillette -- it's a salmon spread -- and the snails. If you order the raclette, eat it quickly. It's much better when it's piping hot.
Muffuletta has several salad choices. We can recommend the roasted beet salad, spiked with a surprisingly tasty horseradish crème fraiche. We also liked the field greens salad, topped with superb warm goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
The duck a l'orange is delicious. We're usually leery of this dish because the orange flavor often overpowers the duck. Not here; the orange and brandy sauce perfectly complement the duck, as well as the roasted potatoes and carrots. Another winner is the rack of lamb: grilled ribs, served over spinach sautéed with garlic confit, caramelized shallots and mushrooms, and served with gnocchi.
We could go on, but the menu changes regularly, and your options are likely to be different. Be sure to pay attention to the daily specials at the top of the menu; we've found some of the best treasures there.
And you'll eat well, regardless of your diet. The menu offers a daily fish special, and at least one vegetarian entrée. There are several pasta dishes available, always with interesting sauces. And they offer sandwiches if you're not too hungry, as well as a small selection of tapas.
Muffuletta's wine list is filled with food-friendly choices that won't hurt your wallet. If you're unsure of what to order, ask for advice. The servers and sommelier are knowledgeable and helpful. Even the by-the-glass wine list is good.
Be sure to save room for dessert. We loved their idea of the classics here: tarte Tatin, pineapple upside-down cake, and of course interesting ice creams and sorbets.
Muffuletta is open for lunch and dinner every day, and serves a brunch on Sunday. The lunch menu is cheaper and has some smaller options not on the dinner menu. Sunday evening is a limited-option prix fixe "Sunday supper" for $20.
We like American bistros, and the foodie trends they exemplify. Muffuletta is a great example of the trend and a great place for a fine meal.
2260 Como Ave.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..